The paper presents a case study on the enactment of a school drop out prevention policy promoted by a Local Authority and involving a network of low-performing inner-city schools located in a disadvantaged area in the city of Naples (South of Italy). Inner-city areas in the South of Italy are historically characterized by high degrees of students dropping out. Within a political scenario where welfarist and neoliberal recipes confront each other in the field of education (Olssen et al., 2004), schools’ under-performing and dropping out are increasingly recognized as prioritarian issues to be tackled by policy-makers both at the national and local levels. Different solutions are proposed. The policy in focus, named “Hope”, has been promoted in 2006 by a local authority and has involved a board of academic experts and highly qualified head teachers and teachers. The aim has been to support the teaching staffs of the schools involved in preventing dropping out and pursuing higher performances in terms of learning processes and students outcomes. Innovations in the curricula structure, in the teaching methodologies and in schools organization as well as teachers’ professional development programs have been introduced in order to accomplish this goal. According to the promoters, the policy should have to represent a best practice for school drop out prevention to be transferred in other under-performing schools. The policy trajectory is represented as a set of «searches, borrowing, discoveries and struggles» (Ball, 2007) mediated through conflicting foucauldian discourses, namely professionalism, managerialism and democratic discourse (Thrupp, Willmot, 2003; Woods, 2005; Serpieri, 2008). Discourses are interpreted as «practices that systematically shape their objects» (Ball, 2006) and define fields of validity, criteria of exclusion or inclusion, problems to be tackled and solutions to be adopted (Foucault, 1972). In so far, they are used here as heuristic tools in order to read shifts in practices, values and contents enacted by “Hope”’s main actors. Observations of the schools activities and in-depth interviews with the policy-makers, the experts, the practicioners involved have been realised in order to reconstruct the trajectory of the policy. Official documents (plannings, reports, proceedings of the planning and monitoring meetings) as well as data about dropping out and students achievements have also been collected. The qualitative data analysis have been carried on using the Grounded Theory (Strauss, Corbin, 1990). The effects of choices inspired by different discourses on the policy enactment are highlighted. The paper shows how the initial democratic, child-centred and equity-oriented biases (Woods, 2005; Willmott, 2002) of the policy have been betrayed in due course, and a set of practices inspired by professionalism and managerialism have prevailed. The choice of a top-down prescriptive approach, as well as the adoption of a managerialist network-like solution of systemic leadership (Hatcher, 2008) have contributed to determine Hope’s substantial failure. In the first phase of the policy trajectory some of the experts, as interpreters of the bureau-professionalism (Newman, 1998), tried to impose their professional tools with no regard of the previous experiences and voices rising from the schools communities. In a subsequent phase, the difficulties encountered drove the experts board towards managerialist ready-made solutions, focusing mainly on professional development and interpreting their role as system leaders within a new network-like configuration (Hopkins, 2007). The way these developments interacted with several relationships within the national and local fields of power (Bourdieu, Wacquant, 1992) and influenced negatively the project development are highlighted. The need for a democratic approach to school drop out prevention policy-making that rejects the one-way donor-recipient model and fosters, on the contrary, horizontal and symmetric relationships based on equitably distributed power is claimed (Hatcher, 2008).

An Italian policy for drop out prevention. The need for a democratic discourse

GRIMALDI, EMILIANO
2009

Abstract

The paper presents a case study on the enactment of a school drop out prevention policy promoted by a Local Authority and involving a network of low-performing inner-city schools located in a disadvantaged area in the city of Naples (South of Italy). Inner-city areas in the South of Italy are historically characterized by high degrees of students dropping out. Within a political scenario where welfarist and neoliberal recipes confront each other in the field of education (Olssen et al., 2004), schools’ under-performing and dropping out are increasingly recognized as prioritarian issues to be tackled by policy-makers both at the national and local levels. Different solutions are proposed. The policy in focus, named “Hope”, has been promoted in 2006 by a local authority and has involved a board of academic experts and highly qualified head teachers and teachers. The aim has been to support the teaching staffs of the schools involved in preventing dropping out and pursuing higher performances in terms of learning processes and students outcomes. Innovations in the curricula structure, in the teaching methodologies and in schools organization as well as teachers’ professional development programs have been introduced in order to accomplish this goal. According to the promoters, the policy should have to represent a best practice for school drop out prevention to be transferred in other under-performing schools. The policy trajectory is represented as a set of «searches, borrowing, discoveries and struggles» (Ball, 2007) mediated through conflicting foucauldian discourses, namely professionalism, managerialism and democratic discourse (Thrupp, Willmot, 2003; Woods, 2005; Serpieri, 2008). Discourses are interpreted as «practices that systematically shape their objects» (Ball, 2006) and define fields of validity, criteria of exclusion or inclusion, problems to be tackled and solutions to be adopted (Foucault, 1972). In so far, they are used here as heuristic tools in order to read shifts in practices, values and contents enacted by “Hope”’s main actors. Observations of the schools activities and in-depth interviews with the policy-makers, the experts, the practicioners involved have been realised in order to reconstruct the trajectory of the policy. Official documents (plannings, reports, proceedings of the planning and monitoring meetings) as well as data about dropping out and students achievements have also been collected. The qualitative data analysis have been carried on using the Grounded Theory (Strauss, Corbin, 1990). The effects of choices inspired by different discourses on the policy enactment are highlighted. The paper shows how the initial democratic, child-centred and equity-oriented biases (Woods, 2005; Willmott, 2002) of the policy have been betrayed in due course, and a set of practices inspired by professionalism and managerialism have prevailed. The choice of a top-down prescriptive approach, as well as the adoption of a managerialist network-like solution of systemic leadership (Hatcher, 2008) have contributed to determine Hope’s substantial failure. In the first phase of the policy trajectory some of the experts, as interpreters of the bureau-professionalism (Newman, 1998), tried to impose their professional tools with no regard of the previous experiences and voices rising from the schools communities. In a subsequent phase, the difficulties encountered drove the experts board towards managerialist ready-made solutions, focusing mainly on professional development and interpreting their role as system leaders within a new network-like configuration (Hopkins, 2007). The way these developments interacted with several relationships within the national and local fields of power (Bourdieu, Wacquant, 1992) and influenced negatively the project development are highlighted. The need for a democratic approach to school drop out prevention policy-making that rejects the one-way donor-recipient model and fosters, on the contrary, horizontal and symmetric relationships based on equitably distributed power is claimed (Hatcher, 2008).
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11588/425297
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