«2009/ED/EFA/MRT/PI/32 Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2009 Overcoming Inequality: why governance matters ...»
The close to school support model – our third model – is very much interested in the question of disparities. It offers specific attention to the context of schools and recognizes that schools function in different socio-economic environments and that these may have an impact on their performance. Supervision therefore needs to adapt itself to the needs and the characteristics of each individual school. This supervision model is illustrative of an overall concern with equity. This concern is based on the conviction that the State has the mandate, if not the obligation, to intervene in favour of the least advantaged and the weakest actors in society, including through policies of positive discrimination. This equity-focused policy also offers the State a source of legitimacy. The model is also popular with non-governmental organizations, who work precisely within a State which does not pay attention to disparities.
These NGO’s can leave administrative control to the official authorities and dedicate their time and efforts to the most disadvantaged sections of society (or, in the education system, the most disadvantaged schools).
The success of this model, when it is the initiative of a government, depends therefore in part on the characteristics of this government. Setting up a supervision service, which has as an objective to offer a collegial-type support as part of a compensatory programme, has little chance of succeeding if it is the initiative of a government which for the remainder shows scant interest in equity and whose other interventions are focussed on control. The relative failure of the resource persons in Nepal (Khaniya, 1997) or of the Groupes d’Appui Pédagogique in Morocco (Yeklef and Tazi, 2004) are testimony to this. However, the State does not only need to have the right intentions and policies, it also needs to be able to put these into practice. The South-African government for instance (or, to be more correct the federal government and those of several provinces) has a series of compensatory policies (such as giving additional financial resources to the schools in the poorest areas) but has not been able to transform the supervision service, which is indeed a more complex exercise, encountering resistance both from practising supervisors and from teachers. Unfortunately, those schools and teachers who in principle could benefit most from a more support-oriented supervision service, have, because of the memories of the apartheid regime and its inspection system, resisted almost any re-introduction of supervision into their schools.
While the close-to-school support model seems the most promising one to address disparities, its introduction encounters several difficulties, even by governments who have an overall equity-focussed policy and have the necessary resources. We commented earlier on on some of these challenges. It is relatively straightforward to adapt the rhythm of supervision to the results of the schools, with less supervision for well performing schools and more for those with poorer results. It is much more difficult to change the character of the visits themselves, and to demand that each visit changes in function of the needs of each particular school.
Several authors have commented that in Chile visits by the same supervisor differ very little from one school to another. A related difficulty, and probably the most complex one, is linked to the enduring attitudes of supervisors, who are used to giving directions and find it difficult to develop a genuine collegial relationship with teachers, especially with those who are not doing a very good job. Few of the supervisors are recruited from among the teachers who have worked in the most remote or disadvantaged schools and may not easily understand the specific constraints of such an environment. Behind this model lie finally two internal contradictions, which may work to the disadvantage of the weakest schools. The first one is well known: while weaker schools in this model benefit from more support, they are in this way assigned to a group of less successful schools, and this can work against them, especially if there is a parental right to choose a school. Secondly, while it is correct that disadvantaged schools benefit from more support under this model, it is equally true that the stronger schools, who regularly recruit from among the higher social classes, gain the advantage of greater pedagogical and managerial autonomy. This is partly the result of the political strength of their public. To some extent, the fact that the successful schools can operate without much intervention by governmental representatives, is an admission by the government that it may not have the capacity to regulate the whole school system. This could become a problem under a scenario whereby the resources of the better off parents, who support their schools through school fees and the like, outweigh the resources of government. This is indeed the case in South-Africa, which helps to explain why disparities between schools have not decreased swiftly. While this is not an ideal scenario, it is undoubtedly preferable over one whereby the government distributes its scarce resources to those who have already.
A brief conclusion
The diversity of national contexts makes it hazardous to define principles of successful supervision reforms. A number of fairly general, but hopefully helpful points can nonetheless be made. Firstly, there must be a balance between the mandate assigned to supervision services and the human and financial resources and assets3 at their disposal. If the mandate outweighs the resources, the response should not simply be to expect that more resources will become available, but a reflection and a refocusing of the mandate may need to be undertaken. Secondly, once a clear mandate has been assigned, this mandate should inspire the organization and structure of the service, the profile of the staff, their recruitment, training and evaluation and the definition of the actions they are expected to undertake. An example may clarify this: if the mandate is to offer support to the schools most in need of such support, then it makes most sense to put supervisory officers as close to the schools as possible and to have therefore a strongly deconcentrated service. These officers should have a profile which allows them to work with such schools in a supportive manner and should be evaluated to some extent on the progress they have enabled these schools to make. Their practices need to move from school visits to a mixture of visits, workshops, dialogue and networking Thirdly, what characterizes the more successful supervision systems is that they get the balance between support and control right and that this balance takes into account the strength and professionalism of principals and teachers. Where school staff are strong professionals, supervision may become a more distant exercise. Where teachers are less well trained, supervisors may need to emphasize more the support function. Fourthly, supervisors are only one of the actors who work towards a school’s progress. Precisely when supervision services are lacking in resources, it is crucial to put their interventions in context with those which others can undertake. Research undertaken in West-Africa (Lugaz and De Grauwe, 2006) concludes as follows: “Initiatives in Benin and Senegal show the potential of school networks, where teachers exchange experiences and which develop a tradition of peer support. Many principals, when they receive appropriate training and support, are competent to monitor the With « assets », I refer to less visible resources such as credibility among teachers, expertise or strong social networks.
performance of their teachers, while parents, community organisations and municipalities can assume the responsibility of supervising teacher presence and possibly play a role in recruitment. The local office is best placed to offer intensive support to a few schools that are seriously under-performing.” An examination of different monitoring models and reforms needs to pay attention to the power of different actors and how these models and reforms will impact upon the distribution of power in society. Where there are little disparities between schools and between parents, a reform which strengthens the role of these groups may not contribute to widening disparities.
However, where such disparities do exist, such reforms may reinforce them. Another key actor is the government itself. Recent reforms, influenced by the New Public Management precepts have in some cases weakened the government’s authority. In itself, this is not a concern, but it becomes one when the government is the only or the main actor capable of addressing disparities between schools.
As the preceding discussions have probably shown, there is no ideal monitoring model and the search for one is an elusive one, precisely because of the diversity of contexts. Neither is there a monitoring (or for that matter, a management) model that will have only positive impacts on disparities and will make these disappear. This is not to argue that different models do not have differential impacts on schools; they do indeed. The point is rather that national socio-economic policies have more of an impact on these disparities (including in education) than specific educational management policies. This also implies that when educational monitoring and management policies form an integral part of a framework which addresses disparities, they have a much better chance of succeeding.
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