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The Local Reception of the Quality Assurance System in the Romanian Pre-University Education. Between Resistance and Compliance*

Adel Kiss et Ildiko Fejes
p. 77-93


The paper examines how street level actors relate to the complex of regulation introduced and operated through the quality assurance system in pre-university education in Romania. In the study the focus is put on the actors’ reactions (complaints, parry, resistance, opposition) considering the different aspects of regulation (external school evaluation, measurements, internal self-evaluations and the management of quality in school). The paper intends to reflect the mechanisms that eventuate the changes in attitude, perceptions and reactions. According to the literature, little attention is being given to the impacts and effects of quality assurance. The paper discusses through local actors’ reaction the reception and local impacts of regulation.

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I. Introduction

  • *  This article has been published thanks to the support of the European Union’s Sixth Framework Prog (...)
  • 1 The KNOWandPOL project was an EC funded (FP6) integrated project run between 2006-2011, that sought (...)
  • 2 Belgium, France, Scotland, Norway, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and Romania.
  • 3 National report : Kiss A., Fejes I., Rostas Z., 2010.
  • 4 The term refers to the public education system, including all (public and private, primary and seco (...)

1 The Know&Pol1 research project investigated the role of knowledge in the construction and regulation of education and health policies in 8 European countries2. Structured in three orientations the research included (1) an organizational mapping of the field, (2) case studies on the role of knowledge in public action, and (3) analysis on supra-national and national knowledge-based regulatory instruments. This third orientation focu­sed on the role of knowledge in regulation, research teams were investigating the construction, adaptation, use and effectivity of supra-national and national knowledge-based regulation tools. The Romanian team researching in the education sector, scrutinized – as national knowledge-based regulation tool – the instrument of quality assurance3 functioning in the Romanian pre-university education system4. Building upon the research conducted within Know&Pol, in this study we focus on the end-users’, street level actors’ and further stakeholders’ most common reactions regarding the introduction, operation and functioning of this instrument. Furthermore, the paper reflects on how actors’ reactions affect the local adaptation and outcomes of regulation, what kind of policy effectiveness can be achieved at local level.

2 As the call for papers of this thematic issue shortly summarized, our research project while investigating knowledge-based regulation tools, moved from the consideration that due to globalization of education and accountability policies, new forms of governance and regulation evolve, based on external evaluations and accountability (Maroy, 2008). The knowledge generated this way becomes the promoter and motive of know­ledge-based regulatory instruments. As the Pons/van Zanten (2007) conception implies : regulatory instruments not only build upon knowledge, but through their functioning generate particular kind of knowledge. While producing knowledge, produce “the policy” within national, local circumstances. Such instruments and tools function in post-bureaucratic governance environments. According to Kosa et al. (2008) post-bureau­cratic knowledge is future oriented, managerial, comparative, integrated, trans-national, evidence-based, qualitative, processual, based on performance and users’ experience. Since the theory and practice of knowledge-based regulation evolved in the developed west-european countries’ decentralized organizational settings, and these became functional in post-bureaucratic governances there arises the challenge : can knowledge-based regulatory instruments function effectively in a still centralized and bureaucratic education system, such as the Romanian education system is ? In these settings post-bureaucratic regulation and NPM are only “theoretically” present, that makes more interesting the range of reactions that appear in the “messy” and evolving process of regulation.

II. The National Context of Quality Assurance

  • 5 This tendency was closely related with the country’s EU pre-accession procedures, inter alia, with (...)

3 The attempts to introduce a modern (standard-based) quality assurance system in the Romanian education started from school year 1998. For the first time (after the regime change in 1989), special attention was paid to school evaluations and priority was given to standard-based assessments and evaluations5 (Kiss et al., 2010). Previously, the concept of quality in education meant almost exclusively the compliance to state requirements, fitted into an administrative accountability system (Kozma, 1999), that allowed relatively small space for market controls and community accountability (Mandel, 2007). In the centralized education system the central apparatus measured students’ achievements and knowledge on final exams (baccalaureate) and university entrance and final exams, and quality exis­ted where students achieved high scores in these exams. A serious and grounded reinterpretation of quality assurance and accountability in education started to emerge clearly to western/EU expectations and impacts.

