An investigation into localised policy-making during a period of rapid educational reform in England

  • Ruth Mcginity

Student thesis: Phd


The research reports on an ethnographic study undertaken at Kingswood, a secondary school in the North West of England, during a period of rapid reform within educational policy-making in England. The research project sets out to offer an empirical account of localised policy-making and a conceptual analysis as to how and why different social actors within and connected to the school are positioned and position-take in response to the schools' localised development trajectory. In order to do this, the study operationalises Bourdieu's thinking tools of field, capital and habitus as a means of theorising the complex relationship between structure and agency in the processes of localised policy-making.In order to present a detailed analysis of the positioning and position-taking I develop and deploy the conceptualisation of the neoliberal policy complex. I use this to describe and understand how the political and economic fields of production penetrate localised decision-making in which the connected agendas of performativity and accountability frame much of the localised policy processes at the research site. The neoliberal policy complex is defined by an on-going and increased commitment to legislative interventions, not least through an approach to the modernisation of public service in which autonomy and diversification are hailed as hallmarks for success. Drawing on data collected in a year long embedded study, from interviews and, observations with 18 students, five parents, 21 teachers, and seven school leaders, and documentary analysis, it is argued that within this neoliberal policy complex, the field of power is located as a centralising force in structuring the policy-making development and enactments at the local level. In order to achieve distinction within the schooling field and thus be acknowledged as legitimate within the neoliberal policy complex, Kingswood's localised development trajectory reveals how the discourses of neoliberalism have been internalised by the social actors within the study, to produce subjective positioning which reveals a commitment to the neoliberal doxa. Within this theorisation certain knowledges, capitals and ways of doing and thinking are privileged and presented as common sense. At Kingswood, the conversion to an academy in April 2012 and the attendant re-organisation of the school provision into a Multi-Academy Trust, which has on site a 'professional' and a 'studio' school, are presented as a necessary construction for the school's future, and the employability skills that will be subsequently embedded within the curriculum are framed as a common sense development of the purposes of education.The study concludes that such position-taking ultimately reveals how the centralising and hierarchical notions of power work to produce a narrative of misrecognition with regards to how the school must develop localised policy-making in order to remain a viable and legitimate entity in the schooling field.The research makes a contribution to the field of policy scholarship by applying Bourdieu's thinking tools to the empirical findings from a range of social actors in and connected to the school in order to construct an understanding of the relationships between power and positionality in localised policy-making in neoliberal times.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Gunter (Supervisor) & David Hall (Supervisor)


  • Neo-liberal
  • Localised policy-making
  • Bourdieu
  • Rapid reform

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