Policy: vision or mission or………?

I got quite excited when I saw what my old colleague Ewan McIntosh had been reading about on facebook. Actually I think he’s been writing about it in various blogs and sharing it .  He shared this link to the  Becta blog and it related well to some of the reading I’ve been doing around policy.

Essentially Ewan ( I’m guessing he is the author) suggests that policy starts off with clear aspirational vision but gets morphed beyond recognition sometimes into bland meaningless mission statements before it’s even allowed out in public. The processing has begun. In the next stage, as we know, it gets refracted and interpreted in many different ways. 

 Ewan goes on to unpick some “visions” ( I like his take on his old school motto. My school motto was Vivat Academia. No covert messages there then!) and suggests it might be a useful excercise to replicate in whatever organisation you belong to – good idea.

We need to get beyond the “visioning” though, I think to get to grips with policy – it’s not just about the vision, it’s as much  about the ruminating, the refracting, the mediation, the interpretation and implementation of , or upon the “vision.”  Ewan suggested that ruminating by committee is the first step in rendering an exciting vision sterile, and ofter unrecognisable form its original embodiment. It seems funny that this “ruminating” ( I wish I could think of a better expression – I might have done by the time I get to publish) appears to have power to change policy at one stage of its process, but rarely at any other? After this  the vision/mission  often seems to crystalise – it will change no further on its journey down the line of power ( I’ve written about this before). In this interpretation it is still a product which is given to you.

Trowler (1998: Education Policy) points out the need to move beyond the top-down vs bottom up dichotomy by referencing “directed collegiality” which is a synthesis of these two .

Here’s a quote: At one extreme we have the ideal type of the perfectly formed policy idea; it only requires execution, and the only problems are ones of control. At the other extreme, the policy idea is only an expression of basic principles and aspirations…..In between where we live, is a set of more or less developed potentialities embedded in pieces of legislation…beureaucratic plans. The land of potentiality we claim as the territory of implementation.

Where does CfE sit against this policy landscape then? Is it a finished product only requiring execution? I don’t think so, but I do think that depends on your disposition and to a certain extent where you perceive yourself in the line of power. I spoke to a teacher last week who tod me his HT had said not to worry too much about CfE, he’d probably be doing it all already. What’s the point of  transformational change then? Surely to do things differently?

 I also don’t think it presents us only with a set of aspirations and values; there is a progressive structure there, plenty of framing in the principles and practice papers and BTC series, NARs on the way and exemplification, although I have my doubts about the latter.

I think CfE aspires to occupy the territory of implementation analysis, but the social order in the territory isn’t quite democratic enough to allow everyone an equal right to implement and analyse.  If it were, then the teacher I spoke to last week wouldn’t have said what he did. And no-one would be relying on anyone else to put a copy of the latest BTC document on their desk, or interpret it for them and give them the synopsis.

Collegiality, and recognising implementation as evolution approach are seen to provide a “sensible and moderate” compromise in Trowler. Mutual adaptation is a key to success -this would involve the adaptation of the innovation to fit the local setting and adaptations by local users to fit the innovation ( Hall,  1995 in Trowler, 1998). That could work for CfE – both sides need to be responsive to change and the highlighting the importance of the local setting and adaptations made there opens up different interpretations. Interesting – no more best practice /  one way of doing things then? I for one certainly hope so and I hope the expectations around exemplification are managed accordingly.

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About catrionao

I'm a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning. I also do online facilitation for various organisations such as SELMAS and the Strategic Leadership Development Programme.
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