4 Accordingly, in national context the external school evaluations and the schools’ internal self-evaluations provide the bases for quality assurance, while the management of quality (at the level of schools) is one of the main requirements within the two procedures. All quality assurance proce­dures function based on standards, taken over from international level (EU quality assurance policies, recommendations, procedures and guidelines), aligned to national conditions. The two evaluation procedures involving the management of quality (which means the organizational structure managing the activities and processes that satisfy the quality requirements) are interconnected between each other.

5 The introduction of this system happened parallel with several other education policy reform initiatives and experiments, that “travelled” around the country and the education system after 1998, and developed accordingly to what the consecutive governances and education ministers (between 1998-2010) imagined : alternately towards decentralization or recentralization (Mandel, 2007). The difficulties of education reform attempts in this era can be found – next to the changing governments, inconsistency and lack of coherence in reforms – in the paradoxon that is be­tween the content of the education reforms and the mode of their implementation. During the more then 40 years of state socialism Romania significantly falled behind the modern education endeavors. As the regime changed, and during the EU pre-accession process the country (the Romanian society and the education sector especially) had to accomplish a range of reforms, such modernizing processes that in western societies already took place in parallel with the evolution of democracy and social participation. These reforms being already post-modern and post-bureau­cratic, challenge the Romanian society that stands – in several respects – in front modernization.

6 Concerning education policy implementation – except of a few exceptions – the model of top-down and bureaucratic, technical-rational perspective is conspicuous. The EU cathing up constraint-efforts resulted in centralized execution of decentralization, supporting post-bureaucratic elements in a bureaucratic environment, without providing the freedom of choice necesarry to social responsibility taking. These paradoxes result in gaps between narratives and social realities, between policy announcement and policy socialization. As we will later see, the social reception of education policies is difficult not only because actors – especially street level actors – no longer have trust in the system/central administration, but also because the Romanian society lacks a kind of “social maturity” and participation necesarry to actively take part in policy implementation. Therefore, between the content of reforms and policies, and their feasibility significant contradictions sharpen up.

7 The new law of education from 2011 marks the end of an era. Characteristically, despite the fact that the law introduced remarkable and important changes in respect of student and parent participation, and reforms the roles and tasks of education staff, in its period of draft-planning and debate the law induced more political than professional or social debates. The explosed political outbreak got significant media publicity, but the social trust in the reform’s coherence and effectiveness is so reduced that professional and social reaction appeared only recently, when these changes started to be introduced (at the beginning of school year 2011-2012).

III. Some thoughts about “the Local”

8 Parallel with top-down policy implementation methods in the Romanian education sector one can find several bottom-up initiatives as well, that outline the dichotomy and ambivalence of policy implementation practice. In the bottom-up model the local initiatives (having generally only local radius of action) serve the representations of the local interpretations and processes of quality assurance. These are successful and effective practices that do not happen explicitly under the designation of central initiatives, rather in the conceptions of private/individual notions. These local, micro-regional practices are examples of a bottom-up decentralization. They are vernacular processes and noteworthy initiatives since they occupy areas of action and contents for themselves without legal or administrative means, with the disregard of central power and passing over mechanisms.

9 Local actors are in such situations defined by local community rights and interests, rely on the local society’s mode of functioning, where assuring or withdrawing resources and legitimacy is build upon local bases. Experiences show that the two models evolved and function independen­tly from each other. Ambivalence is strengthened by the fact that top-down initiatives usually do not become – or just partially becomes – accepted at local level. Furthermore, bottom-up processes remain regional or local scale events, do not impact or affect the national processes. This practice raises several questions. It would be desirable to find the way of social acceptance of top-down initiatives, for this reason it is necessary to know in detail how do successful or less successful local initiatives get started and function in the bottom-up model.

