Avis, James (2009) Twentieth Century Further Education in England: the New Localism, Systems Theory and Governance. In: Annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), 28th – 30th September 2009, University of Vienna, Austria. (Unpublished)

English Colleges of Further Education (FE) occupy a confusing and ambivalent position within the education system, being positioned between school and university, providing post compulsory education and training. Traditionally they have been concerned with non-advanced vocational education and training, as well as adult provision. These divisions have now become blurred. For much of its history FE has been subject to at best a benign neglect by policy makers, Kenneth Baker (1989), a former Conservative Secretary State for Education referring to it as the ‘Cinderella service’. Currently its somewhat ‘messy’ position is reflected in the allocation of governmental responsibilities between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This paper explores the changing forms of governance being applied to the sector. It addresses these by locating the sector within its socio-economic and policy context. Whilst the paper examines policy changes, relating these to their contextualisation, it also addresses a set of underpinning conceptual notions that derive from particular understandings of systems theory, the new localism as well as the limitations of performance management. The Cabinet Office (2008) suggests that too many top-down targets are counter-productive and may limit the professionalism of service providers. Overly prescriptive, targets are now thought to inhibit professionals in introducing innovative and creative practices. It is argued users and citizens need to be empowered so that they have more choice and control over services. Notions of empowerment, responsiveness and adaptability carry with them a localising emphasis. It is only by placing policy interventions in their local context that providers will be able to respond creatively to the needs and demands of users. The DCSF’s (2008) Raising Expectations stresses the importance of locality and the strategic role of Local Authorities, its ministerial forward arguing for a transformation of the FE sector, which necessitates “strong local leadership in every area”. Although this paper addresses the English context its arguments have a broader resonance. Questions of localism and regionalism are issues examined in many analyses of globalisation and Europeanisation and by policy makers whose aim is to modernise the delivery of education. This is similarly the case with arguments about performativity, its impact upon educational systems and those calling for more nuanced approaches to educational improvement. Finally, there has been a resurgence in the application of systems theory underpinning educational interventions which have an apparently progressive accent.

The paper examines English education policy and is based upon policy scholarship. This is located within a critical and conceptual analysis that addresses arguments concerned with the new localism, performativity, and in particular, the notion of systems theory and leadership. These conceptualisations underpin the policy changes addressed by the paper. Key sources include policy documents produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, as well as those published by the UK’s Cabinet Office and its Innovation Unit. In addition the paper critically analyses the arguments of those whom Ball and Exley (2008) describe as the ‘intellectuals’ of new Labour as well as those associated with the National College for School Leadership.

Expected Outcomes
The paper develops a conceptual analysis based upon policy scholarship that moves towards a political economy of English Further Education. It concludes that whilst these changing forms governance are in continuity with earlier policies that had a regional dimension they remain set on the terrain of performativity and new public sector management. Nevertheless, there remains a residual potential to develop more democratic forms of engagement. This derives from the contradictions and tensions that cohere around the new localism and the way in which these ideas are marshalled in current policy interventions.

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