"We've changed the rules now": Counting and accounting for social justice in the devolved school

Year: 2002

Author: McInerney, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

How does a self-managing school meet the needs and aspirations of the most disenfranchised members of its community? What responsibilities should reside with the state and the education centre in the quest for more equitable schooling outcomes? This paper explores the nexus between school-based management and socially just schooling through an analysis of recent qualitative studies undertaken by the Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching. In the neo-liberal state a discourse on social justice-if it exists at all-is couched in language of 'parental choice', 'diversity' and 'equity standards'. As centralised bureaucracies have been reduced to 'administrative husks' (Seddon, 1995), responsibility for addressing educational disadvantage has largely been devolved to schools through global budgeting arrangements and indices of disadvantage. For its part, the state has delimited its responsibilities to the development of policy frameworks, funding formula and accountability mechanisms in the guise of curriculum outcomes, standardised testing regimes and performance appraisal processes. However, there are disturbing signs that these new counting and accounting measures are not working in the interests of the most marginalised students and their families; that, in the final analysis, far too much depends on the integrity and hard work of principals, teachers and local communities to enact socially just curriculum. With reference to one school community, this paper highlights the struggles and tensions of those engaged in school-based reforms for more equitable schooling outcomes and points to the need for a socially just bureaucracy that complements a socially just approach to local school management.