chapter  4
Policy subjects: Constrained creativity and assessment technologies in schools
Pages 26

In this and the next chapter, we want to ‘get down to cases’. That is to say, we want to pursue our analysis and conceptualisation of policies in schools and, in particular, the ‘enactments’ of policy by looking at some specific examples, although in doing this we want to re-emphasise the point made already that policies do not get enacted in isolation. As Latour puts it, local actions ‘overflow with elements which are already in the situation coming from some other time, some other place, and generated by some other agency’ (Latour 2005: 166). The main substantive focus of this chapter is on standards policy, although at the end of the chapter, as a caveat, we briefly contrast standards policy with a different type of policy – Pupils Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This is done to make the point that different types of policy interpolate different kinds of policy subjects. We will use some of the tools introduced in previous chapters and deploy ideas drawn from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish to think about some of the ways in which policies are rendered into practices through a complex of techniques, procedures and artefacts – or ‘force relations’. Here teachers are both the enactors of techniques, which are intended to make students visible and productive, and are themselves enmeshed within a disciplinary programme of visibility and production, a ‘dense network of vigilant and multi-directional gazes’ (Hoffman 2010: 31) which is both simple and inconspicuous but, thank goodness, incomplete. Nonetheless, in contrast to other moments in the book, here the teacher is actor and object and subject, ‘caught up’ in a marvellous machinery of policy – specifically what has been termed by Michael Barber (2010) as deliverology.1 The spaces of negotiation and contestation of policy are relatively narrowly defined here, overwhelmed for the most part by necessity and responsibility as teachers ‘do their best’. The teachers are sometimes uncomfortable with some of this but are mostly ‘willing selves’ as they measure and compare their students and seek to extract ‘productivity gains’ from them and attempt to find a balance between the interests of students and the interests of ‘the school’. Indeed, the ligaments of productivity are also extended laterally to include parents in the apparatus of standards and to hail them as policy subjects. Here then the teacher is enrolled into grand political narratives of policy which link their classroom work with students

to the processes of globalisation and national economic competitiveness; as UK Coalition government leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg assert in the second sentence of the preface to the 2010 Schools’ White Paper The Importance of Teaching – ‘What really matters is how we’re doing compared with our international competitors. That is what will define our economic growth and our country’s future’ (DfE 2010: 3). As part of these globalising concerns to ‘fix’ economic problems through producing a labour force that is ‘fit for purpose’ in the knowledge economy, all schools have to ensure that their standards are continually rising and that students are being provided with a platform of core skills, particularly in literacy and numeracy. The focus (see below) on standards is achieved through a very effective national mechanism of performance management which, in England, uses particular indicators, based on students’ examination achievements, to generate league tables of school ‘outputs’ and to set national benchmarks. Schools which fail to achieve the benchmark are deemed to be ‘failing schools’. The primary indicator is five or more A* to C grades at GCSE. However, this has now been reconfigured twice, first by New Labour, to include the requirement for students to achieve a mathematics and English qualification at grade C or above, and second by the 2010 Coalition government, who added science, a language and a humanity to the list of required subjects – creating what has come to be referred to as the E-Bac, the English Baccalaureate. Defending the E-Bac, in a speech to school and college leaders in March 2011, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, said the choice of subjects was ‘not arbitrary, nor nostalgic but based on countries that are often doing better than us’ (see www.mikebakereducation.co.uk). The use and manipulation of standards benchmarks in England and elsewhere has proved to be a tempting and decisive mechanism by which governments can ‘steer’ schools ‘at a distance’. This chapter critically explores how this steering ‘works’ within schools and concrete examples will be provided that illustrate the tensions, struggles and resources that are involved in the resulting enactments of policy. In particular, we want demonstrate how the new science of ‘deliverology’ operates in schools through the discursive and interactive articulations of ‘expectation’, ‘focus’ and ‘pressure’ and indicate some of the policy discomforts and contradictions which are created as a result. By this, we mean the professional conflicts that teachers have to deal with in responding to the ‘raising standards’ agenda. We conclude with an account of teachers as policy subjects, set alongside the discussion of policy actors in the previous chapter.