10 Basic characteristics of bottom-up policy or regulation initiatives : (1) most of these organize according to tacit, unreferenced, latent “local authority or power” (do not take into account the central rules, often do not take note of their existence) ; (2) financial and human resources, know­ledge, methods and tools are generated from local sources ; (3) their social function is also local and (4) actors prefer to communicate about such initiatives, but their references and evaluations also remain within the local dimension (Kiss et al., 2010).

11 From the outsider point of view these initiatives can be characterized by low degree of institutionalization and weak external connections. From the inside they are successful and effective, because they follow the rules of the local society and their frames of reference come also from the local. It is authoritative from the point of view of assessment of a local event what the event means for the functioning of the local society.

12 The relation between the two kind of model might be useful from several points. National top-down education policy initiatives usually aim the transformation of a narrow segment, transformations focusing on administrative-organizational changes, legitimacy being offered by the national policy standing above “the local”, where a general aim is to suit local institutions and social processes into the reform initiatives of the national system. Experiences show that such intentions result in formal identifications and generate different techniques of protection at local level (Bodó, 1997). By constrast, local-scale initiatives and processes are spot-like, their frame of reference is assured or withdrawn by the local society, their implicit aim is to establish autonomy, not in general, rather for the given local event that has concrete specific spatial and temporal parameters. Not without reason can we assume that the nation-scale top-down policy and reform initiatives – to some extent – remain unsuccesful due to the practi­ces of local decentralization processes. We can assume that national policies and programs might be designed and planned differently in the light of knowledge and understanding on the functioning of local initiatives.

IV. Theoretical Considerations

13 While researchers speak about European trends in the evolution of modes of regulation in education (Maroy et al., 2004), the identified trends are for efficiency and classification. They relate to decentralization, to the increasing school autonomy, to the growing importance of school evaluations, to the diversification in school choice and erosion of teachers’ autonomy6. The progression of the Romanian education system follows these European trends, but as perceived, it follows with phase-delay (Biro/Kiss, 2010 ; Kiss/Fejes/Rostas, 2010). Competition for example is becoming increasingly fashionable, as a consequence of urged and exten­ded measurement and evaluation processes, that redefine schools and the educational (managerial or pedagogical) practice (Ozga, 2009), as well as the perceptions and practices of teaching and learning. Theoretically, the requirements of quality try to sustain – to the analogy of other regulation tools – a particular dicta (Carvalho, 2009) in the system of education. According to that, regulation tools might have considerable role in shaping the actors’ thinking, actions and interactions.

14 Quality assurance has progressively become a matter of public concern with emphasis on quality improvement and accountability (Westerheij­den/Stensaker/Rosa, 2007). Nowadays the quality of education is no longer seen as self-evident, but as value, about that actors have different views and interpretations. It is socially constructed, in a process within that higher quality is not achieved by inspecting, but rather is made “pain­stakingly” in the interaction between actors. Consequently, quality management has crucial role in orienting this process (Ibid.). Serves as a tool for continued interpretations of reality, and displays cognitive and normative frames for acting.

15 In respect of accountability Radó (2009) distiguishes between quality oriented (this is based on school evaluation) and performance oriented (measuring student performance) accountability systems. Although in the Romanian quality assurance system school evaluation is a dominant direction – actors’ reactions relate mostly to this issue –, there is considerable local experience and practice regarding performance-based accountability as well. Interviews reveal that respondents consider performance-based accountability (pedagogical work and students’ performance) more important, in fact, this stands as base for institutional evaluations. In most opinion, however, quality assurance as an accountability system functions on a reversed logic. While in developed countries education quality refers to the quality of services from the point of view of the consumer, in East-European societies quality appears as a compliance with the requirements of an external (often state) body (Halász, 1999 ; Papp/Mandel, 2007). This is basically the administrative accountability (Kozma, 1999), where accountability is done by the state, and control and supervision are transfor­med into measurement and evaluation (Mandel, 2004). Rules do not them­selves determine practice, since they are always open to interpretation. Rules are rather resources to be employed in regulatory practice.

