Whenever a linear, unproblematic causal relationship is assumed to take place (e.g. educational performance = economic performance) the need to measure, compare, monitor and predict becomes paramount and undermines education at its very core. The assessment cultures that derive from this “control mentality” have had a very conservative impact on school practice in many countries, narrowing curricula, disempowering teachers and students, and encouraging an instrumental and strategic use of test scores and examination results. The line separating control mentality from extreme cases of “juking the stats” is still very easy to cross.
At this point, I think we begin to realise the slightly schizophrenic nature of the public debate around educational reform and innovation. Faced with conflicting messages and expectations, many schools have no choice but to play a game of smoke and mirrors. Lavish facilities and investments in the latest educational technologies (assuming they are even possible in the current economic climate) help position the school favourably in the “competitive education market”, while at the same time they hide a staggeringly resilient conservatism. As a result vulnerable groups, like the young inexperienced teachers and the disadvantaged students described in my introduction, become trapped within an unresolvable tension. They are told that they are part of innovative, trailblazing programmes, while at the same time they are placed at the margins, physically and pedagogically removed from the school’ s core business -- from those strategic areas upon which the school’s success actually depends. This state of affairs can only exacerbate the precariousness and the disadvantage of those groups, without alleviating any of problems that caused their marginalisation in the first place.
I strongly believe that part of our job as researchers and educators is to acknowledge that there is often a rift between the rhetoric of school-based innovation -- e.g. student-centred pedagogies, constructivism, personalisation -- and the dominant, socio-historical conditions in education that actually shape accountability frameworks and assessment cultures. The conclusion is that the deeply political nature of education makes it very likely that the aspirational rhetoric will be “hijacked” to serve a variety of ideological, political and economic agendas. It follows that true impetus for educational reform should be based less on techno-romantic “solutionism” and more on broader democratic debates that call into question the underlying values and ideologies in education and in society at large: utilitarianism, neoliberalism and the commodification of culture.