Towards a synoptic vision of educational
change in advanced industrial societies
Everyone in education within the Western European democracies is into school improvement in some form. Politicians tell us that it is vital for the economic well-being of our nation state. Global competitiveness, they have decided, depends on it. So how do our politicians draw these conclusions about the relationship between the economic goals of the nation and education?
House (Chapter 1) identifies four ways in which economic concerns shape educational policies. First, economic conditions within society influence policy by constraining or encouraging government spending on education and effecting social consequences, such as increasing inequalities of wealth, which present problems for schools to handle. Second, the object of certain educational policies may be to make schools more cost-efficient and productive. Third, education and economic development are presumed to be closely linked. It is taken for granted, House argues, ‘that more or better education leads to improved technological capabilities and better jobs.’ Fourth, ‘economic concepts and metaphors permeate educational thinking.’ For example, educational policies are formulated in terms of a need for schools to create and respond to ‘markets’.
House identifies four errors which correspond to these influences: ‘misunderstanding the economic system; misunderstanding the educational system; misunderstanding the fit between the two; and misapplying economic concepts.’ All four errors, he contends, ‘are abundant in education’, while he points out his belief that economic concepts can be ‘productively applied’ to education. In his chapter he develops an error theory of educational policy making to explain why ‘government policies are usually (but not always) counter-productive’.