Rhetoric and responsibilization in the formation of Educational Leaders in Australia

Year: 2018

Author: Nuttall, Joce, Henderson, Linda, Martin, Jenny

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper proceeds from the assumption that policy processes seek not only to describe but to persuade. Rhetorical analysis of policy texts therefore seeks to identify the persuasive devices used by policy actors to justify subsequent policy implementation. In our analysis of selected early childhood policy and policy implementation texts in Australia, we have identified the ways in which these texts invoke the pathos (emotional motivation) of the ‘vulnerable child’, specifically the 22% of children who begin schools ‘developmentally delayed’ on one or more domains of the Australian Early Development Census. These policy texts respond with the empirical logos (authoritative claims) of ‘quality improvement’ to address the learning needs of these vulnerable children. One strategy arising from this logos has been the introduction of the mandatory role of Educational Leader, charged with leading quality improvement at service level. On first reading, the relationship between pathos and logos in the construction of Educational Leaders seems unproblematic, since the ethos (credibility) of these policy texts is high: they are issued by authoritative institutions, such as government departments, ACECQA and research institutes. Yet our initial reading of these texts seemed to indicate a contradictory logos: while government texts primarily draw on a logos of economic-rationalism (specifically, human capital theory), the accompanying implementation texts appeal instead to the moral dispositions of educators, positioning them as ‘inspiring’ and ‘approachable’. However, a closer reading suggests that, rather than drawing on potentially contradictory discourses, these documents are tightly coupled through the concept of responsiblization. We argue that Australia’s Educational Leader policy implementation documents reinforce, rather than soften, a neoliberal economistic logos by re-inscribing the autonomous moral agent arising from neoliberal responsibilization, and speculate on some of the consequences for Educational Leaders that we are exploring in this ARC project.