Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros43-2Governing through Learning. Schoo...

Governing through Learning. School Self-Evaluation as a Knowledge-based Regulatory Tool

Jenny Ozga et Sotiria Grek
p. 35-52


This paper discusses knowledge-based regulation tools (KBRTs) as new forms of regulation through an exploration of school self-evaluation (SSE) in Scot­land. We conceptualise self-evaluation as a hybrid regulatory instrument, combining data-based knowledge with knowledges “performed” by institutions and individuals to order to demonstrate their progress on the “journey to excellen­ce” in learning (HMIe, 2009) that is expected of schools, teachers and learners in Scotland. We see the development of self-evaluation in Scotland and more widely as arising from earlier over-reliance on data and from the proliferation of information that together combine to produce the problem of “evidence” as a governing technology. Data require continuous and demanding work – including interpretive work – if they are to be effective. SSE, we suggest, offers a combination of data-based knowledge with professional expertise and individual responsibility, that enables the governing and shaping of the school as a “learning organisation” and, in the context of Scotland on which this paper pri­marily focuses, reflects the presentation of governing as learning activity, in which pupils, teachers, local authorities and government itself are collectively engaged.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

I. Introduction

  • 1 Fabricating Quality in European Education/Governing by Numbers (ESRC : RES 00-23-1385), Knowledge a (...)
  • 2 Martin Lawn, John Clarke (UK) ; Hannu Simola and Risto Rinne (Finland) ; Christina Segerholm (Swede (...)

1 Throughout this paper we draw on research that has focused on the interrelated – but distinct – areas of Europeanisation (Lawn, 2006 ; Grek et al., 2009, Lawn/Grek, 2012) and governance (Ozga et al., 2011) in an overarching “project” that seeks to understand how education and learning policies attempt to regulate and manage systems and populations in networked, rapidly moving and changing national and transnational contexts. We do not go into detail here about the recent and current comparative research1 with colleagues2 on which this paper draws, however we want to stress that our perspective on Europeanisation is not top down, but argues for attention to the role of the “soft governance” (Lawn, 2006) strategies of the European Commission and the responses of nation states in fabricating a European Education Policy Space (EEPS) in recent years (Ozga et al., 2011). The making of “Europe” in and through education and learning policy is located within a framework of globalisation that is understood as involving national and subnational settings, where networks of actors connect to multiple transnational, local and sub-national processes (Grek et al., 2009 ; Sassen, 2007). “Europe” is framed by a context of neoliberal globalisation, a project that not only de-regulates but also seeks to create new governing forms that transfer responsibility to consumers, rather than citizens, and thus privileges state responsiveness to the market, while diminishing wider political accountability.

2 Our approach to Europeanisation does not reduce nation states or local and regional actors to entities that respond to global pressures, rather it is attentive to the strategic responses of nation states and national and local actors to globalising and Europeanising processes (Jacobsson, 2006). In drawing attention to the interaction and action of actors and instruments, we argue that EEPS is a policy space in which policy actors use new policy instruments to redesign institutions, organise networks and develop relationships. In this work – which is governing work – they draw on and generate comparative knowledge and data. It is within that frame of comparative data collection and the assessment of performance that we locate the issue of accountability and the work of regulation that knowledge-based regulatory instruments do.

3 We connect the growth of knowledge-based regulation tools (KBRTs) to the growth of networked governance in which cooperation and coordination must be constantly negotiated and managed (Kohler-Koch/Eising, 1999), through a mix of particular policy technologies, and constant work by policy actors to maintain connections and coherence in re-spatialised governing relations. This work relies on policy technologies, including KBRTs, that support communication and constant monitoring of performance as well as on “softer”, more persuasive and attractive forms of regulation that are present in the emergent European education policy space (Maroy, 2008). The two developments – of complex data collection and monitoring systems, and all the regulatory apparatus that they engender and the “softer” forms of attraction towards participation in a space of comparison – are interrelated, but not without tension. Indeed we offer an analysis of the emergence of “persuasive governance” (Bell et al., 2010), of which school self-evaluation (SSE) is an example, as a response to problems created by heavy regulation. Our use of the term “governing” sig­nals our emphasis on the extent of activity in and across many different policy spaces – transnational, local and national – that we perceive through our research that is devoted to the continuous process of managing tensions between centralised and decentralised governance, deregulation and existing or new (re-) regulatory instruments of governance where relationships are multidimensional, overlapping and fluid. This governing work includes the development of KRBTs that shape the landscape within which a range of actors are expected and encouraged to take responsibility for exhibiting their capacity to learn and to manage their learning and that of others.

4 Data are central to the emergence of KBRTs such as, for example, OECD’s PISA. Data systems construct policy problems and frame policy solutions beyond, across and within the national scale (Nóvoa/Yariv-Maschal, 2003 ; Ozga, 2009). It is important to stress that the strength and power of a KRTB lies in its apparently objective (data based) nature, and in the attractiveness of the space of negotiation and debate that it may create, where experts, policy makers and other knowledge-brokers meet and position themselves, as well as in its capacity to define the terms of that engagement (Grek, 2012 forthcoming).

