‘Alt Control Delete’: Becoming an Independent Public Schools principal

Year: 2016

Author: Gobby, Brad

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports on the formation of principal subjectivity through the Independent Public Schools (IPS) program in Western Australia. School autonomy is becoming entrenched in the education policy discourse of many OECD countries, and in Australia the ‘independent public school’ has captured the imagination of many policymakers and educators. WA’s Department of Education (DOE) and government politicians laud the state’s IPS initiative, characterising it as empowering principals and school communities through fostering autonomy from central bureaucracy. What can Foucauldian thought contribute to our understanding of and engagement with IPS? This presentation argues that construing the IPS program in terms of empowerment and autonomy leaves unacknowledged the regulatory dimension of this reform. Contractualist reforms like IPS are regimes of government and self-government that enact neoliberal political rationalities, with the transformation of principals’ subjectivities central to the operation of this governmental power. Foucault observes that ‘where there is power, there is resistance’, and so it is that the subjectivation of principals is not straight-forward. Through their interviews with me, IPS principals enact a critical stance towards the IPS initiative and its interaction with wider reforms impacting on their schools and leadership. The research interviews were an instrument for the principals to speak into existence a subjectivity that resists the hegemonic neoliberal rationalities of competition, testing and enterprise.