16 However, regulatory practice might differ according to the model and/or method of policy implementation, which implies the differences of cognitive dimensions as well. One segment of the policy implementation literature discusses the ambiguity of two main approaches : the top down and the bottom up approaches (Matland, 1995). The top-down policy implementation puts emphasis on the rational design of policy, on its central actors and linearity in public administration, and assumes distinct policy formulation and implementation (Mazmanian/Sabatier, 1983). Criticism of this approach especially highlights that it ignores the expertise of local implementers, or even sees them as impediments of the policy implementation process (Schofield, 2001). The bottom-up models, by contrast, underlines the behavioral aspects of implementation, on the motives, values, actions of actors involved in implementation (target groups, service deliverers), and says that implementation can be better understood through the viewpoint of street level actors (Matland, 1995).

17 The criticism of this approach explains that too much emphasis is put on the autonomy of local implementers (Schofield, 2001). There are, how­ever, interpretations going beyond the top-down and bottom-up models, that try to view policy implementations in their complexity. Datnow and Park (2009) while conceptualizing policy implementation examine three theories : they reflect on the technical-rational perspective, on mutual adaptation and sence-making/co-construction in policy implementation. These theories differ according to the “characteristics of change”, importance of contexts and values. Similarly to the top-down model the technical-rational perspective of policy implementation is suggesting hierarchical structure and authority, an uni-directional change, within that street level actors are seen as passive or automatically acting.

18 Context in this perspective is largely ignored, thus such policy implementation fails to understand the “local”. The mutual adaptation, in turn, is defined by the authors as bi-directional change, within that policy design and decisional level can clearly be separated by the local policy implementation. The top level might influence the local adaptation of policy, however, there is still little attention given to the perceptions and interpretations of implementers (who have the power or influence to negotiate between the policy and local schools), consequently, this approach misses to capture the relationships between the different actors and agencies of the policy implementation. And finally the sense-making/co-construction theory is probably the more opened towards the messy of policy implementation. Here change is seen as multi-directional, multiple actors are taking part in the process, human agency is considered important, and policy formation and implementation are inseparable. The criticism of this approach highlights that there is minimal chance in this case to understand the dynamics of power across the education hierarchy while using this the­ory. Nonetheless, it is a useful tool to understand wide scale reforms.  

19 This thematic issue thematizes one key carrier of the regulation within post-bureaucratic modes of governance : knowledge. Through the analysis we would like to shed light of knowledge-elements, components related to quality assurance. We assume, that there are versatile and multi-faceted local knowledges and interpretations in practice, that can be categorized according to the type of reactions (accepting, rejecting, indifference), and through the categories even a more nuanced picture of local knowledge and interpretations of education quality and quality assurance will outline.

V. Local Actors Reactions

20 In methodological terms the article is a secondary-analysis of our Know&Pol national results, and for the following sections we build upon interviews and resources of informal interpersonal discussions.

  • 7 Street level practitioners, local decision-makers, principals, teachers, front-line public servants (...)

21 The interviews made with local actors7 from the field of education give the chance for the analyst to go into the deep of actors’ reactions, interpretations and attitudes (how do they relate) towards the introduction of the quality assurance system. The respondents, however, do not react only to one aspect of quality assurance, but are trying to place their observations into a larger frame of reference. Our analysis starts with summarizing and synthesizing their views regarding (1) the system of quality assurance and that (2) relating to the implementation of the policy.

A. Actors’ Approach related to the Education and Quality Assurance System

22 As previously mentioned, the origine of the general mistrust towards the elements of the education reform (social participation, school autonomy, etc.) is the inconsistency and incoherence of most reform initiatives and processes. The succesive governments often introduce contradictory measures, that street level actors interprete as follows :

I often have the feeling that the policy-makers and reform initiators from decisional levels are like who had never dealt with car repairing, but who start to dissamble a car now, that is still functioning somehow, but actually can not assemble it. And once that it is dissambled, it’s over. We just live this moment in education at the moment. We are not able to think systematically, this is one point. The other problem is the legal : laws and regulations often contradict each other. And now syndicates and everyone is engaged in appeals against these laws and at the end none knows whether there is a result or not, what should we do, which news are true – that come from the Ministry or from the Court – or which is the order we should follow or comply with (school inspector 1, County School Inspectorate).

