Since the end of World War Two, institutions, actors and practices of the Italian education system have been shaped by the ongoing interplay of three coexisting discourses: • The bureaucratic discourse, whose main tenets inspired the overall functioning of the Italian public administration: formal accountability, hierarchy and standardized procedures as a mode of coordination, a weberian conception of civil servants; • Professionalism: peers’ accountability, autonomy as a mode of coordination, professional ethos; • The welfarist discourse on education: education is a universal right and a public good to be provided by the state through taxpayer funding. In the second half of the last century, this interplay created the conditions for a highly centralized system, where: a) policy were developed and enacted through bureaucratic hierarchies; b) governance relationships flew up and down hierarchies; c) national curriculum was centrally defined; d) change was produced through altering legislation, reframing rules and producing new standards and procedures; e) evaluation and mechanisms of control were formal and mainly focused on the input-side. Within this scenario a large autonomy was recognized to heads and teachers within their ‘professional space’ (teaching, national curriculum enactment, assessment). The first hints of decentralization are recognizable in the 70s, after the 1968 movement and thanks to the relevant role of the left parties and unions in the Italian policy-making. In 1974, school governance was radically changed introducing democratic governing bodies (head, teachers, parents and students representatives), which were entitled to make some relevant decisions about school life (in the interstices of central regulation). However, the enactment of the reform betrayed the participatory expectations. Nonetheless, a significant fracture in the interplay between centralization and decentralization can be found in 1997 regulation, launched by a centre-left government, that introduced school autonomy and devolved governing functions to local governments. The 1997 regulation can be read as one of the outcome of the entering of: • The Third Way discourse: a discourse of modernization trying to integrate welfarist instances of social justice, empowering policies and the virtues of markets; • The neoliberal discourse: marketization and competitiveness; choice and commodification of educational goods; differentiation; • The New Public Management: entrepreneurship and managerialist accountability; the adoption of managerial devices; the exploiting of human resources. At the beginning of the new millenniun, the reform of the Italian education system has been inspired by a hybrid discourse merging Third Way-like policy ideas, participatory instances grounded in the democratic roots of the Italian system and New Public management nuances. Such a reform, labelled as ‘school autonomy’, was framed within a wider transformation of the Italian Public Administration where the State apparatus was being designed as a more federal-like system. The main changes concerned: • The introduction of a ‘weak’ site-based management • The formation of a new headship role • The opening of new decentralized educational governance arenas in a multi-level shaped model, where Local Governments and public and private actors were called to participate to the production and enactment of education policies; • The burst into scene of a discourse of performativity, leading to many (and still ongoing) trials to establish a national evaluation system and pilot policies (still failing) for headteachers and teachers evaluation. The mechanism of State control slightly shifts towards the output-side (learning results), while at the same time other issues strongly remain under central Ministry control: selection, recruitment, salaries (age-related careers) and most of training both for professionals (teachers and heads) and administrative clerks. Furthermore, curriculum and schools funding are still largely depending on central policy-making. It is only from 2003, with the new centre-right government and also thanks to processes of policy borrowing, that the influence of the neoliberal discourse on the Italian education policy-making appears to be more evident, with: a) the enactment of policies of expenses cuts, b) the enhancing of the evaluation efforts, c) the redesign of secondary education, through the creation of parallel and diverse curricula (lyceums and technical/vocational education) and d), most of all, the creation of a new moral environment, based on the instigation of public opinion against the role of professionals and the idea of education as a public good. Moreover, the education agenda-setting witnesses the increasing strength of neoliberal issues such as marketization and competition as lever of improvement, choice policies and the establishment of a school-based human resource management, meritocracy ideology. It is difficult to foresee the possible outcomes of such a war of discourses conflicting in the struggle to influence the education arenas, where ‘welfarist’ actors as unions and bureaucracies are still very mighty and whereas new non-educational actors appear to be more and more influencing the education policy-making. Our paper intends to explore the complex interplay between centralization and decentralization adopting the analytical framework provided by Newman (2001), calling also into question the continuity/change dimension. We would argue that the Italian education system still mainly lies at the cross-section of continuity-centralization (hierarchy model), although some trends are recognizable towards the opening of spaces of regulated self-regulation (continuity-decentralization) and the strengthening of the market-rational goal model (change-centralization).

