Educational Research and Innovation

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

2076-9679 (online)
2076-9660 (print)
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This series of books from the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovations provides the results of OECD work on innovation in education.

Also available in French
Governing Education in a Complex World

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Edited By:Tracey Burns, Florian Köster
12 Apr 2016
9789264255364 (PDF) ;9789264255357(print)

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What models of governance are effective in complex education systems? In all systems an increasing number of stakeholders are involved in designing, delivering and monitoring education. Like our societies, education systems are increasingly diverse regarding students, teachers and communities, as well as the values and identities we expect education to deliver. These trends have increased the complexity of education systems, leaving decision makers on all governance levels with the question of how to successfully manoeuvre in this highly dynamic policy area.
Governing Education in a Complex World addresses key challenges involved in governing modern education systems, looking specifically at complexity, accountability, capacity building and strategic thinking. The publication brings together research from the OECD Secretariat and invited chapters from international scholars to provide a state of the art analysis and a fresh perspective on some of the most challenging issues facing educational systems today.
Creating the open, dynamic and strategic governance systems necessary for governing complex systems is not easy. This volume challenges our traditional concepts of education governance through work on complexity, collaborative networks and decision-making. In doing so it sets the agenda for thinking about the inclusive and adaptable systems necessary for governing education in today’s world. The volume will be a useful resource for those interested in education governance and complexity, particularly policy-makers, education leaders, teachers and the education research community.

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  • Foreword and Acknowledgements

    One of the crucial issues for OECD countries is how to deliver high quality, efficient, equitable and innovative education in increasingly complex education systems. A number of intersecting trends contribute to this increasing complexity: decentralisation has allowed local authorities, school boards and schools a greater degree of freedom to respond to local demands. Parents in OECD countries have become more diverse, individualistic and highly educated. With more readily available evidence about school and student achievement, stakeholders have also become more demanding towards schools to cater to students’ individual needs. Education systems are now characterised by multi-level governance where the links between multiple actors operating at different levels are to a certain extent fluid and open to negotiation.

  • Executive Summary

    Governing multi-level education systems effectively requires governance models that balance responsiveness to local diversity with the ability to ensure national objectives. This is a delicate equilibrium, one that is difficult to achieve given the complexity of the education system in many OECD countries. As a result, governance issues have moved up political and policy agendas, and countries are increasingly looking for models that they can adapt to their own needs.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Setting the Stage: Governance in Complex Systems

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    • Modern governance challenges in education

      Education systems now tend to be characterised by multi-level governance where the links between multiple actors operating at different levels are more fluid and open to negotiation. As a result, the governance of complex multilevel education systems has become a policy priority. This chapter sets the stage for the publication by exploring the concept of complexity and its implications for modern education governance. It then provides the reader with an overview of the key themes of governing complex education systems – accountability, capacity building and strategic thinking. It sets out a set of principles for strategic thinking and modern governance, developed through OECD work with countries. The chapter concludes with an overview of the full volume, as well as a reminder of one currently under-studied issue that is the glue of modern governance: trust.

    • Complexity theory and systemic change in education governance

      Education governance has among its principal responsibilities initiating and sustaining positive change – whether at system, district or school level. The insights offered by complexity theory suggest a radical rethinking of some of the more traditional notions about how this might be achieved. This paper accordingly considers the challenge of sustainable change in education from the perspective of complexity theory. Complexity theory’s concept of emergence implies that, given a significant degree of complexity in a particular environment – whether an education system or a particular school – new properties and behaviours emerge that are not necessarily contained in the essence of the constituent elements, or easily able to be predicted from a knowledge of initial conditions. These concepts of emergent phenomena form a critical mass, associated with notions of lock-in, path dependence, and inertial momentum, contribute to a perspective on continuity and change that indicates what conditions might need to be in place for the emergence of sustainable, positive, system-wide change in education.

    • Hierarchies, networks and improvisation in education governance

      Over the past three decades, major trends have transformed the context of educational governance and created new governance challenges. Partly in response to these trends new forms of governance have risen, relying less on strong centralised rational planning and more on decentralised actors and market forces. These new forms of governance have not always solved existing problems and sometimes created new problems. However, because of societal changes, returning to a strong central government with rational planning is no longer possible. This then raises the question what the next governance innovation should be, moving beyond the state and the market. While some propose governance networks as a promising avenue, the horizontal nature of networks creates tensions with the vertical, hierarchical organisation of ministries. This makes the position of civil servants working on the intersection of these vertical and horizontal logics of networks and hierarchies and their ability to cope with the tensions between them very important.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Accountability

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    • Exploring accountability

      The recognition that all children have the right to a quality education has pushed education provision and quality assurance to the top of policy agendas. The use of test scores for accountability purposes has risen worldwide, accompanied by a belief in the market model (e.g. school choice) as a strong way to ensure and monitor quality education. There is an open question however about how effective these market forces are, and whether the use of test scores is achieving the desired improvements in education performance. This chapter uses the National Testing Policies (NTP) outlined by Smith (forthcoming) to explore common practices found in schools in educator based testing for accountability systems, providing policy-makers with a rich illustration of school practices in each NTP.