5 As Nóvoa and Yariv-Maschal put it :

“Good governance” discourse in Europe stresses openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence, but these are governmental aspects legitimated by comparability and resulting in benchmarks, standards, and policy guidelines… Policy is construc­ted, legitimised and finally put into action through “new means” legi­timated by a logic of perpetual comparison leading to similar solutions. […] benchmarking [is to be understood] not only as a techni­que or a method of inquiry, but as a political stance (Nóvoa/Yariv-Maschal, 2003 :429).

6 According to Pons and Van Zanten (2007) there are three main elements of KBRTs : (i) they reflect particular “world visions” that represent the agenda setting capacities of particular interests ; (ii) they represent a particular and politically oriented set of beliefs concerning legitimate policy in a given domain ; (iii) they represent a wide and growing network of actors who are constantly drawn in to the process of intelligence-gathe­ring, audit and meditative policy-making (Jacobssen, 2008). KRBTs like PISA are thus much more than information-gathering tools about specific issues – they are sets of practices in which experts are recruited to work with policy makers to examine modern state structures, governing proce­dures and choices ; and to elaborate standards that make up governing practices. Collective scrutiny requires the development of agreements about rules and standards, which in turn support the propagation of transparency and “best practice”.

7 New networked forms have led nation-states to look for ways of managing through coordination rather than, or in parallel with, a direct regulating role. Public/private cooperation in the delivery of education, parental choice and other new public management methods, as well as different local, national and international networks influencing education policy, offer both threats and opportunities to the nation-state. Nation-states simultaneously participate in setting up new frameworks sustaining globalisation while, at the same time, these frameworks may destabilise the nation-state’s governing capacity (Sassen, 2007). This engagement with the global requires «imposed consensus» entailing «specific types of actual work, not merely decision-making» (Ibid. :37). We suggest that in those work processes, firstly, there is a degree of negotiation and reframing that constructs the “consensus” and secondly that examination of the construction of indicators, the work of inspection regimes and the collection and processing of data illuminate the governing practices in play in installing comparison as a key governing resource and in building consensus and installing self-regulation. In the operation of these technologies we identi­fy as key actors European and national inspectorates, whose expertise confronts and translates the mass of information carried by data within and across Europe (Lawn/Grek, 2012). Before looking at the work of the inspectorate in Scotland, and its role in SSE, we briefly discuss the changing nature of accountability.

II. Changing Forms of Accountability

8 Accountability is a complex concept, and many competing definitions are offered from different disciplinary perspectives. Accountability is often used normatively as a synonym for many desirable, yet loosely defined political goals, such as good governance, transparency, or democracy (Bovens, 2010 :946). Political scientists sometimes focus on the mecha­nisms (external and internal) for quality assurance and control in public institutions and for ensuring their responsiveness to citizens. A broader approach to accountability understands it in terms of social relations be­tween two actors in which one (an individual or an institution) answers to another with the right to make judgments, demand change and impose sanctions. This often translates in the education policy field into accountability through high-stakes testing.

9 Changes in the governing of education obviously have implications for accountability in the policy field. As governing practices in education have altered, so too have the regimes of accountability, and it is possible to trace a shift in England and elsewhere from post-war professional accountability to what Ranson (2003) calls neo-liberal corporate accountability, that laid the basis for the “imposed consensus” through which judg­ments of performance based on comparisons of test results became the only form of accountability that counted. In the post-war welfare states, the dimension of “answerability” located accountability in the hierarchical practices of public sector bureaucracies. Those practices of accountability were complex : teachers were accountable to parents, to the local authority/municipality, to governing boards, while local and national politicians were accountable to their electorates for the performance of the service. The policy field of education did not – at this time – lend itself easily to external scrutiny against indicators of performance, instead accountability involved exchanges of “accounts” that is narratives that conveyed meaning about values in contexts of multiple and reciprocal answerabilities, with inevitable conflicts of purpose (Ranson, 2003 :461).

10 The widespread adoption by policy makers from the 1980s onwards of the practices and assumptions of new public management across the globe and throughout the UK led to the strengthening of the audit state (Power, 1999). Within that frame of reference, the apparent paradox of “imposed consensus” was resolved through reliance on the effects of governing technologies – including KBRTs – in ensuring that, if people were “freed” from state control and dependence they must demonstrate their capacity and fitness to be governed in this deregulated fashion. They must demonstrate their capacity to learn and their engagement with a project of self-improvement and autonomous functioning that re-imagines societies as learning organizations (Senge, 1999). In England, this governing regime has produced an intensive system of performativity in education (Ball, 2001) in which rituals and routines of performance surveillance regulate, as Ranson puts it :

Both from the outside in, through regulations, controls and pressures, but also from the inside out, colonizing lives and producing new subjectivities (Ranson, 2003 :469).