23 This interview section indicates that regional representatives of the education system differentiate between the principals of the policy (those who define it) and the implementing agents’ level (that is complex and difficult to a high degree that upper level actors can not understand or manage rightly). The system the inspector reflects to is unable to embrace the whole, this is usual in a hierarchically structured and mechanically acting system. There is however, a bottom up initiative to negotiate the change, which participation suggests that local action and reactions display behaviors that is more than mutual adaptation to policy (Datnow/Park, 2009).

24 Similarly, reflect to the whole system of education those who accept the use and strengths of the quality assurance system, but who consider in the same time the paradoxes of the national education. Despite the positive elements (values and goals) that are present/enlisted in the theoretical frames of quality assurance, street level actors consider them to be impractical within romanian social realities. This reflects upon the lack of harmo­nization and actions towards bridging the gap between policy and implementation :

All these function only if a real decentralization happens. But what happens in Romania is that at the introduction of a law, reform or policy all scientific grounding is written and presented, lots of good ideas and conceptions introduced, but when it comes to realization, it just simply can not work as it is planned (principal 2, local school).

25 However, actors from the local leadership and implementation perceive that the local society, the actors’ perception is not sufficiently mature for the reception of such changes. For an education in a decentralized system, that is based on social participation and responsibility only the seeds are beginning to emerge, while the theoretical and practical frame of the reform in many cases assumes the existence of such circumstances :

The problem is that most things/ideas are invented for a system where the community, parents and children feel that the school is their own […] But here parents consider school problems as burden, similarly do local counselors who are responsible for many other things from that school is considered the last one, so there remains only the teacher and school staff (principal 2, local school).

26 It is not only the local society that is not yet prepared but even some actors from the education system do they work with a fundamentally different approach :

If inside the system people do not understand why things are, or why they function as they function, then it is very difficult to succed and achieve results. It is not enough for the teacher to do the job – to hold the lessons –, but they should join the planning processes and imple­mentations. And then results are visible : they are prepared and know the administrative and legal aspects of regulation, know the procedu­res, do self-assessment honestly, taking into account both the stren-gths and weaknesses. People must be aware of these things, not only acting mechanically, but working consciously and responsibly. I often meet the lack of this (principal 2, local school).

27 Furthermore, we can see that local actors from the education system often perceive the weaknesses and threats of this accountability system, especially see that contents and theoretical frames does not match with the educational and social realities of Romania :

But what is the problem in fact ? That there is a large gap between objectives, performances and realities (teacher 1, member of local QA committee).

28 But we should check this phenomenon inversely as well. The respondents see and perceive the gap between policy planning and local implementation and results, perhaps because the reform itself and the system of quality assurance brought them a new system of concepts and a new vision of school /education, that highlighted the shortcoming of the previous system. For those who imply into some of the reform’s processes there is a chance to receive a set of knowledge that generates self-reflexivity. The knowledge transfer often causes scepticism, confusion or helplessness, but as we will see in the forthcoming sections, it also brings such opinion-forming mechanisms that, with through the positive relation towards the new contents and methodologies might prepare the recipients for a “maturation process” that is really needed.   

B. Actors’ Approach related to the “Agency”8 and towards its Representation

  • 8 RAQAPE – Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education.

29 The interview analysis made it possible to classify actors’ reactions into three basic categories. One part of the respondents shows explicit resistance and protests against the obligations of quality assurance. In their point of view the present system does not contain any positive elements or benefits. Less negative attitude prevades from the part of those who already observed many useful elements or aspects in the content and theoretical grounding of the present quality assurance system, and are optimistic towards its practical benefits and outcomes. Finally, there are actors, respon­dents whose reaction might be considered neutral, somehow passive – these are mostly mid-level school inspectors, who consider as task to mediate between central instructions (governmental level) and local actors (schools). Of course we are not talking about ideal-types, most actors represent the provisional between rejecting and accepting.

