Governing by Inspection

This three-year research project, funded by the ESRC and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) compares the use of school inspection as a form of governing of education in the three systems of Sweden, Scotland and England, in the context of current changes in inspection practices in Europe.

We are investigating tensions between controlling and regulating through technical means like performance data and the rules followed by inspectors in their school assessments, in contrast with using expert knowledge, judgement and persuasion as part of self-regulation. We are mapping the interrelationships of inspection at different system levels and across Sweden, Scotland and England, with a focus on transnational policy learning. We also map inspection processes within local authorities/municipalities and between local policy spaces and schools.

We seek answers to the following research questions:

At the (inter)national/national interface: is there an emergent European Inspection policy and how is it constructed? How do global/European ideas of inspection practice and processes for compulsory schooling enter the three national policy-making spaces? To what extent and through what conduits do European ideas of ‘best practice’ seek to shape or influence national inspection practices? How is the future of Inspection envisaged in European and national policy?

At the (intra) national/local interface: What are the key characteristics of the three national systems of inspection, and to what extent are they divergent or convergent? What forms of knowledge do they prioritise, and what is the relationship between judgement and evidence in these processes? How do they relate to local policy-making.

At the (inter)national/local/school interface: How do local inspection processes enter school policy? How are they negotiated? What are the characteristics of inspection processes and what constitutes evidence and judgement in the operation of inspection? At the school level: How do teachers/headteachers experience Inspection processes? What involvement do they have in the construction of the inspection ‘event’? To what extent do these processes shape their work?