11 Such performative regimes of accountability produce fabrications of performance, selective accounts that represent results and outcomes in the best possible light. The distinctive dimensions of this regime are present to a greater or lesser extent in transnational and national settings, and combine the redefinition of the citizen as consumer, a shift supported by competition, contract efficiency, audit and quality assurance processes. In its most “developed” form – in England – that accountability regime in education is more than a regulatory instrument and could be said to constitute the system itself (Ball, 2001). There is, then, a symbiotic link between these accountability regimes and the installation of the “conduct of conduct” through self-evaluation/self-regulation, which is the cornerstone of much knowledge-economy driven education/learning policy and practice.

12 Accountability, then, changes in relation to the governing work that it is required to do and, in its most developed, regulatory form, is installed in terms of the management and scrutiny of performance at all levels from the international competition of league table positioning though to the constant review of performance against hard and soft targets that is installed in teachers and pupils through forms of self-evaluation. This regime is most apparent in England where “world class” status is claimed for its sophisticated instruments of performance management in education, and, in particular, its data systems. The introduction of market mechanisms was especially developed in England, as many commentators have noted, and reflected policy commitments to shrinking the state, and redefining the citizen as consumer (Newman/Clarke, 2009). Policy and provision were distributed or decentralised to a range of actors and agencies, including, in some cases, private companies (Ball, 2008 ; Jones et al., 2008). Political or democratic accountability was absent from the discussion of these developments : the case was made with reference to efficiency, the need to improve teacher performance through regulation and the assumption of improved performance following from increased consumer responsiveness.

Table 1 : Changing Accountabilities

Professional accountability

Based on knowledge claims, expertise, judgment.

From institutions (schools) through local authority/municipality.

Operating through administrative hierarchies.

Accountable to public for progress.


Neo-Liberal accountabilities

(i) Consumer, (ii) contract, (iii) performative, (iv) corporate (emerging and merging over time and space-all need data).

Operating through

• Market-choice and strengthened consumer accountability through pressure on local authority from parents ;

• Costs, efficiency, competition, client-contract-accountability through schools to centre ;

• Inspection, standards, quality, testing, data-accountability to centre and beyond the national ;

• Competition, profit-accountability to corporate interest, public-private hybrids.

13 As indicated above, we connect the growth of technical and performative accountability to the growth of New Public Management in the UK (and elsewhere) in which market mechanisms displace the state, services are outsourced to hybrid public-private organisations, and responsibility for self-management, choice-making and the management of risk is increasingly devolved to individuals and families and away from state institutions. The nature of NPM has changed over time, but one of its essential characteristics is its reliance on private sector models and assumptions, especially those promoting the auditing of performance and ensuring the use of explicit formal measurable standards of performance and success, along with a preoccupation with managing risk (Lapsey, 2009). At the same time, the emphasis on performance against targets in the UK public sector without reference to consumer/citizen experience of using services reduced public trust in politicians, in public sector managers and in the “evidence” that they produced to demonstrate improved quality and transparency : ironically, the more that data were produced and cited, the less value they seemed to have in terms of managing risk and delivering accountability (Anderson et al., 2009).

III. School Self-Evaluation in Scotland

14 Data production, maintenance and use are time consuming and expensi­ve : data require constant work of translation and maintenance. Thus the recent growth of SSE in Scotland, developed and led by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) in Scotland, may, to some extent, reflect the difficulty of maintaining and managing data. Data about performance has the potential to grow almost without limits, and the huge costs of data systems are no longer affordable. In any case, Scotland did not have the “world class” data system, based on regular national testing, that had developed in England. At this point we need to stress the relative autonomy of education policy in Scotland – both before 1999, when a Scottish parliament was (re) established, and since that year, when the devolved parliament established a degree of legislative independence – including in education – from the UK government and parliament at Westminster. Thus although there are close similarities in education policy across the UK from the period of the post-war Keynesian welfare state, there is recent evidence of increasing divergence, for example while England introduced a National Curriculum with National Testing and a strong focus on hard performance indicators, these approaches were not adopted in Scotland. Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education in Scotland continued to operate through a less confrontational approach than their counterparts in Ofsted in England.

15 Recent political change has underlined difference : the election of the minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland in 2007 marked a break from Labour party policy influence on the Scottish political scene, and brought about considerable change in style of government (Arnot/Ozga, 2010) and a further distance from Westminster agendas. The changing scene is further complicated by the recent formation of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government to replace the New Labour administration at the national UK level in May 2010, with an agenda of retrenchment of the public sector, which is having a very substantial impact across the UK nations, but perhaps especially in those areas, including Scotland, where public sector provision has not been influenced by privatisation as it has in England. Moreover in 2011 the SNP won a lands­lide election victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections, and there are very considerable tensions between the two governments about reducing public sector costs and services. Decentralisation is a key principle of the SNP’s redesign of governance in Scotland, promoted not in terms of a reduction of state interference (which is the neo-liberal/coalition rhetoric at the UK level) but as demonstrating maturity in the political process, follo­wing from political devolution, and enabling the growth of accountability and hence trust between government and its partners (local authorities and other stakeholders). The SNP promotes its identity as a “learning government” (Sanderson, 2009) and seeks to both devolve responsibility to local government and encourage greater autonomy at institutional and local level, including in schools. This is a strategic development to support the SNP’s agenda of independence for Scotland.

