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From National Policy to Local Practices: Systematic Quality Work in Education from the Perspective of Local Authorities
Malmö University, Centre for Work Life and Evaluation Studies (CTA). Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), Department of Urban Studies (US). Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of School Development and Leadership (SOL).ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5972-4933
Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of Natural Science, Mathematics and Society (NMS). Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of School Development and Leadership (SOL).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5689-8281
Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of Natural Science, Mathematics and Society (NMS). Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of School Development and Leadership (SOL).
Malmö University, Centre for Work Life and Evaluation Studies (CTA). Malmö University, Faculty of Culture and Society (KS), Department of Urban Studies (US).
2023 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Over the last 20 years systematic quality work has become the main tool for developing Swedish schools (Håkansson & Adolfson, 2022). According to the Education Act (2010:800), quality work – at the local educational authority level as well as in the schools themselves – should be conducted in a systematic and continuous way, with respect to planning, follow-up, analyses, and actions taken to develop education. By continuous assessments and evaluations, the goal of the systematic quality work is to identify and address issues that need improvement for students to achieve the educational goals (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2012a). A review of the literature reveals the problematic aspects of evaluation practices and quality management, such as the risk to focus on what is measurable rather than what is desirable as well as the diverse definitions of quality (Lundström, 2015). However, what the local quality systems consist of, how they have been designed, and what practices and perceptions of quality they entail is less understood.

Previous research has primarily focused on individual schools’ quality work (Håkansson, 2013; Jarl, et al., 2017) , while less attention has been paid to the way the local educational authorities conduct systematic quality work. Thus, the aim of this study is to fill this knowledge gap by investigating how the ideas of systematic quality work in the Swedish Education Act's requirements are interpreted, translated, and materialized at the local education authority level.

The following research questions will guide our study:

1. How do local educational authorities interpret and translate the systematic quality work regulations and requirements in the Education Act?

2. How do these interpretations och translations materialize in the local quality work practices?

Theoretically we approach the phenomena of systematic quality management within the Swedish school sector from an organizing (Czarniawska, 2014) and practice-oriented perspective (Gherardi, 2019; Nicolini, 2009; 2012). These theoretical perspectives provide us a framework to analyse how the institutionalized ideas (as mental images that are well spread within the society) of systematic quality management - through authorities, policies, regulations, and quality models - are translated and materialized (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996) into the local quality work organization and practices. The latter refers to the practices of doing and saying something related to the ideas of systematic quality management in different social contexts and time (Gherardi, 2019; Nicolini, 2009; 2012). Although the national guidelines involve the entire school system, these are interpreted, translated, and materialized by actors operating in a local context, which means that quality is understood in different ways and that the systematic quality work is conducted in different ways. An organizational perspective also includes aspects related to the tensions that arise when different interests and logics collide (for example between political, administrative, and professional interests and logics; see Czarniawska, 2014).

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedIn this project five Swedish municipalities have participated in a study of what systematic quality work means at a local education authority level and what practices materialize from the national regulations. At the heart of the study is the recognition that quality systems are locally designed to meet the national requirements, thereby allowing diverse interpretations and translations to occur.

The local education authorities can be understood as mediators, partly between state and municipal control, partly between needs and agendas at different levels in the chain of command. This understanding also characterizes the design of the study. The empirical data has been collected through three complementary methods: document studies, observations, and interviews. The document studies consist of analysing different central documents, e.g., quality reports, provided by the local education authorities covering the past two years. We have also observed meetings related to the systematic quality work (so called “quality-dialogues”). Besides the local education authorities, the key actors in these meetings were the principals, assistant principals, and teacher representatives of the school being followed up. 

The interviews were conducted with key persons in five different local Swedish education authorities individually by the authors. The duration of the interviews was approximately one hour, and they were conducted either face-to-face, via Zoom, or telephone. The interviews were based on an interview guide including questions about the participants’ role, their experiences, and activities in relation to the systematic quality work, the expected and actual effects, as well as challenges and potential for improvement of systematic quality work. The interviews were recorded with informed consent and were later transcribed verbatim.

All the research material described above is now gathered and will be analysed during the Spring 2023. As a tool for data analyses, we will apply Bacchi´s (2012) method “What is the problem represented to be?”.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or FindingsEqual education for all is includes three fundamental aspects: equal access to education, equal quality of education and the compensatory nature of education (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2012b). All students should receive an equivalent education, regardless of the area they live in, the socio-economic conditions they come from, or their functional variations. But study after study shows that Swedish students' schooling is not equal, and that who you are and where you live play a decisive role in the quality of the education you receive. Many of the last decade's school policy reforms and targeted initiatives have had as their overarching goal to address this lack of equality, so far with few concrete results. In order to break this trend, there has been an increasing focus on the local educational authorities’ responsibility for the individual school's shortcomings, quality, and development. Furthermore, lack of equality is a problem within rather than between different local educational authorities. Although there is paucity of research, the limited results show that schools are often isolated with their problems and that there is a lack of supportive structures and a functional systematic quality work (Jarl, et al., 2017; Swedish Schools Inspectorate, 2021).

The paper will present results from the ongoing study, results that we believe will have relevance both in the Swedish, Nordic and in a wider European context. Through our investigation we will contribute knowledge regarding how the National Educational Act's requirements for systematic quality work are interpreted, translated, and materialized at the local level, and how this in turn shapes, promotes or hinders the quality work of individual schools.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2023.
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Organisational studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mau:diva-63856OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mau-63856DiVA, id: diva2:1814447
Conference
ECER, European Conference on Educational Research, 22 - 25 August 2023, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
Available from: 2023-11-24 Created: 2023-11-24 Last updated: 2023-11-25Bibliographically approved

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Muhonen, TuijaSerder, MargaretaErlandsson, MagnusEdvik, Anders

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Centre for Work Life and Evaluation Studies (CTA)Department of Urban Studies (US)Department of School Development and Leadership (SOL)Department of Natural Science, Mathematics and Society (NMS)
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