Critical Perspectives on Policy Enactment – PhD thesis

Karin Oerlemans (2005)

Submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Graduate School of Education
The University of Western Australia

Abstract: Michael Fullan (1991) commented that little was known about how students viewed educational change, as no one had thought to ask them. By 2004 there was a small but growing literature seeking the views of students on a range of issues associated with schooling. This thesis presents the findings and analysis of a study of students’ perceptions of educational change. Much educational change involves shifts in power and responsibilities between the different actors, such as
governments, school administrators, teachers, parents, the community and students. Despite  widespread interest in educational change it is usually the macro-level policy elite who exert the most influence, using their power, privilege and status in order to propagate particular versions of schooling; students continue to be the ‘objects’ of policy initiatives, submerged in what Freire referred to as a ‘culture of silence’. Students are frequently excluded as participants in both the process and decision
making phases of change. This research was based on exploring the exclusion of students from the processes of change in schools, resulting from a top-down policy initiative by the State department of education in WA, the Local Area Education Planning (LAEP) Framework. How policy is defined and acted on is explored, and the roles students could have, but often do not, are highlighted. An eclectic hybrid conceptual framework drawing on both critical theory and a postmodern policy cycle approach was used to analyse the LAEP Framework policy processes and students’ perceptions of the changes that ensued.

The research comprised in-depth case studies of three schools undergoing substantial educational restructuring as the result of the macro-level LAEP Framework policy in the State of WA. Key elements
of the policy were school amalgamations, closures and the creation of Middle Schools. Data collection methods included focus group and semi-structured interviews with students from the three schools, as well as document analysis, staff interviews and field notes. The research found that students were very perceptive about educational change, that they were deeply impacted by educational change and that they wanted to participate in restructuring agendas. Several meta-level themes emerged from the students’ ‘voices’, including issues associated with disempowerment, and competing social justice and economic discourses. The findings foreground the often messy and contradictory tensions evident in policy processes. The thesis concluded by developing theory on ways in which students could be included meaningfully as participants in educational change.

Full text available here – UWA Thesis library

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