IV. The Knowledge Content and Knowledge-based Process of School Self Evaluation

16 The emergence of SSE thus needs to be set within these developments in the political context, and in relation to data costs, and the consequences in terms of erosion of trust following from emphasis on performance management and measurement. SSE is about creating a school evaluation fra­mework that claims to bring about constant comparison and improvement, broadly focusing on answering two key questions about educational practice :

- “How good are we now ? ” in order to identify strengths and development needs in key aspects of teachers’ work and the impact it has on learners ; and
- “How good can we be ? ” in order to set priorities for improvement.

17 It is clear that SSE, in its style and operation, is part of a wider shift in accountability in the public sector in Scotland, away from centralised controls and top down management, towards placing responsibility on service providers themselves, and away from external regulation by agencies. Moreover, in making this shift, it prioritises different kinds of knowledge : not just data on performance levels achieved, but evidence of learning. The shift in responsibility is reliant on, and produces, a holistic approach to evidence and learning : «schools are not islands. They work with other schools, colleges, employers and a number of other services» (HMIE, 2007 :55).

18 From our observation and analysis of these processes we see self-evalu­ation being used as a tool to encode school knowledge, create consensus and promote specific values that relate to the creation of self-managed and self-sufficient individuals (both teachers and pupils). Furthermore, as they do more, they produce more and more new knowledge about themselves, which becomes productive for the constant improvement not only of the individual school, but for the governing of the system as a whole, as “good practice” is spread throughout the system by the inspectorate.

19 The diagram below represents the holistic nature of self-evaluation, and its centrality to learning.

20 The self-evaluation process asks schools to evaluate their performance in terms of impact and outcomes and to identify priorities for action leading to improvements and innovation. The Quality Framework in How Good is our School ? (HMIE, 2007) specifies a set of Quality Indicators that guide the process. There are three key domains against which schools must assess their performance ; these are :

  • (i) successes and achievements ;

  • (ii) the work and life of the school ;

  • (iii) vision and leadership.

Fig. 1 : Schools/Centres self evaluation and Improvement (HMIE)

Fig. 1 : Schools/Centres self evaluation and Improvement (HMIE)

21 Evidence of self-evaluation is required in three main forms : (i) Know­ledge-based quantitative data, (ii) People’s views, (iii) Professional/expert direct observation and documentation. Schools are required to use the “Quality Indicators” outlined in HGIOS in order to describe, quantify and measure their performance which is then to be externally judged on a regular basis through inspections of schools carried out by HMIE. The definition of “Quality Indicators” by HMIE effectively defines what should be regarded as “Quality” in education. Thus, the Inspectorate is able to define what is evaluated and therefore what is valued in education. The text of HGIOS, from its foreword onwards, makes it clear that the focus is on impacts and outcomes, as :

Self-evaluation is not an end in itself. It is worthwhile only if it leads to improvements in the educational experiences and outcomes for children and young people, and to the maintenance of the highest standards where these already exist (HMIE, 2007 :2).

22 This is a policy that comes as part of a wider framework, the so-called Journey to Excellence (HMIE, 2007) that provides «sets of tools which can be used to bring about continuous improvement in learning» (Ibid. :2). Thus, while schools are discouraged from using the framework of quality indicators as “checklists or recipes”, the idea of offering teachers specific tools for evaluation is well-embedded in the policy culture surrounding the self-evaluation movement in Scotland. The quality indicators are readily translated into pedagogic practice as they provide teachers with a new lan­guage and a new framework for practice in the classroom. In a time of considerable uncertainty and change in curriculum, this is a development that is likely to be welcomed by many practitioners. HGIOS and the self-evaluation framework that it promotes strongly encourage teachers to adopt particular ways of working. There is a strong steer towards teamwork and peer review as hallmarks of the reflective practitioner : all staff are recommended to engage in professional discussion and reflection based on «shared understanding of quality and a shared vision of their aims for young people» (HMIE, 2007:3). Self-evaluation is required as part of the working practice of all staff, school managers and teachers alike ; it is the major vehicle for learning and teaching and for school development :

Self-evaluation becomes a reflective professional process which helps schools get to know themselves well, identify their agenda for improvement and promote well-considered innovation (Ibid. :3).

23 HGIOS and self-evaluation are indicative of a new relationship between knowledge and schools that seeks to replace discussions of pedagogy and epistemology with a continuous self-awareness of weaknesses and stren­gths and a disposition towards constant comparison and improvement. This orientation is systematically promoted through all the HGIOS publications. In this construction of learning knowledge becomes linked to self-awareness, self-management and self-improvement. It is important to note that self-evaluation is not simply a self-assessment exercise for teachers but increasingly a way of being for all, pupils, parents and teachers alike :

The evaluative activities involved (in HGIOS) are similar to those which we encourage pupils to engage in as part of their own learning process. Taking part in them creates a community of learners (Ibid. :7).

