A post-bureaucratic policy: the evaluation of public schools

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The policy instrument under consideration is the external evaluation of public schools carried out in Portugal since 2005, under the pressure for external evaluation policies coming from the European Union (EU) new mode of governance.

The research (conducted within the KNOWandPOL project) focused on how the instrument was received, translated and adapted to the school specific context, and how the knowledge transfer took place. A multilevel public action approach, a focus on policies rather than politics, and the concept of knowledge as a social process were the main theoretical options. The design was a case study based on an extensive document analysis of the inspectorate database and of the evaluation documents produced in one school. In addition, interviews were conducted with key informants in the school. The analysis highlights the importance of grasping the processes of collective action through the interrelationships established among the actors who take part in the design, development and implementation of the instrument. We find ‘embodied’ knowledge as the knowledge held by the actors, and ‘encoded’ knowledge as the knowledge held in artifacts like documents. As embodied and encoded knowledge need to be enacted to be meaningful (Freeman, Smith & Sturdy, 2009), a re-enactment ritual takes place, in which the knowledge goes to the school and is reinterpreted. The enactments (meetings, interview panels, etc.) lead to an encoded knowledge that, in the end, will be re-encoded (thanks to the contributions of the members of the evaluation team) in the form of a report. Configuring new governance practices, the external evaluation of schools is used as a benchmark device in the evaluation of school management. It supports a regulation policy based on social sanctions and socialization processes, aiming at new powerful mechanisms of rule compliance.

AFONSO N. & COSTA E. (2011), Accountability and Knowledge: European and Canadian perspectives (School evaluation policies: the case of Portugal), CIES conference, Mc Gill University, Montreal (Qc).

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