Framing the debate: influencing public opinion of inspection, inspectors and academy policy: the role of the media

Baxter, Jacqueline (2017). Framing the debate: influencing public opinion of inspection, inspectors and academy policy: the role of the media. In: Baxter, Jacqueline ed. School Inspectors Policy Implementers, Policy Shapers in National Policy Contexts. Accountability and Educational Improvement. Cham: Springer, pp. 183–205.



International research has shown that school inspection and the media are both powerful in-fluences on education policy. Since 2010 the government has sought to implement radical changes to the English education system, creating a new system of autonomous schools that support one another through formal or informal partnerships. These changes have suffered from considerable resistance from both schools and Local Education Authorities who often perceive these changes to be ideologically motivated and largely ineffective in raising stand-ards of teaching and learning. These changes are largely implemented following inspection visits by Ofsted, the English schools’ inspectorate, in which schools are deemed to be under-performing. For this reason Ofsted has become a powerful driver within the implementation of this policy: lending both legitimacy and rationale to the process. Yet Ofsted, is arguably independent agency, purporting to inspect ‘without fear or favour’ and has, on many occa-sions since its inception in 1992, argued that its strength lies in its independence from gov-ernment. Yet this argument is undermined when the agency is used to implement what is per-ceived as ideologically motivated policy. This chapter investigates to what extent Ofsted is used within the framing of education policy and what this means in terms of perceptions of the agency (its impartiality) and for education more broadly. Sampling from 3 national news-papers the study analyses 160 articles on inspection, drawing on media discourse theory it posits a framework developed in order to examine the ways in which Ofsted (the English school inspectorate) is used to frame debate on the government’s academies project. Employ-ing this framework it investigates to what extent the media shape their coverage of a policy which has proven contentious with certain publics, in order to frame the debate in ways which appeal to their readership. Using the framework for analysis the chapter responds to the following questions: A) To what extent do broadsheet newspapers frame their approach to the Academy Project, by the work of the inspectorate B) What values are assumed of the readership of each newspaper and how are these mobilised within news articles C) What do the results of questions A and B imply for Ofsted’s claims of impartiality from government?

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