24 Indeed, self-evaluation is promoted as a professional process that should not be mechanistic or bureaucratic. It is a guide to practice,

Alongside other sources of guidance such as curriculum advice, research into learning and pedagogy and studies of leadership styles and approaches (Ibid. :6).

25 In terms of its specific characteristics, HGIOS argues that teachers need to be «forward-looking», «promote well-considered innovation», as well as «peer evaluation» (Ibid. :7). In particular, teachers are asked to be active in :

Commenting on each other’s work, for example plans and asses­sments ;
Engaging in cooperative teaching and discussion ; and
Visiting each other’s classroom to see how particular developments are going, to experience different methods of teaching or to confirm our views of learner’s progress (Ibid. :7).

26 Teachers are asked to organise their work and gather evidence (so that nothing «slips through the net» (Ibid. :8)) in order to always be in a position to answer the following questions :

Fig. 2 : HGIOS-Core Questions

Fig. 2 : HGIOS-Core Questions

27 According to the HGIOS framework, this approach allows for the celebration of best practice, or, in the case of weaknesses, these «can be tracked down by focusing on some of the indicators» (HMIE, 2007 :15). This approach is called a “proportionate approach”, since it «enables you to focus on areas of priority rather than routinely covering all aspects of the school’s work in turn» (Ibid. :15). The focus is clearly on how well “the school knows itself” ; there is a strong emphasis on “improvement”, while lack of consensus, teamwork or rigorous data are seen as detrimental to effective self-evaluation. All of these processes guide teachers (and through them, pupils) towards practices through which they continuously monitor their performance and that of others.

28 The growth of self-evaluation has obvious implications for the role of the Inspectorate, and these may be illustrated with reference to the New Inspection Model (NIM). If self-evaluation is understood as the new “grammar” of regulation in education policy in Scotland, NIM represents one of its most significant readjusted structures. NIM defines, specifies and modifies the work of information gathering and planning for school evaluation and contributes to the mobilisation of new, specific kinds of understanding and structuring of education in Scotland. The key feature of NIM is what is widely termed “proportionality” : this means that in the cases of schools that are judged to be successful, inspections are much shorter. Briefly, inspectors can decide to “disengage” from “evaluative activity” as early as Wednesday (inspections always start on a Monday), having spent only a day and a half in the school. If such a decision is made and agreed by the school management, inspectors can then continue their work until the end of the week, but in developmental rather than inspectorial mode, in discussion of issues of professional development and in support in areas that school staff identify. Thus the inspectorate is asked to engage with teachers in a more supportive and developmental role than previously. NIM also underlines the importance of performing self-evalu­ation ; those who do it well will in that initial interaction between school and inspectorate, where the school must display how well it knows itself, will be rewarded with less frequent, much shorter and less intrusive inspections. Those that do not perform SSE convincingly must expect more frequent, longer inspections and greater scrutiny.

29 Analysis of the HMIE documentation reveals that the key purpose of the NIM is for schools «to show that they know themselves inside out» (HMIE, 2010b :2) and use this knowledge to plan for improvement. According to the inspectorate, «when self-evaluation is robust and convincing, we use it as part of the inspection evidence and might be able to finish inspection activities early» (Ibid.). This allows them, as we noted above, to «then work in partnership with staff to further encourage good practice and innovation and support improvement strategies» (Ibid.). At the start of the inspection headteachers are asked «to brief on the impact of your approach to improvement through self-evaluation». Presenting this narrative as a “journey of improvement” is important («where you and your staff have come from, where you are now and where you are wanting to get to»), as well as presenting the meeting as an “ongoing dialogue” about outcomes and plans for the future. Although the language used is quite active («give… demonstrate… identify… show»), what is required is the creation of an account. Previous school and quality reports can be referenced for evidence, but the new inspection model «is not a process of “validation” of grades through self-evaluation» (Ibid.). Instead, although data and numbers provide evidence, they are accompanied, fleshed out or given meaning and substance through the creation of a story, the narrative of a journey – where we were, where we are and crucially where we are heading to. Future projection and planning are vital here – as words like “innovation” and “improvement” suggest.

V. Discussion

30 Both SSE and the NIM through which it is promoted and assessed are KBRTs, and they are, of course, embedded in existing power relations. SSE, despite its insistence on the shared identity of a “community of practice” embracing teachers, managers and the inspectorate, carries and creates flows of power that constitute identities and social practices, so that preferred knowledge is prioritised and produced/performed. This is not to suggest that the NIM and SSE together constitute a script that “writes” behaviour and actions : there are many indications of fractures and difficulties in the reception of the instrument, that suggest that there is scope for either superficial conformity or active dissent in some spaces and places. Moreover the strategy encapsulated in the NIM is a very risky one from the perspective of governing : it removes traditional authority from the inspectorate by blurring the distinction between “them” and “us”, and it places them under scrutiny as actors in the self-evaluation/inspec­tion drama, who, like the teachers, need to play a part persuasively. They may not always succeed, and failure could undermine the model in a way that is new. Traditional inspection “judgments” could provoke anger and distress as well as euphoria among school staff, but the regulatory instrument was part of a repertoire of “hard” governance, and thus remained intact. An unconvincing performance of the NIM could undermine the idea of self-knowledge as possessed by the inspectorate, from which they learn, and on the basis of which they “teach”.