1. The Rejecting Attitude

30 Rejection, protests and resistance comes mostly from the part of those persons/actors (stakeholders) who have already been directly affected by the new theoretical content of quality assurance and by the explicit tasks that had to be carried out in the context of quality assurance. Their most common and frequent complaint is that quality assurance is about lot of paper work that is expected to be carried out voluntary, without getting extra financial contribution for it. Almost all interviewees representing this view point out the congestion caused by paper work. The following quotation comes from a school inspector :

We have seen and see even today that quality assurance means only the extra work for us, and we should clearly and honestly tell this, since no one pays for this extra task that inspectors from the County School Inspectorate, principals and school commitees responsible for quality assurance have to do. And this is not a small task. Since in every school this committee has to set up large dossiers with all kind of papers including measurements, observation sheets, comparison data, the volume of the work is significant. But no one pays for this job. And this is a negative issue, since neither the Ministry, nor the State could not find any solution to undertake a kind of financial motivation. And most colleagues do not want to be members of local committee or implementer staff or workgroups, because the work is an extra burden (school inspector 2, County School Inspectorate).

31 The burden caused by paper work often results in such resistance that effects even the possible positive aspects or gains of quality assurance, gains that are highlighted by those actors being rather acceptor towards this accountability system. And here we meet with the confusion regarding concepts. Most of the actors with rejecting attitude understand/inter­pret quality assurance in a “traditional-narrow” sense, where quality is measurable with students’ achievements. Accordingly, they do not understand what this issue has to do with the lot of paper work :

Quality is a simple issue, it was not invented today that the quality of education should be assured. Because teachers had to hold good clas­ses, schools had to employ good teachers, you have to have good stu­dents, the teacher has to work with them, and s/he has to be paid correctly for that. This is quality assurance […] If I have good teachers and students, if the circumstances are given, quality is ready/done. And then I don’t have to write in addition plans, reports and other unnecessary staff (teacher 2, member of the local QA committee).

32 An other problem reveals from the discussions : these actors consider contradictory that the new quality assurance system puts significant emphasis on data and documentations, and do not understand how is possible to form a realistic picture about the school based only on data and documentations :

For example, there comes an expert (external evaluator) from an other county to my school, looks around in the school and writes a report about it. There wouldn’t be any problem with this, if they would come to see the practice, they would enter the classrooms. But no ! What happens is that they go into the board room, take all the documentations, large dossiers of papers and look through them to see whether everything is fine or not. If I can prevail to invite or persuade them to look around in the school – once I succeded – then it takes usually 10 minutes, and at the end they form their opinion about the school (principal, local school).

33 At the different stages of protest and resistance there appear such opinions after that the new system of quality assurance expenses or impedes in fact the quality of education :

What do you understand by quality ? We are doing all kind of things, but not quality – at least from the point of view of children we do not. Next to the lot of paper it gets lost to assure the sense of security, goals for learning, enough motivation for the children. From where to expect quality then ? (principal 2, local school).

2. The Accepting Attitude

34 There are three important aspects of the accepting and supporting attitu­de towards quality assurance. The work of quality assurance (external evaluations, self-evaluations) – that is not just done as an obliged formality – gives in fact transparency for the school leadership and school staff :

It is in fact a meaningful work, since it holds a mirror or draws a clear view, a picture about what is happening in the school. School years are compared with each other, first semester report and evaluations are compared with second semester results, last year data with previous. So that you can see the fields where your school has been developed and to what direction you are going, where your strengths and weaknesses are (school inspector 2, County School Inspectorate).

35 The other gain of this regulation builds upon transparency : there is pre­dictability, facilitated school management and strategic planning as conse­quence of quality assurance. «A constant charge is the huge paperwork. But if there is no paperwork, then its impossible to direct a school, no chance for foresight, neither for effective management», says a principal.

