Mind the Gap: Education Reform Policy and Pedagogical Practice

By Alan Hutchison.

Published by The International Journal of Educational Organization and Leadership

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Reflecting a heightened research-based awareness of both the decisive importance of and great variability in teaching effectiveness, there are intensifying reform attempts to influence the fine-grained details of pedagogy. Policy aspirations are increasingly expressed in explicit definitions of expectations for pedagogical practice. The policy impact analysis on which this paper is based (Hutchison 2011) investigated the degree to which reform policy connects with teachers’ enacted practice. The study assessed and accounted for the degree of traction achieved by pedagogical policy interventions in Victoria. Teaching was shown to be enacted in ways incongruent with espoused policy principles. To interpret the data the research used theoretical frames drawn from situated cognition, communities of practice, and organizational learning. Despite distinctive origins and emphases, they share a view of applied knowledge, including professional “know how”, as socially-situated and culturally co-constructed; and as primarily tacit, embodied and embedded, rather than explicitly transmissible. Policy objectives are vulnerable to deflection or distortion in enacted practice, and misdirected policy deployment reinforces teachers’ isolation and constrains their capacity for the development of pedagogy as shared professional practice. The policy-practice gap can be better understood in light of the explanations developed, with implications for the ways in which reform approaches need to be reconceptualised.

Keywords: Education Reform Policy, Policy Evaluation, Pedagogy, Teachers and Teaching, Professional Culture, Organisational Change, Organisational Learning, Organisational Culture

The International Journal of Educational Organization and Leadership, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 225.227KB).

Dr. Alan Hutchison

Head of School, Secondary School, Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School, Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia

As head of a large secondary school campus in Melbourne, Australia, I am interested in the globalisation of education reform policy, as it is increasingly directed at penetrating into the fine-grained details of teachers’ professional practice. The paper to be presented is based on my recent University of Melbourne (2011) doctoral research thesis in the field of policy impact analysis. In critically examining the dependence of Victorian government education reform initiatives on earlier UK education reform of school education and approaches to teachers’ professional practice, the investigation conducted in six Victorian government secondary schools reveals the extent of, and reasons for, a demonstrated gap between policy aspirations and observed practice in situ. There are significant implications in the outcomes of this study for organisational learning, cultural change, and enhancement of teachers’ professional standing.