The affective politics of 'school climate'

Year: 2019

Author: Mayes, Eve, Wolfe, Melissa, Higham, Leanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The notion of school climate, and the associated notions of school ethos and school culture, have become ubiquitous in educational discourse in the past twenty years. For example, the Victorian Department of Education’s (VicDET) Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) includes ‘positive climate for learning’ as one of its four priority areas for school improvement. While school climate, or ethos or culture are widely cited as significant for the outcomes and flourishing of students and school communities(Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013, p. 369), the features of a positive school climate are politically contested and empirically problematic(Manchester & Bragg, 2013).

In this paper, we are interested in climate as a concept– its movements, trajectories, intersections with other concepts – for example, ‘wellbeing’ and ‘risk’. In materialist philosophies, a concept like climate, is not presupposed and pre-ordained as a category but,rather, zigzags and passes through other problems, concepts and planes, metamorphosing as it moves(Deleuze & Guattari, 1994/ 2009, p. 18). Rather than seeking to define school climate or to suggest other ways to measure it, we are interested in how school climate has emerged in and through educational policy and school ‘reform’ practices. We deliberately use this contested and problematic concept –climate –to explore questions about the politics of forming and naming a climate, including both the effects and affect of measurements that escape and exceed institutional measurement processes. Whatdoes measuring school climate doin and to schools and how might analyses of school climate be done differently in order to matter differently?

We conclude our paper by sharing some of our emerging work with a community school that aims to develop new creative experimental approaches in research in schools, using conceptual and empirical tools from affect theories and contemporary feminist new materialisms that move beyond representational approaches.

Reference list


Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994/ 2009). What is philosophy? (H. Tomlinson & G. Burchill, Trans.). London & New York: Verso.

Manchester, H., & Bragg, S. (2013). School ethos and the spatial turn: 'Capacious' approaches to research and practice. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(10), 818-827.

Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A Review of School Climate Research.Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 357-385. Retrieved from []. doi:10.3102/0034654313483907