36 A school inspector emphasizes that due to this regulation through quality assurance it is possible to make corrections in practical concerns and to develop the process of education in practical terms as well :

The use of quality assurance, is that encourages people to work better/effectively and work more. So that if at an issue or chapter there are negative indicators, then to handle this issue to eliminate it for the future. For example if a teacher does not use audio-visual equipment at language trainings, then it is written down and he/she will be advised to think on that, or if someone has a weakness, then it is explicitly drawn and the person is helped to be strenghtened to do it in a better way. This is to give a motivation for deconstruction all devaluations, to make the person interested in self-development (school inspector 2, County School Inspectorate).

37 The third type of accepting attitude might only be partially considered positive and is a bit ambivalent as well. The opinion highlights the use and benefits of quality assurance, however, its reasoning relates to the logics of bureaucratic operation instead of the reform-concept that is represented by the new system of quality assurance. The essence of this attitude is built upon the control-punishing system approach, seeing the benefits of quality assurance in the convenience that is assured by the prepared docu­mentation (and as a result of the significant paper work) in case when an external evaluation/or higher level control is coming up :

Paper work is loathsome, but it gives a comforting feeling all year long, because I know that everything is done till the deadline, everything is under control and when the external audit comes either from the Inspectorate or from the Ministry, everything is ready and done. The responsibility is shared, and it is not only me who is responsible for everything, but the committee gives the confirmation for the director in this case. This is a huge help provided for the principal, so that “I can sleep well”. What is more challenging is the way and time to get there, to have everything prepared, updated and realized accor­ding to the requirements […] If so, functioning accordingly to regulations means protection against all kind of other external offence or displeasure (that might come from the part of parents for example…) (principal 2, local school).

3. The Neutral/Objective Attitude

38 The essence of this position is the task-like information transfer, the proper operation of the present system, the transfer of central reform implementations without any personal interpretation or internalization. Several school inspectors represent this view, who consider their task to be the direct help and supervision and control of the implementation of ministerial ordinances or central regulations. At this position – as representantives of the central body – they might not show any negative appreciation regar­ding what they had to represent, consequently they are primarily striving to strenghten the functioning of the system with their mediation, management and support. As mediators they are in the same time “the sympathetic” parties : while representing the central will in the same time they understand/perceive the problems and difficulties local actors face with within reforms. It would be a very important task at this intermediate position to engage in bilateral knowledge and information transfer. But due to the hierarchical construction of the education system, this if often reduced to top-down flows, bottom-up communication narrows down to what is expected to be communicated/forwarded towards upper levels. Knowledge transfer in this simplified understanding of the neutral positioner has two important elements : the methodology system of the new approach and of its concrete implementation.

In schools it is not an easy job, because even some of us (inspectors) are really in and flexible considering quality assurance or other issues of school management, the majority of schools and school staff is not. These actors only know that they should hold the classes, they should prepare for the next day, they should evaluate the work. And this essentially good, but now with this quality assurance system it is made quite bureaucratic and linked with paper work. And all actors are not yet prepared for this practice. They are familiar with the bureaucratic way of doing things, but not with watch the quality assurance system demands to do for “quality”. They are not prepared, the Agency invested little in preparing actors for this practice, they were simply thrown into the deep water where they had to learn to swim, to do the things quality assurance requests to do. And little help was provided them. The School Inspectorate tried to guide them, to clari­fy concepts in a way, as far as we were able to do (school inspector 3, County School Inspectorate).

39 As a result of their work (self-development and training in order to provide help, guidance for schools) they consider that the deficiencies of the introduction of the quality assurance system had been mostly eliminated :

We used the methodological days, school year starting days and other events for this purpose to organize occasionally brainstormings, forums, round-table discussions on thematic issues, to transfer the knowledge we had. But it is impossible to replace a training with an occasional event, quality assurance is a complex issue and as it demonstrated, it has so many branched/directions, and it is difficult make all procedures to understand and develop a level where they get along with implementation. What we had accomplished and are proud of is that the basics of quality assurance is now grounded for everyone (school inspector 3, County School Inspectorate).

