Promoting equality in primary education : putting policy into practice in one local education authority

Dawson, Hilary Margaret (2004). Promoting equality in primary education : putting policy into practice in one local education authority. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study considers, from the perspective of the Local Education Authority Officers working there, how one English Shire County, Trentshire', promotes equality in its primary education service. Set in the wake of the Macpherson Report, it investigates the pressures for local government of implementing a social justice agenda alongside other initiatives in an existing framework of neo-liberal legislation promoting effectiveness, `performativity' and school improvement. It is not concerned with pedagogic practice, but considers how LEA administrators promote equality and diversity while working in a context where LEAs have lost most of their former power but are still expected to take a leadership role, where relationships with school Heads and governors are frequently uneasy and where parents increasingly insist on their individual 'rights'. A Trentshire' LEA Officer myself, I argue that, although the power of LEAs in relation to schools has diminished, individual officers retain a key role in promoting equality.
I research from the 'inside', and adopt a critical theory perspective shaped by my personal desire for a just society free from inequalities of race, gender or disability. Arguing that policy implementation is complex, messy and dynamic, involving social action by real people, I reject a positivist strategy based on quantitative outcomes analysis, claiming that insight into the views and behaviours of key players is a stronger basis for researching policy. My principal evidence comes from interviews with colleague LEA Officers whose day-to-day role brings them into contact with schools and parents, and I also use evidence from meeting notes to critically consider the actions taken by 'Trentshire' Officers in three separate scenarios.
My findings reveal 'Trentshire' Officers' personal commitment and their pragmatic determination to solve dilemmas and make policies 'work' in spite of political and structural tensions inherent in their roles and the conceptual tensions within the equality and diversity agendas; they are required to uphold weak 'equal treatment' procedures grounded in neo-liberal legislation whilst increasingly delivering a social inclusion / diversity agenda based on postmodern conceptions of difference. They use their discretion to develop working definitions of equality and to adopt their own ad hoc 'first-order' strategies for change, and as the LEA's role extends into partnership with public sector and voluntary agencies, have a wider opportunity to contribute positively to the promotion of social justice. My study concludes with brief thoughts on building strategies to make equality a reality in 'Trentshire'.

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