“It’s absolutely important that it did turn-around”: developing student connectedness through practice architectures in a working-class community

Year: 2018

Author: Smith, Lisa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

It is widely acknowledged that neoliberalism, with its traditional liberal principles and right-wing economics, has had a crippling effect on Australia’s public education system. With a narrowed discourse of education now involving the watchwords of ‘high stakes testing’, ‘accountability’ and ‘school effectiveness’, we see public schools becoming entangled within a web of corporate, decontextualized, market-driven approaches to policy and practice which do little to alleviate the reproduction of educational inequality for students living in disadvantaged communities. Furthermore, for schools serving working-class neighbourhoods, implementing practices that are overtly dismissive of the role of context contribute to the exacerbation of student disaffection by creating a dislocation between the school curriculum and the students’ aspirations and occupational identities. It is clear that there is a pressing need to challenge the assumption that schools should operate as inert, static entities and that school improvement be narrowly defined by their students’ ability to perform well in high stakes testing. The following paper takes up this challenge by reporting on my early PhD research into one public secondary school’s turn-around narrative and how it is acting as a vehicle for change in a community that has been identified as one of the most socioeconomically and educationally disadvantaged in Australia. Drawing on data collected from semi-structured interviews with teachers, leadership staff and disaffected students in a single-school ethnography, this paper presents an analysis of Kemmis et al.’s (2014) theory of ‘practice architectures’ to discuss how the school utilises cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political arrangements as a ‘springboard’ for developing educative relationships and fostering student ‘connectedness’.