The construction of new moral spaces in the development of an English free school

Downes, G.A (2018) The construction of new moral spaces in the development of an English free school. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

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English free school policy, first introduced in the 2010 education white paper, advocated, among other things, opportunities for local people to establish new schools that served the needs of their communities (Department for Education, 2010). The assumption was that such a decentralised, flexible approach would generate new schools that better met the needs of those not currently provided for effectively by the education system. Although the Department for Education favoured a sponser model, the opportunity for parents to set up their own schools was included in the policy (Department for Education, 2010) and there are a few examples of new schools created by parents without the support of approved providers. This thesis plotted the efforts of various parties to position themselves in relation to one such, parent led, English free school: Ridgewell School. Purportedly created from within their community, the school actually generated many struggles and tensions as people attempted to colonise the emerging public space. The school was established in a rural area of England by a small group of parents who decided they wanted an alternative to the existing secondary school provision; an alternative that would provide better standards, and would be more sympathetic to the rural environment that their families lived in. However, the parents' appraoch was blind to the effects of existing class relations and they ended up struggling against a multitude of differing local interests and motivations. Education discourses played a critical role in this process as a reference point by which individuals legitimated and articulated their own positions. The founding parents were able to use existing education discourses to legitimate their claim for a new school whilst, at the same time, having to deal with the inflexible requirements of national legislative and regulatory procedures that made it difficult for the school to adapt to the local context. By contrast, other potentially interested parties (residents, parents, educators) were constrained by their existing sense of self (Archer, 2007) which in some cases excluded them from the emerging space entirely. Using an extended case method (Burawoy, 2009), the analysis attempts to provide a robust account of class struggle in the formation of the new school. With reference to Beverly Skeggs, I argue that attributions of value were essential to this struggle (2004: 186). In the case of the new school, value judgements were central to the creation of new forms of appropriation, exploitation and governance, and the formation of new selves (2004: 186). With reference to Anne Rawls, I go further and argue that the normative process was essentially moral in nature: judgements relating to what is good and bad were essential to all value judgements in the data analysed. I argue that this assertion of 'moral power' (Rawls, 2010) within the emerging social space can be seen as an aspect of discourse, which in turn is evident in the historical discursive formation that is state education (Olssen, 2010b). Put simply, one's ability to pass judgement on others, based on historical discourses of legitimation, was key to the colonization of the new educational space (Garfinkel and Rawls, 2002). Education policy has historically articulated state education with economic discourses (Green, 2013). The case study developed in this thesis provides opportunities for contributions to theoretical understandings relating to the normative dimensions of discourse in the formation of new educational spaces. As such, I hope that the theoretically driven accounts that have been produced will contribute to the assumptions that drive national education policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: free schools, education policy, Department for Education (UK), parent-led schools, secondary schools, rural schools, parental involvement, education discourse, national regulations, extended case study, social class, appropriation, exploitation, governance, moral judgement, state education, educational spaces
Divisions: School of Education
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Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2018 17:31
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2023 13:34
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