Inspection and the media: the media and inspection

Baxter, Jacqueline and Rönnberg, Linda (2014). Inspection and the media: the media and inspection. In: Grek, Sotiria and Lindgren, Joakim eds. Governing by Inspection. Studies in European Education, 1. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 159–172.

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Abstract

Research on the media’s role in policy is long-established (see for example Fitzgerald & Housley 2009; Gerstl-Pepin 2007; Gewirtz et al. 2007; Wallace 2007), but there has not been so much attention to the relationship between inspectorates and media. In this chapter, we argue that inspectorates depend on the media: the capacity of the media to publicise and spread their messages about school success and failure contributes very strongly to their influence. However it also seems to be the case that as inspectorates use and exploit the media to spread their messages about school performance, and thus buttress their authority and greatly extend their reach beyond the education world, they also become vulnerable to media pressure and – to a degree – reliant on media coverage to sustain their authority. In other words, there is an interdependent relationship between inspection and the media, in which media priorities may adversely affect the image of inspection. Thus while Ofsted has become highly visible and a topic of household conversation, greatly increasing its presence in the lives of parents, pupils and teachers, this is especially the case where stories of school success and failure are presented in highly dramatic terms (as victories, defeats, struggles and disasters). There are obvious risks for Ofsted in this presentation of their work: pressure to find stories that will attract coverage undermines attention to the substantial but more mundane aspects of inspection, and creates expectations of powerful inspection effects. Indeed negative media coverage of schools ‘in crisis’ reinforces the demand for political action, and heightens the perception of inspectorates as a force for powerful, effective intervention. There is, moreover, a pre-occupation in the tabloid press with reporting ‘bad news’, so that dramatic coverage of failing schools reinforces public perception of schooling in crisis and contributes to pressure on inspectorates. Against such a background, it is apparent that the relationship with the media is complex, and that it plays a significant role in our analysis of inspection as a governing practice.

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