Comprehensive schooling and competing visions and rationalities in centre-left parties’ education policy

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Wednesday, 22 February, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Comprehensive schooling and competing visions and rationalities in centre-left parties’ education policy

Anna Pultar, PhD researcher in Social Policy

Comprehensive schooling has belonged to one of the most politicised issues in education policy in Europe. It is commonly presented as a partisan conflict between the political left favouring comprehensive schooling and the political right defending academic selection and grammar schools. On a closer look, however, there is considerable inconsistency in the ideas, discourses and practices within political parties across time and national contexts. The presentation will report findings from a PhD project on centre-left parties and their policy on comprehensive schooling in England and Austria. It focuses on the processes of policy-making within parties and aims to uncover the interplay of different individual actors and groups within the parties in shaping the party’s education policy. Individual actors frequently differ in their visions of what comprehensive schooling should look like and should lead to. There are, for instance, different understandings of equality, merit and choice in schooling, but also different views of the curriculum or the role of the state in education. However, actors disagree not only on the educational issues itself, but frequently on the political uses of education policy. Comprehensive schooling was frequently seen as either a political resource or as a potential risk in the pursuit of other party goals such as gaining legitimacy, votes, resources and political influence, and party cohesion. Yet rather than a straight-forward division between idealists and realists, the empirical analysis shows much variety of rationalities: actors were rarely pure pragmatists driven by the pursuit of power alone nor educational philosophers, solely driven by higher social ideals. I will illustrate different visions and rationalities in the struggles over comprehensive schooling with examples from interviews conducted in both countries.

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