Neoliberalism and primary education: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of primary school communities

Hall, Richard
Pulsford, Mark
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SAGE Journals
Peer reviewed
This special issue of Power and Education analyses the ways neoliberal policy agendas inflect and infect primary school communities. In recognising that ‘schools are complex and sometimes incoherent social assemblages’, this widened perspective – beyond a customary focus on just pupils and teachers – marks the particular contribution of the Special Issue. In examining how neoliberal logics thread through and organise relations between parts of primary school communities, the collection enables a critical view of the factious contemporary socio-political landscape through the lens of primary schooling. In doing so, the varied papers address what Piper and Sikes suggest are central concerns of the Power and Education journal: to interrogate ‘the general and specific imposition of crude discourses of neoliberalism and managerialism; the need to analyse carefully what is happening in particular contexts; and the possibility of constructing resistance and concrete alternatives’. Under scrutiny here is the evolution of a new educational ecosystem that reflects a re-engineering of the primary schooling terrain. This terrain might once have been characterised by the aims of nurturing children intellectually, emotionally and culturally, so that they can become socially aware, confident and critical citizens, actively able to contribute to communities that are inclusive and socially just. As these aims are re-engineered, their contested evolution can be witnessed in the tensions between: first, specific stakeholder groups like parents or teachers organising against curricula they view as dominated by metrics that damage self-actualisation; and second, policy intentions that stress the importance of security, safety and happiness. This is a crucial area of struggle, precisely because learning is increasingly governed by discourses of human capital and efficiency, where new school governance structures and tangible re-workings of teachers’ priorities have emerged to re-shape a vision of primary education. Are the proposed outcomes holistic child development with a capacity to stimulate community-oriented social justice, or productive, long-term economic activity, or something else? In this special issue, a range of authors seek to place primary educational policy in the global North in relation to the concrete experiences of teachers, senior leaders, parents, children and community members. The purpose of this is to reveal the tensions that erupt between policy drivers for productivity, human capital, efficiency, excellence and so on, in effect policy drivers for-value, against the impetus for education to frame humane values. One core terrain in which such tensions are played out is the school, and yet the school is more than a simple set of linear relationships. Such relationships emerge at the intersection of, for instance, family and caring responsibilities, educational engagements, faith-based interactions, racialized or gendered asymmetries, the public and the private, the communal and the corporate. As such, the definition and co-option of the idea of the school as a community or the school community is complex. In this collection, we seek to highlight this complexity and to demonstrate how the concrete, lived experiences of groups inside primary schools are affected by specific flavours of policy.
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policy, neoliberalism, primary schools, community
Pulsford, M., and Hall, R. (2019) Neoliberalism and primary education: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of primary school communities. Power and Education, 11 (3), pp. 241-251
Research Institute
Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice
Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)