Governing by Numbers: The PISA “effect” in Europe

Sotiria Grek

Journal of .Education .Policy 24:1 23-27

The paper aims to examine the role of the OECD in framing policy at a European and global level, and more specifically how PISA, as a   “political technology” influences educational governance within Europe and beyond. The aims and structure of the arguments are clearly stated at the beginning of the paper and the author refers to the evidence and data drawn upon for her arguments.

The role of the OECD within the EC is explained within the framework of global competitiveness (pg 24), as is how it has manoeuvred itself into a niche position as an unquestioned creator of educational validity indicators, performance measures and a key contributor to the global education policy field, as referenced by Lingard & Ozga (Globalisation, education policy and politics). These authors also refer to data as a new technology of governance, which would appear to describe the practices of PISA within OECD fairly accurately.

The status of the OECD as an international organization is highlighted as is its power and agency in the field of transnational education policy. The author refers to the unchallenged and accepted validity of the data it gathers (and supports this argument with other references) and notes  interestingly how the organization has come to be known almost as a byword for objective standards – “an accepted part of the contemporary educational policy lexicon across the globe.” 

Three examples of PISA in action are described – variable results in the assessment exercise across the three examples give rise to surprising and inconsistent follow up actions by the nations involved: generalisations about impact of three experiences had at local level are avoided here; the differences in interpretation of the results at local level are compared, as are press analyses and reports of the results in the three countries concerned. The author then goes on to analyse the position of PISA within the policy making context at European level Europe.

The accepted objectivity of PISA data, both at national(local) level and transnational( European level) is a key point emerging from this analysis, and this is questioned in relation to the important influence the data seem to wield on policy direction in both these contexts. The questions raised by the paper suggest that PISA, as a data gathering mechanism appears to double-up as a powerful policy engineering mechanism in disguise, and the influence of these new technologies of governance, or “governance by numbers” ( Linguard & Ozga) is not insignificant –and is consistent with  the neo-liberal accountability mechanisms endemic in the educational policies of many western countries.


About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
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