Rearranging deckchairs

Researching Education Policy: - Researching the Powerful in Education
April 28, 1995

The first of these two similarly titled collections is astonishing in its complacency. At a time when education research is being handed over to a new quango and the vice chancellors, as Tim Brighouse said, are "folding the tents'' of departments of education, the book's editors celebrate a new subdiscipline of education policy studies - just as the educational sociology of which it forms part is about to be once again subsumed into the sociology of education.

And yet for all the contributors' reflections upon the theory, ethics and methodology of research into education policy there is no explanation of why these policy changes (of which the contributors are likely to find themselves the victims) have come about. They do not connect them with other changes in the "contracting state" that Conservative governments have introduced since 1979. Nor is there any sense of the recent about-turn in education policy with the 1988 Education Reform and 1992 Further and Higher Education Acts, switching it from imitation of the German dual system to imitation of the United States system, and substituting a policy of education without jobs for one of training without jobs.

This is because for the editors and contributors education equals (secondary) schools and policy equals the 1988 Act. Therefore they do not connect the reforms they describe with other sectors of education, let alone with employment policy, without which recent education and training policy cannot be understood.

True, David Halpin, in his conclusion, regrets "our own particular brand of disciplinary parochialism" leading to the omission of "sociologists, historians, psychologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists and those who deliberately transcend disciplinary boundaries", but this comes after a bookful of essays by a restricted circle of educationists. One suspects that the readership of this volume can only be that of other education researchers.

That applies too to the second book, which has spun off from the same series of Economic and Social Research Council-funded seminars and even repeats some of the contributions in the first volume. On the whole it is better value, though, for it includes contributions from participants in seminars that were for some reason excluded from the first book. Also, despite having a more limited focus upon "the powerful'', it does at least consider what Maurice Kogan calls "interviewing in more than one zone and at more than one level'', and thus includes one paper on the (very powerful) World Bank.

Patrick Ainley's latest book is Degrees of Difference: Higher Education in the 1990s.

Researching Education Policy:: Ethical and Methodological Issues

Editor - David Halpin and Barry Troyna
ISBN - 0 7507 0344 X and 0345 8
Publisher - Falmer Press
Price - £36.00 and £13.95
Pages - 218pp

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