Centralization and decentralization in education. The case of Italy

GRIMALDI, EMILIANO;SERPIERI, ROBERTO
2011

Abstract

Since the end of World War Two, institutions, actors and practices of the Italian education system have been shaped by the ongoing interplay of three coexisting discourses: • The bureaucratic discourse, whose main tenets inspired the overall functioning of the Italian public administration: formal accountability, hierarchy and standardized procedures as a mode of coordination, a weberian conception of civil servants; • Professionalism: peers’ accountability, autonomy as a mode of coordination, professional ethos; • The welfarist discourse on education: education is a universal right and a public good to be provided by the state through taxpayer funding. In the second half of the last century, this interplay created the conditions for a highly centralized system, where: a) policy were developed and enacted through bureaucratic hierarchies; b) governance relationships flew up and down hierarchies; c) national curriculum was centrally defined; d) change was produced through altering legislation, reframing rules and producing new standards and procedures; e) evaluation and mechanisms of control were formal and mainly focused on the input-side. Within this scenario a large autonomy was recognized to heads and teachers within their ‘professional space’ (teaching, national curriculum enactment, assessment). The first hints of decentralization are recognizable in the 70s, after the 1968 movement and thanks to the relevant role of the left parties and unions in the Italian policy-making. In 1974, school governance was radically changed introducing democratic governing bodies (head, teachers, parents and students representatives), which were entitled to make some relevant decisions about school life (in the interstices of central regulation). However, the enactment of the reform betrayed the participatory expectations. Nonetheless, a significant fracture in the interplay between centralization and decentralization can be found in 1997 regulation, launched by a centre-left government, that introduced school autonomy and devolved governing functions to local governments. The 1997 regulation can be read as one of the outcome of the entering of: • The Third Way discourse: a discourse of modernization trying to integrate welfarist instances of social justice, empowering policies and the virtues of markets; • The neoliberal discourse: marketization and competitiveness; choice and commodification of educational goods; differentiation; • The New Public Management: entrepreneurship and managerialist accountability; the adoption of managerial devices; the exploiting of human resources. At the beginning of the new millenniun, the reform of the Italian education system has been inspired by a hybrid discourse merging Third Way-like policy ideas, participatory instances grounded in the democratic roots of the Italian system and New Public management nuances. Such a reform, labelled as ‘school autonomy’, was framed within a wider transformation of the Italian Public Administration where the State apparatus was being designed as a more federal-like system. The main changes concerned: • The introduction of a ‘weak’ site-based management • The formation of a new headship role • The opening of new decentralized educational governance arenas in a multi-level shaped model, where Local Governments and public and private actors were called to participate to the production and enactment of education policies; • The burst into scene of a discourse of performativity, leading to many (and still ongoing) trials to establish a national evaluation system and pilot policies (still failing) for headteachers and teachers evaluation. The mechanism of State control slightly shifts towards the output-side (learning results), while at the same time other issues strongly remain under central Ministry control: selection, recruitment, salaries (age-related careers) and most of training both for professionals (teachers and heads) and administrative clerks. Furthermore, curriculum and schools funding are still largely depending on central policy-making. It is only from 2003, with the new centre-right government and also thanks to processes of policy borrowing, that the influence of the neoliberal discourse on the Italian education policy-making appears to be more evident, with: a) the enactment of policies of expenses cuts, b) the enhancing of the evaluation efforts, c) the redesign of secondary education, through the creation of parallel and diverse curricula (lyceums and technical/vocational education) and d), most of all, the creation of a new moral environment, based on the instigation of public opinion against the role of professionals and the idea of education as a public good. Moreover, the education agenda-setting witnesses the increasing strength of neoliberal issues such as marketization and competition as lever of improvement, choice policies and the establishment of a school-based human resource management, meritocracy ideology. It is difficult to foresee the possible outcomes of such a war of discourses conflicting in the struggle to influence the education arenas, where ‘welfarist’ actors as unions and bureaucracies are still very mighty and whereas new non-educational actors appear to be more and more influencing the education policy-making. Our paper intends to explore the complex interplay between centralization and decentralization adopting the analytical framework provided by Newman (2001), calling also into question the continuity/change dimension. We would argue that the Italian education system still mainly lies at the cross-section of continuity-centralization (hierarchy model), although some trends are recognizable towards the opening of spaces of regulated self-regulation (continuity-decentralization) and the strengthening of the market-rational goal model (change-centralization).
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11588/483608
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