Equity and school reform: The spatial turn and questions of scale

Year: 2013

Author: Woods, Annette, Martin, Gregory

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the 1990's, the "spatial turn" impacted upon a variety of disciplines and fields, including education. This new and explicit acknowledgment of the spatial, informed an imaginative consideration of key geographical concepts such as space, place, mobility and territory. Yet, over the past three decades many scholars have been selective in their borrowings from the field, often overlooking, trivilising or indeed ignoring important concepts and debates. One instance of this can be seen in the lack of engagement with various productive "offshoots" of the spatial turn, of most interest to this paper the "scalar-turn" (Mahon and Keil 2009, 8).
In arguing this point, geographers such as Howitt, Marston and Smith highlight the way in which the concept of scale often remains implicit, under-theorised or even neglected. Educators working in fields as diverse as literacy, pedagogy and policy have already helped to pave the way forward by making geographical concepts explicit in their writings (Gutierrez, 2008; Greenwood, 2003; Gulson, 2011; Robertson, 2007). Building upon this earlier scholarship, this paper will explore how education's spatial imaginings might be reworked to take into account questions of scale. We believe that it is interesting to consider what the current Australian field of school reform, with its rhetoric of improved outcomes for all students and constant drive to ‘close the gap', can learn from the spatial turn more broadly, and the scalar turn in particular?
Taking the case of our current systems' attempts to improve outcomes for those students attending school in low SES communities, we bring relational notions of place, space and scale to an investigation of this reform project as it is currently configured at a federal, state and school level. We provide practical examples of what such approaches and initiatives look like at the scale of everyday life and practice for young people in schools. We aim to offer insights into some of the local innovations of students and teachers, and how these practices have the potential to reconfigure scaled relations of power built into an inequitable schooling system.