Scalecraft: policy and practice in England’s Academy Schools
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This thesis examines England’s academy schools policy by integrating interpretive policy analysis (IPA) with a critical approach to scale. The thesis begins with the observation that studies of policy have an underdeveloped conceptualisation of scale. The concept of scale used here refers to how the social world is perceived to be vertically ordered and is given labels such as the ‘local’, ‘national’ and ‘global’. Categories of scale have typically been used by policy actors and social scientists alike to describe, understand and analyse policy. Policy and scale are thus inextricably linked and this thesis seeks to study policy by critically engaging with scale and in this way develops a research focus that has been largely unexplored. The implementation studies literature is identified as being a particularly striking example of policy analysis which has tended to use categories of scale in an unquestioned manner. Implementation studies have a tradition of discussing ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top-down’ processes which reveal an analytical framework that assumes the existence of a scalar hierarchy. While the thesis supports the critiques of implementation studies made by scholars associated with IPA, it is argued that the interpretive critique has not been extended to the concept of scale. In order to address the problematic approach to scale in interpretive studies of policy this thesis examines how actors adopt ‘scalar practices’ in their policy work, which is consistent with the critical approach to scale that has been developed by post-structuralist human geographers. The latter group of scholars describe scalar practices as the way actors use categories of scale to interpret and strategically construct their social worlds. A focus on scalar practices allows for scale to be understood as an epistemological concept; this marks a departure from how social scientists have tended to use scalar categories to explain things with which has, in turn, problematically suggested that scale has an ontological existence. Education has been identified as an arena where representative struggles over scale come sharply into focus. The way in which education has been mobilised in relation to a wide range of scalar constructs such as the state, local authorities and a school’s catchment area, demonstrates how education is understood to be part of a political world which is ordered according to a vertical hierarchy of scales. This is particularly striking in the case of England’s academies policy. The official policy narrative of academies describes how a school converting to academy status becomes free from local authority control, becomes directly accountable to the state and gains greater levels of individual autonomy. It is thus a policy that is underpinned by distinctly scalar claims, making it a highly appropriate case study through which to explore the scalar practices of policy actors. The case study design of the research project focused on two local authorities and four academies within each of these. Interviews were carried out with local authority officers, academy sponsors, principals and chairs of governors. The study identifies how actors deploy four key scalar practices: constructing scalar boundaries, dissolving scalar boundaries, shifting between scales and emphasising the interconnectedness of scales. A theoretical approach called the practice of scalecraft is subsequently developed which not only focuses on the nature of scalar practices but also on what kinds of political concepts underpin these practices. The thesis concludes by suggesting that scalecraft can be used as a framework through which to incorporate a critical approach to scale in future interpretive studies of policy.