Re-Inventing Public Education

Date01 July 2010
AuthorJenny Ozga,Sotiria Grek
Publication Date01 July 2010
ßThe Author(s), 2010.
Reprints and permissions: http://
201007 25(3) 271–288 Re-Inventing Public Education
The New Role of Knowledge in Education
Policy Making
Sotiria Grek and Jenny Ozga
University of Edinburgh, UK
Abstract This article focuses on the changing role of knowledge in education policy
making within the knowledge society. Through an examination of key policy
texts, the Scottish case of Integrated Children Services provision is used to
exemplify this new trend. We discuss the ways in which knowledge is being
used in order to re-configure education as part of a range of public services
designed to meet individuals’ needs. This, we argue, has led to a ‘scientization’
of education governance where it is only knowledge, closely intertwined with
action (expressed as ‘measures’) that can reveal problems and shape solutions.
The article concludes by highlighting the key role of knowledge policy and
governance in orienting education policy making through a re-invention of the
public role of education.
Keywords data, education policy, integration, indicators, knowledge, public
This paper examines the new role of knowledge in education policy making
within the knowledge society. It focuses on its shifting uses in contemporary
public policy and, in particular, in governing education. The case of Scotland
is taken as an illustrative example, more specifically the emphasis there on the
promotion of the integration of ‘children’s services’. This example shows how
education is being reconfigured as part of a wide spectrum of ‘delivery’ of public
‘services’ to meet specific individual ‘needs’. In making this argument we are
focusing primarily on the discursive re-construction of the public services, but
we also suggest that discourse has material consequences, and interacts with
structural adjustments to policy processes and relations (Fairclough, 1995).
DOI: 10.1177/0952076709356870
Sotiria Grek, Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh, St John’s Land, Holyrood
Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ, UK. [email:] 271
Knowledge plays a key role in promoting this new agenda, as it is only through
the integration of knowledge that integration of policy is feasible.
Knowledge and education policy have always had a loose governing relation
in Scotland; policy governed knowledge production to some degree and knowl-
edge (a specific type of knowledge – in the political arithmetic tradition [for a
detailed discussion see Ozga et al., 2008]) governed the direction of education
policy. With the explosion of knowledge production in recent years this rela-
tionship has become far more intense; in a sense, what we seem to experience is
a ‘scientization’ of education governance, where it is increasingly assumed that it
is only knowledge (and in particular, statistical knowledge) that can reveal prob-
lems and shape solutions. To take this slightly further, problems do not seem to
exist or matter to policy makers unless they appear in alarming red colours in
statistical spreadsheets or media headlines. Increasingly, we suggest, knowledge
in education governance is not used to tackle problems that lie ‘out there’;
instead it represents the new ‘coming into being’ (Stehr and Meja, 2005,
p. 10) of problems and education realities. This trend relates to the predominance
of evidence-based policy, or more simply the ‘what works’ approach to educa-
tion policy making (Davies et al., 2000; Davies, 2004; Nutley et al., 2002;
Schuller and Burns, 2007). Accountability is at the heart of this shift; the gov-
erning of a public comprised of well-managed, responsible and accountable
The discussion presented here tracks the shifting relationship between policy
and knowledge. First, it shows how Scotland has increasingly been moving from
bureaucratic/professional knowledge about education, a part of the public sector,
to individualised, personalised and integrated knowledge about a society. It exam-
ines the extent to which these new knowledge politics (Stehr, 2004) then re-enter
the public sphere as the new moralizing, market-based reconfiguration of what
education as a public good is or might look like in the 21st century; and finally, it
suggests that we might better understand the relation between knowledge and
education policy if we move the lens to an examination of knowledge policy itself.
In other words, we suggest that the proliferation of knowledge in education
governance has resulted in a weakening of education as a distinctive field of
governance; rather, it is the regulation of knowledge that appears to determine
the governance of ‘human services’, education included. Integrated children’s
services – the focus of this paper – are one example of this shift.
Knowledge in the Knowledge Society
The idea of the changing role of knowledge within the knowledge society orig-
inates in the publication of two texts: The Production of Knowledge (Gibbons
et al., 1994) and Re-thinking Science (Nowotny et al., 2001). Both texts elaborate
the idea of the changing nature of knowledge and in particular of the shift from
Public Policy and Administration 25(3)

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