31 In offering this analysis of SSE, and the associated development of the NIM, we wish to stress that the significance of these developments extends well beyond the school, and underline the fact that the model discussed in this paper is being applied across the public sector services in Scotland. In this respect self-evaluation may be characterised as “learning governing” through which service providers at all levels manage and account for performance while learning from self-evaluation, not only in schools, but across government (Sanderson, 2009). As a senior policy maker states, this is about learning autonomy across the system, as a break from deca­des of “top down” control :

There [was] suffocation by direction… so we are changing the education system, we hope, from one of dependence to one of independence… you can’t be confident individuals if you think other people will do things for you… whether it is on a personal basis or a national… (SPM 5).

32 Moreover SSE is promoted very actively by the Scottish Inspectorate throughout and beyond Europe. The “Scottish model” is seen as one that may be applied effectively elsewhere. So that while the particular political circumstances that produce this shift in performance management techni­ques are obviously important and quite specific to Scotland, there are widespread concerns beyond Scotland about the unintended consequences of the New Public Management, and, of course, the issue of coping with reduced public expenditure is widely shared throughout Europe, so that there is a search for strategies that appear to maintain or improve quality without requiring massive investment in data systems and personnel. Self-evaluation fits with the new discourse of accountability and “bottom up” evaluation that also relates to political change, but in quite complex ways – it is part of an attempt to build new relations of governing with new partners/stakeholders in the shift from government to governance and towards the active enrolment of teachers and pupils in performance monitoring and management.

33 SSE and the NIM produce knowledge not only about attainment but about behaviours and attitudes, and this knowledge is negotiated, co-produced and embedded in the enactment of social relations. SSE thus constitutes

A technology, a culture and a mode of regulation… that employs judgements, comparisons displays as means of control, attrition and change. The performances – of individual subjects or organisations – serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of “quality” (Ball, 2001 :143).

34 Further, a very significant aspect of SSE and the NIM is their orientation to the future along with their requirements to change the culture of tea­ching, with the implication that they need to move their knowledge production processes into alignment with “Mode 2” (Gibbons et al., 1994) practices, and develop capacities as members of learning organisations. According to its proponents, “Mode 2” knowledge production moves activity beyond the academy and into the wider society, where knowledge is produced collaboratively : these ideas of co-production seem to inform both SSE and NIM. If teachers can be persuaded to internalise the goals of school improvement, and the vision of quality that is defined by the quality indicators, and adopt these as norms for genuine self-review of practice, then the whole Scottish education system will, it seems, be on a “journey to excellence”. This shift in the role and capacity of teachers would identify them more firmly as “knowledge-based professions” who are key to the effective working of this new, networked, deregulated system. But it is a particular form of knowledge that is in play here, and the shift in know­ledge and its uses brings heavy moral and ethical considerations ; as teachers are enrolled through the knowledge processes of SSE in creating a better, “flourishing” society. As Stehr (2004) points out, the language used in relation to the new knowledge raises some uncomfortable issues and conceals some fundamental inequalities, as individuals and groups are positioned by it as having the capacity to employ and transform their life chances on the basis of this new social contract that «move[s] new scientific and technical knowledge, and thereby the future, into the centre of the cultural, economic and political matrix of society» (Stehr, 2004 :ix).

VI. Conclusions

35 In the paper we have set SSE in context of the massive expansion of the evaluation of public services within Scotland, the UK and beyond from the 1980s onwards. This expansion relied heavily on data use (Grek et al., 2009) but targets led to distortions of behaviour : ironically, the more that data were produced and cited, the less value they seemed to have in terms of managing risk and delivering accountability. We connect the development of SSE to new practices of governing developed by the SNP government after 2007 that signaled a shift to achieving outcomes rather than measuring inputs, targets and the impact of detailed interventions, and explain the re-emergence of professionals – especially inspectors – as key actors in this redesign of accountability.

36 SSE thus represents an element of a larger policy paradigm shift in accountability in the public sector. It marks a shift of responsibility to service providers themselves, away from external regulation by agencies and it prioritises different kinds of knowledge : not just data on performance levels achieved, but evidence of learning. The shift in responsibility is reliant on, and produces, a holistic approach to evidence and learning : self-evaluation as a KBRT is used to encode school knowledge, create consensus and promote specific values that relate to the creation of self-managed and self-sufficient individuals (both teachers and pupils). The coding enables the shift away from “heavy” monitoring towards an apparent “light touch”, while co-opting schools further into the new networks of knowledge production. Furthermore, as they do more, they produce more and more new knowledge about themselves, which becomes productive for the constant improvement not only of the individual school, but for the governing of the system as a whole.

