The paradox of excellence and equity: Navigating tensions and contradictions in an education market

Year: 2021

Author: Dadvand, Babak

Type of paper: Symposium

In this paper, I examine the tensions that a school principal experienced in reconciling managerial imperatives with equitable practices in a secondary government school in Victoria. I use the notion of paradox to explore how the principal navigated contradictions and tensions. Paradox can act as a powerful analytical tool that can help provide a more nuanced understanding about issues of continuity and change, sense making processes in dealing with ambiguities, as well as agency and capacity for action in face of conflicting options and constraints. I discuss how the principal worked simultaneously within and against the grain of narrow accountability pressures to create lines of flight from the neoliberal logic of excellence and outcomes in order to address the more complex needs of a group of marginalised students in the school. I highlight the tension that arose from working to reconcile the competing demands for equitable and managerial school decisions. This tension remained mostly unresolved leading the way to an ongoing cycle of compliance, compromise, contradictions and contestation. I conclude by pointing to the limits of discursive subjectification as a theoretical lens for understanding school practices and the need for acknowledging the complex and non-linear interactions between the panoptic power of policy discourses, self-discipline and subjectivity in educational settings. The implications for socially just and equitable education at the post-pandemic social, political and policy context will be discussed at the end.