School Effectiveness for Whom? Challenges to the School Effectiveness and School Improvement Movements

By Roger Slee; Gaby Weiner et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

High Reliability Organizations and Liability Students-The Politics of Recognition

Roger Slee

Introduction

Running against the political grain, the chapters in this book collectively call to account school effectiveness research and the school improvement movement. This chapter will not rehearse the substance of other chapters by once again presenting a general rebuttal to the effectiveness research and its application through the growing 'school improvement' industry. I will, however, take up the organizing question 'effective for whom?' to challenge the growing appeal of school effectiveness research to some of those arguing for inclusive schooling for disabled students.

Disabled students introduce a level of diversity and educational instability which undermines current discourses of effectiveness. I shall argue that the 'high reliability organization' as the 'cutting edge' model for the effective school (Reynolds, 1995) advances a form of Taylorism (see Hamilton, Chapter 2) which is functionalist and ineluctably assimilationist, and that like educational management discourses, the rhetoric of school effectiveness and school improvement is deployed as a moral technology (Ball, 1990). The high reliability organization is used by Reynolds to imply comparability between schools and flight control operations, nuclear power plants and surgical theatres. For some the reductionism of this discursive metaphor may appeal (Barber, 1996), for others it deflects from the profoundly damaging effects of the National Curriculum, the marketization of schooling and the introduction of league tables as the new educational benchmarks (Ball, 1994; Ball, Chapter 6; Grace, Chapter 9; Hamilton, Chapter 2).

The central argument of this chapter is that having hitched its wagon to a managerialist political discourse which, when linked to the politics of league tables, back-to-basics movements and raising standards, school effectiveness research narrows to instrumental benchmarks and shuns the more democratic aspirations of the public education project (Rose, 1995). Inclusive education is not deployed in this paper as an ideological shorthand for assimilation. Rather, it embraces the politics of recognition and understands disablement as cultural politics and not as a technical problem of product delivery. Such an argument challenges the normalizing project of the 'effective school'.

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