    • Making multiple school accountability work

      The question of how to organise and align different accountability forms and processes has gained relevance as the effects of decentralisation and the introduction of market mechanisms in many OECD countries have become evident. Central governments are still held responsible by the general public for ensuring high quality education, though they play a more limited role as autonomy on the local level has increased. This chapter analyses trends in accountability mechanisms and processes and argues that vertical measures of accountability, that is, regulatory and school performance accountability, can be usefully augmented. The chapter describes how multiple school accountability, that is, horizontal measures involving multiple stakeholders, comes to fruition in different forms and contexts and under which conditions it can flourish. Taking into account the nuanced nature and purposes of education and combining various forms of accountability, multiple school accountability has the potential to enhance the overall education system, policy for reform, and therefore ultimately improve the quality of education.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Capacity and the Use of Knowledge

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    • Complexity in a bureaucratic-federalist education system

      On the case of Austria the chapter explores some main issues of complexity in centralised systems. In a first part, the chapter describes that while most sources of complexity in centralised systems generally add to those found in decentralised systems, the degree of centralization (or decentralisation) should not be perceived as dichotomy as crucial for a systems structural complexity is its specific setup. Building on this, the chapter describes how the tensions between policy and politics as basic dimensions of governance and policy making are greater in bureaucratic-federalist systems such as Austria due to their structurally complex setup. An important aspect of the whole interrelations in a centralised system lies in the fact that much part of the complexity is hidden behind the existing formal regulations that superficially seem to "rationalise" practices, however, might create a substantial gap between formal structures and informal practices.

    • Knowledge and research use in local capacity building

      Knowledge is vital for teacher quality, both in terms of research evidence and practitioner expertise. The chapter describes possible tensions between research knowledge and practitioner knowledge. Issues revolve around practitioners’ knowledge lacking distance from the research subject on the one hand and research based knowledge not being usable for practitioners in the busy environment of the school on the other. Based on a number of examples from England (United Kingdom), the chapter proposes concrete ways to build teacher capacity for engaging with research and to conduct research of their own and increase appreciation of practitioner knowledge in the research community. With regards to education governance, the chapter discusses how policy making can facilitate teachers’ motivation and involvement in research by providing the tools for easier use of research knowledge. Importantly, practitioner research should be accompanied by rigorous quality control to ensure fruitful and generalisable findings and provide connecting points with large-scale education research.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Complexity in Policy Making: Thinking Strategically

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    • Policy experimentation in complex education systems

      Complexity is increasing in education – in governance arrangements, in the numbers of stakeholders and in the availability and use of evaluation and other accountability data. These changes call for moving away from a traditional policy cycle towards one which can evolve and adapt with our systems in order to govern them effectively. One tool of this new kind of governance is policy experimentation. This chapter suggests avenues to make experimentation a more effective instrument for policy making in a complex environment, and demonstrates that a tension exists between properly evaluating the effects of narrowly-focused experiments and translating these results into the broader network in which every stakeholder is embedded. It suggests that a good balance can be struck by experimenting at a suitable scale, and moving towards what is called ecosystem experimentation.

    • Experimentalism in Dutch education policy

      Policy experimentation has the potential to be an effective instrument for policy making in a complex environment. This chapter discusses the experience of the Netherlands, which has engaged in active policy experimentation for the last decade, and distils lessons learned. Starting with the underlying rationale of policy experimentation in education, the chapter examines the scope of experimentation and innovation in the Dutch education system and describes examples of the various forms of experiments carried out as well as dilemmas and lessons related experimentation. The role of education practitioners, ensuring schools’ capacity as well as knowledge dissemination are found as critical for successful experimentation.

    • Learning to fail, not failing to learn

      Education systems must continuously evolve and improve in order to meet the diverse needs of today’s learners. This urge for innovation and improvement is at the top of policy agendas across the OECD. However, innovation can be inhibited by governance systems that seek to minimise risk and errors. Although an important element of accountability, they can also inadvertently serve to entrench the status quo. Innovation in education requires careful risk-taking and the accompanying possibility of failure. This chapter discusses two ways in which this can be accomplished: Through experimentation, i.e. the testing of innovative programmes in a limited magnitude and scope; as well as by developing a governance system that can learn from failures as well as successes. This chapter argues that both are useful and necessary elements of a modern, evolving governance system, and provides a brief overview of how each of these two elements might play out in modern education.

    • Enhancing effective education governance

      Effective multi-level governance of complex education systems is a policy priority. As educational systems have decentralised, countries are increasingly looking for ways to balance responsiveness to local diversity with national attainment goals. The first part of this chapter explores the importance of trust for the governance of complex systems and highlights its interaction with the main themes of this volume. It shows that trust is indispensable for change and reform but also raises important questions about the right levels of trust for the governance of educational systems. The second part of the chapter suggests a way forward. It summarises the main findings on governance systems that emerge from this volume, focusing in particular on issues of complexity, accountability, capacity building and strategic thinking. It then ends with a look at the key elements of modern educational governance.

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