Reform first and ask questions later? The implications of (fast) schooling policy and ‘silver bullet’ solutions

Year: 2016

Author: Lewis, Steven, Hogan, Anna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the uptake of so-called ‘fast policy’ (Peck & Theodore, 2015) solutions in different education policy spaces, highlighting the potential (and often problematic) impacts that can arise when such policymaking approaches are adopted. In the context of the contemporary bureaucratic state facing a plethora of ‘wicked social problems’ that must be solved with ‘effective’ public policy, the rise of new public management (NPM) and neoliberalism (Ball, 2012), and associated demands for increased public accountability and transparency, these policy ‘solutions’ must, ostensibly at least, ‘work’. Ultimately, this search for ‘silver bullet’ solutions leads to a ‘speeding up’ of policy and the convergence of policymaking worlds, both spatially and temporally, as well as enabling particular types of policy evidence, expertise and influence to become dominant (Thompson, Savage, & Lingard, 2016). Drawing suggestively across literature and theorising around ‘fast policy’ (Peck & Theodore, 2015), governing by examples (Simons, 2015) and evidence based (or informed) policymaking (Head, 2008; Lingard, 2013), we examine how certain ‘fast policies’, and fast policy approaches, have been taken up in diverse education policy spaces. Using a comparative case study methodology, and framing our analyses by issues of evidence, expertise and influence, we provide an account of three fast policies in action across three distinctly different political spaces and institutions. These include an intergovernmental organisation (the OECD’s PISA for Schools), an international edu-business (Pearson’s The Learning Curve) and an Australian state government education department (New South Wales’ What Works Best), with all three focused on promoting over-simplified and decontextualised, and yet notionally ‘evidence-based’, examples of ‘best practice’. Our analyses show how fast policy sensibilities – and particular valued forms of evidence, expertise and influence – have seemingly influenced geographically, politically and socially diverse policy spaces, reflecting a ‘convergence of policy method’ dominated by ‘fast’ policies, organisations, actors and data, thus limiting the conditions of possibility (Foucault, 1994) by which effective education policies might otherwise be conceived. These fast policies are seemingly the antithesis of what is needed in education, insofar as policy should be considered and thoughtful, and acknowledge the local cultures and histories of the places and people in which they are to be applied. Despite the seemingly obvious alignment between fast policies and a fast social world, we close by stressing the clear policy benefits to be had from employing a more contextualised ‘slow policy’ approach.