40 Consequently «there is a little more ‘order’ in the schools». And,

If there is one or two enthusiastic person in a school – who are interested not only in getting their salaries but feel responsible for the school – then slowly all changes and improvements become visible. Additionally, more people get known what the essence/meaning of this regulation is, and this knowledge becomes part the common sense (school inspector 3, County School Inspectorate).

VI. Conclusions

41 Through the snapshot on cognitive dimensions we could meet different kinds of knowledge : significant epistemological knowledge is present, a great amount of practical empirical knowledge comes into limelight, which is a kind of mixture of lay knowledge (Sturdy, 2008) and tacit knowledge (Polányi, 1956). All these can be considered as the knowledge capital of the local knowledge culture. However, based on the street level actors’ lived experiences, the knowledge defined often lacks formal cohe­rence and logical consistency. When it comes to practical realizations, there are reservations – varying from acceptance and compliance to resistance and opposition –, explicable with the knowledge deficit problem related to the theory and practice of quality assurance, and with the unconformity of the top-down and bottom-up model.

42 The narratives and discourses connected to the quality of education let us conclude that in the concept of quality there is more, consequently «a comprehensive understanding of the complex nature of education quality» is needed (Cheng/Tam, 1997 :22) together with a more detailed understan­ding of bottom-up logics and practices of policy implementation. Higher quality is not achieved by inspecting, but rather is made “painstakingly” in the interaction between actors. Consequently, quality management has a crucial role in orienting this process.

43 Rupture or distancing from the top-down initiative expresses that local actors interpret policies according to their own conceptions of what is desirable and possible in local settings. These conceptions depend on the specific set of constraints and opportunities they have, but also on their socialization and previous experience. Resistance means disagreement, since the regulation changes in existing routine or practice. This is a clear conflict of worldviews between the abstract and theoretical approach of decision-makers and of more concrete and experiential approach of local actors. The above interview sections show that the debate is not about the content, but rather about the way things are expected to be done. This cognitive aspect is powerfully related to the individual earnings, tasks and roles.

44 All national regulation systems combine to varying degrees different forms of normative and functional regulation, as required for the credibility and legitimacy of the state. Here regulation through quality assurance remains rather a normative regulation, lacking the functional aspects : effectiveness and efficiency. These do not seem yet to be vital, indispensable.

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*  This article has been published thanks to the support of the European Union’s Sixth Framework Programme for Research – socio-economic sciences and humanities theme (contract n° 028848-2 – project KNOWandPOL). The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

1 The KNOWandPOL project was an EC funded (FP6) integrated project run between 2006-2011, that sought the role of knowledge in policy making in European countries. It was coordinated by Bernard Delvaux and Eric Mangez (UCL). The project’s website :

2 Belgium, France, Scotland, Norway, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and Romania.

3 National report : Kiss A., Fejes I., Rostas Z., 2010.

4 The term refers to the public education system, including all (public and private, primary and secondary) education institutions. However, in the context of quality assurance, focus is more pronouncedly put on the secondary school system, since the implementation of standards and guidelines of quality assurance – although planned for the whole public education system – was foremost urged and introduced at secondary school level.

5 This tendency was closely related with the country’s EU pre-accession procedures, inter alia, with the general modernization efforts and cathing up endeavours.


7 Street level practitioners, local decision-makers, principals, teachers, front-line public servants of the County School Inspectorates, end-users and other stakeholders like school staff.

8 RAQAPE – Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education.

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Adel Kiss et Ildiko Fejes, « The Local Reception of the Quality Assurance System in the Romanian Pre-University Education. Between Resistance and Compliance »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 43-2 | 2012, 77-93.

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Adel Kiss et Ildiko Fejes, « The Local Reception of the Quality Assurance System in the Romanian Pre-University Education. Between Resistance and Compliance »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 43-2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 18 février 2013, consulté le 09 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Adel Kiss

Ildiko Fejes

Sapientia University.

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