Education systems are moving from monocentric to polycentric (localized) governance and school to school improvement networks This requires a new ‘polycentric’ type of school inspections as centralized inspections promote a ‘one size fits all’ approach to improvement, and are less well able to adapt to localized school improvement. ‘Polycentric, networked school inspections’ Polycentric school inspections evaluate and assess the quality and functioning of chains of schools and/or schools and their stakeholders, with the purpose of validating and supporting improvement at the local level.
As part of an Erasmus+/KA2 proposal we study the effectiveness of polycentric school inspections on localized school improvement, and potential changes in roles of school inspectors. Our study follows a 4 step R&D iterative approach:
- Mapping 4 existing examples of polycentric/monocentric school inspections (Netherlands (Dutch case study), Northern Ireland, England, Bulgaria)
- Literature review and ex ante evaluation
- Scoping good examples across Europe (survey and document analysis of SICI profiles)
- Studying impact of examples of polycentric inspections Each step includes dissemination and evaluation activities.
We look at notions of governance which highlight the structures of interaction in an education system and at the relation between inspection and regulation from the perspective of multiple actors and multilevel networked interactions in steering and monitoring education. Such approaches fit a polycentric perspective of regulating and evaluating education, where governance systems and networks of institutions are initiated from bottom-up to facilitate problem-solving processes for any group facing any particular problem. In polycentric forms of steering, central government (and the Inspectorate of Education) is only one of the actors in governing schools. Steering takes place in a context of interdependent networks of different actors who use knowledge, information and other resources to influence schools. A polycentric perspective to regulation and inspection is considered to be successful when these institutions (such as schools) are able to organize themselves and are capable and motivated to solve problems.
School inspections from a polycentric perspective are external evaluations of schools and of interdependent networks of different actors who use knowledge, information and other resources to influence schools, undertaken by officials outside the school with a mandate from a national/local authority, by taking into account:
- the perspective on school quality from the schools and the various stakeholders in the network with the purpose of: 1) providing feedback to schools and stakeholders; 2) the dissemination of good practices and 3) a shared agenda for change;
- the quality of the collaboration between schools and stakeholders in the network;
- the coordination of visits to all schools and stakeholders in the network.
Toward a model of school inspections in a polycentric system
Many education systems are developing towards more lateral structures where schools collaborate in networks to improve and provide (inclusive) education. These structures call for bottom-up models of network evaluation and accountability instead of the current hierarchical arrangements where single schools are evaluated by a central agency. This paper builds on available research about network effectiveness to present evolving models of network evaluation. Network effectiveness can be defined as the achievement of positive network level outcomes that cannot be attained by individual organizational participants acting alone. Models of network evaluation need to take into account the relations between network members, the structure of the network, its processes and its internal mechanism to enforce norms in order to understand the achievement and outcomes of the network and how these may evolve over time. A range of suitable evaluation models are presented in this paper, as well as a tentative school inspection framework which is inspired by these models. The final section will present examples from Inspectorates of Education in Northern Ireland and Scotland who have developed newer inspection models to evaluate the effectiveness of a range of different networks.