Working within to make change: Is transformation possible in the high-fee paying private school?

Year: 2016

Author: Variyan, George

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Innovation discourses have emerged in schooling as key elements of so called ‘21st Century skills’, not only in terms of pedagogy and curriculum (Thorsteinsson & Denton, 2003), but also as a key competency for school leaders (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2015). For teachers within such schools, the so-called ‘agents of innovation’, change has become, ironically, a permanent state of being. In high-fee paying schools in Australia, this has resulted in a never-ending pursuit of innovation – the latest political battle cry no less. Transformation of teaching practices, the organisation of schools, assessment systems and learning enacted through technological innovations, is seen as a necessary to ‘future-proof’ students for the vicissitudes of rapidly changing labour markets in ‘advanced economies’ (Binkley, Erstad, Herman, Raizen, Ripley, Miller-Ricci & Rumble, 2012; Schleicher, 2012). The argument would go, if only we could just learn that bit more, introduce that next miracle gadget so as to promote more effective learning, increase our monitoring of students or improve relationships so as to ameliorate off-task behaviour and at the same time somehow, just somehow, understand each student as sui generis, then maybe we can transform schooling itself.And yet, this presentation is not about change weariness, but the pursuit of transformation through innovation. In high-fee paying schools around Australia, this tendentiousness towards innovation, thought to be also amongst the necessary levers of grade production and educational-market positioning, have become de rigueur. And as the ‘gold standard’ in the ‘market’, what does this then mean for all schools in the myriad of enactments of State sponsored schooling in Australia? In my current study, I ask the question, is transformation even possible - from the inside? What if transformation gets reduced to cyclical change precisely because we misunderstand its very nature? If the cocoon already holds the promise of butterfly, then these are arguably not different things. And if transformation is essentially continuity, then it follows that questions must surely be asked about the very nature of the high-fee paying school precisely because any potential transformation is inscribed in its a priori. Using data gathered from a two year qualitative study of three Australian high-fee paying private schools, including interviews, observations and document analysis provide a window into the logics that binds the high-fee paying private school to, paradoxically, an isomorphism of endless innovation.