The new local: system shifts and school inspection

Lawn, Martin; Baxter, Jacqueline; Grek, Sotiria and Segerholm, Christina (2014). The new local: system shifts and school inspection. In: Grek, Sotiria and Lindgren, Joakim eds. Governing by Inspection. Studies in European Education, 1. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 96–115.



The governing of schooling, and the role of inspection in governing schools, is the focus of the book, and in this chapter, we are concerned with the ebb and flow in the relations between the centre and the locality in our three school systems. The idea of the school, and its place in a system, are shifting, although our cases show different directions and cultures of governing emerging as systems are reconfigured. School inspection reflects this reconfiguration and it is the focus of the change in governing in our three systems.

The idea of the local school seems ubiquitous in the construction and management of education systems. While the idea of schooling is free floating, built on or around national myths and discourses, the practice of schooling has been focused historically on physical buildings, surrounding communities and urban and regional practices of administration. The school ‘in place’, in the local, is the organizing idea of this chapter. Using Gieryn’s (Gieryn 2000) definition, place is viewed as a physical and material compilation of people and objects, it is a unique spot of varying scale, it is interpreted and narrated, it is malleable over time.

In the past, the school to be inspected was particular and situated in a place, it was in a street or a suburb, within a community and with a local workforce. A collective memory of that school was available in the family or through the professionals who worked in it. Its setting isolated it from some areas and choices, and encouraged them in others. The school could be many decades old and have changed its name several times, but it remained solidly in an area. Its material existence, the place of the school, was often distinguishable from other schools, even those close by, through practices derived from national and local government decisions and local politics and practices over time. Old governmental service hierarchies and communications, working with and through local government officers, produced and confirmed a strong sense of place. Each partner knew its position within a hierarchy. The place and meaning of the school had boundaries and stability. While inspectors may have been more mobile nationally, local officers were frequently travellers around the locality. In one sense schools did not move at all. The discourse of that system was about the duties and responsibilities of the place and actions were directed toward the school. The school was tied into a web, which fixed its relations and actions.

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