37 The traditional models of public accountability (through public servants answerable to ministers, themselves answerable to the electorate) are evidently insufficient for governing work across the developing range of contexts and providers, while the dominant policy approach of relying on individual choice (i. e., defining accountability as a contract between customer and provider) is inadequate in relation to social outcomes. Attempts by the centre to recover or promote trust through more bottom up and self-generated forms of evaluation of performance may be undermined by the continued effects of neo-liberal, performative managerial accountability on political or professional accountability identification with the project of improvement. Even in Scotland, where there is much less evidence of a performative culture than in England, SSE is being promoted in the shadow of historically embedded cultures of answerability, and there is, accordingly a very serious issue of lack of trust.

38 Of course there are particular factors that lead us to interpret the shift in regulation represented by SSE in this particular way in the Scottish context, and these may not apply elsewhere. For example we have underlined the changing politics in Scotland, and the promotion of “intelligent” governing by the Scottish government. In this analysis, the development of a new inspection model, and the reconfiguration of inspection identities that accompanies it, mirrors the attempt to change politics in Scotland, and to present an overarching narrative of intelligent, reflexive governing, based on independent thinking and self-knowledge that is strengthened by the processes of self-monitoring and self-development that the Scottish Government is attempting to “teach” public sector workers/public servants and citizens to adopt. A stronger sense of identity which will apparently be produced by stronger self-knowledge, fosters an overarching political agenda of independence, but whether this narrative will carry conviction in the context of major reductions in public sector services remains to be seen. We should also emphasise that our conclusion, based on evidence from the comparative studies mentioned above, should not be interpreted as endorsing one KBRT (SSE) rather than another (for example that of Ofsted). Rather we seek to highlight the point that the more collaborative, learning oriented model (SSE) is a more persuasive, more penetrating and this, perhaps more powerful regulation tool, as it promotes engagement with the governing “project” on a national, institutional and individual scale.

Haut de page


Anderson R., Brown I., Dowty T., Inglesant P., Heath W., Sasse A.,

2009 Database State, York, The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

Arnott M., Ozga J.,

2010 “Education and Nationalism : the Discourse of Education Policy in Scot­land”, Discourse : Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31, n°3, p.335-350.

Ball S. J.,

2001 “Performativities and Fabrications in the Education Economy”, in Gleeson D., Husbands C. (Eds.), The Performing School : Managing Teaching and Learning in a Performance Culture, London, RoutledgeFalmer, pp.210-226.

2010 “New Voices, New Knowledges and the New Politics of Education Research : the Gathering of a Perfect Storm ? ”, European Educational Research Journal,vol.9, n°4, pp.124-137.

Bell S., Hindmoor A., Mols F.,

2010 “Persuasion as Governance : A State-centric Relational Perspective”, Public Administration, vol.88, n°3, pp.851-870.

Bovens M.,

2010 “Two Concepts of Accountability : Accountability as a Virtue and as a Mechanism”, West European Politics, 33(5), pp.946-967.

Campbell D.,

2008 “Scandal of Patients left for Hours outside A&E”, The Observer, 17th February 2008.

Carvalho L. M., Costa E.,

2009a Production of OCDE's Programme for International Student Assessment. Final report, Project KNOWandPOL, WP 11, March,

Clarke J.,

2008 “Performance Paradoxes : The Politics of Evaluation in Public Services”, in Davis H., Martin S. (eds), Public Services Inspection in the UK, London, Jessica Kingsley, pp.120-134.

Cowie M., Croxford L.,

2006 “Measuring and Monitoring School Performance in Scotland”, Education in the North, 13, pp.23-36.

Cowie M., Taylor D., Croxford L.,

2007 “Tough, Intelligent Accountability in Scottish Secondary Schools and the Role of Standard Tables and Charts (STACS) : A Critical Appraisal”, Scottish Educational Review, 39, n°1, pp.29-50.

Foray D.,

2004 The Economics of Knowledge, Cambridge, Mass MIT Press.

Gibbons M., Limoges C., Nowonty H., Schwartzman S.,

1994 The New Production of Knowledge : the Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies, London/Thousand Oaks, Sage.

Giraudon V., Favell A.,

2007 The Sociology of European Integration, paper presented at the EUSA Conference (Montreal), August.

Grek S.,

2009 “Governing by Numbers : the PISA Effect”, Journal of Education Policy, 24 (1), pp.23-37.

2012 “What PISA knows and can do : studying the Role of National Actors in the making of PISA”, European Education Research Journal, vol.11, n°2, pp.243-254.

Grek S., Lawn M., Ozga J.,

2009 “PISA and the Policy Debate in Scotland : Policy Narratives about Scottish Participation in the International Comparison”, Sísifo - Educational Sciences Journal, 10, pp.73-84.

Grek S., Ozga J., Lawn M.,

2009 Integrated Children’s Services in Scotland, KnowandPol Orientation 2, Public Action 1,, [Accessed 9 June 2010].

Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education (HMIE),

2006 How Good is our School ? – The Journey to Excellence, Edinburgh, HMSO.

2007 How Good is our School ? – The journey to Excellence, Part 3, (accessed 10 May 2010).

2010 Learning together : Opening up Learning, Edinburgh, HMIE.

Issakyan I., Lawn M., Ozga J., Shaik F.,

2008 The Social and Cognitive Mapping of Policy : The Education sector in Scotland, KnowandPol Orientation 1, Final Report, downloadable at, [Accessed 9 June 2010].

Jacobsson B.,

2006 “Regulated Regulators : Global Trends of State regulation”, in Djelic M. L., Sahlin-Andersson K. (eds.), Transnational Governance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.205-224.

Keating M.,

2002 “Devolution and Public Policy in the United Kingdom : Divergence or Convergence”, in Adams J., Robinson P. (Eds.), Devolution in Practice : Public Policy Differences within the UK, London, IPPR, pp.3-21.

Kohler-Koch B., Eising R.,

1999 The Transformation of Governance in the European Union, London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Lapsey I.,

2009 “New Public Management : the Cruellest Invention of the Human Spirit ? ”, Abacus, 45 (1), pp.1-21.

Lawn M.,

2006 “Soft Governance and the Learning Spaces of Europe”, Comparative European Politics, 4 (2-3), pp.272-288,

Maroy C.,

2008 “The New Regulation Forms of Educational Systems in Europe : Towards a Postbureaucratic Regime”, in Soguel N. C., Jaccard P. (eds.), Governance and Performance of Education Systems, Berlin, Springer, pp.13-35.

Miller P., Rose N.,

2008 Governing the Present : Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Mons N., Pons X.,

2009 “The Reception of PISA in France : a Cognitive Approach of Institutional Debate (2001-2008)”, Sísifo - Educational Sciences Journal, 10, pp.27-40.

Newman J., Clarke J.,

2009 Publics, Politics and Power : Remaking the Public in Public Services, London, Sage.

Nóvoa A., Yariv-Mashal T.

2003 “Comparative Research in Education : A Mode of Governance or a Historical Journey ? ”, Comparative Education, 39 (4), pp.423-439.

Nowotny H., Scott P., Gibbons M.,

2001 Re-thinking Science : Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty, Cambridge, Polity Press.


2000 Knowledge Management in the Learning Society, Paris, OECD.

Ozga J.,

2008 “Governing Knowledge : Research Steering and Research Quality”, European Educational Research Journal, vol.7, n°3, pp.261-272.

Ozga J., Dahler-Larsen P., Segerholm C., Simola H. (Eds.),

2011 Fabricating Quality in Education : Data and Governance in Europe, London, Routledge.

Ozga J., Lingard B.,

2007 “Globalisation, Education Policy and Politics”, in Lingard (B.), Ozga (J.) (Eds.), The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Education Policy and Politics, London, Routledge, pp.65-82.

Power M.,

1999 The Audit Society : Rituals of Verification, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Ranson S.,

2003 “Public Accountability in the Age of Neo-liberal Governance”, Journal of Education Policy, vol.18, n°5, pp.459-480.

Sanderson I.,

2009 Evidence-Based Policy or Policy-Based Evidence ? Reflections on Experience in the Scottish Government, PPN Seminar, University of Edinburgh.

Sassen S.,

2007 Deciphering the Global : Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects, London, Routledge.

Scottish Office Education Department (SOED),

1991 Management of Educational Resources : 5, The Role of School Development Plans in Managing School Effectiveness, Edinburgh, HMSO, HM Inspectors of Schools.

Senge P.,

1999 The Dance of Change. The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organisations, New York, Doubleday.

Stehr N.,

2004 “Introduction : A World Made of Knowledge”, in Stehr N. (Ed.), The Governance of Knowledge, Edison (NJ), Transaction Publishers.

Haut de page


1 Fabricating Quality in European Education/Governing by Numbers (ESRC : RES 00-23-1385), Knowledge and Policy (EU FP6 IP 028848-2), Governing by Inspection (ESRC : RES 062 23 2241A) and Transnational Policy Learning (ESRC : RES 000-22-3429).

2 Martin Lawn, John Clarke (UK) ; Hannu Simola and Risto Rinne (Finland) ; Christina Segerholm (Sweden) ; Peter Dahler-Larsen (Denmark) ; Eric Mangez and Christian Maroy (Belgium) ; Agnes van Zanten and Xavier Pons (France) ; Antonio Novoa and Luis-Miguel Carvalho (Portugal). This paper draws particularly on the work of the knowledge and policy project.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 : Schools/Centres self evaluation and Improvement (HMIE)
Fichier image/png, 309k
Titre Fig. 2 : HGIOS-Core Questions
Fichier image/png, 88k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Jenny Ozga et Sotiria Grek, « Governing through Learning. School Self-Evaluation as a Knowledge-based Regulatory Tool »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 43-2 | 2012, 35-52.

Référence électronique

Jenny Ozga et Sotiria Grek, « Governing through Learning. School Self-Evaluation as a Knowledge-based Regulatory Tool »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 43-2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 18 février 2013, consulté le 19 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Jenny Ozga

Department of Education, University of Oxford.

Sotiria Grek

School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la revue Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques sont disponibles selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo DOAJ – Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Logo Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques
  • Logo Fondation universitaire
  • Logo Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search