Accountability in education : reviewing the reviewers : a policy study of the Education Review Office.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis investigates the state's education accountability organisation, the Education Review Office (ERO), as a New Public Management (NPM) agency in transition. The period for 'reviewing the reviewers' covered its creation in 1989, through its various metamorphism until the agency's last external review 2000/2001. The ERO was a 'contested' agency established in competition with other central educational agencies to provide policy advice to the Minister. The analysis is based on an extensive study of the ERO's documentation and interviews with key informants and stakeholders. The ERO's methodology, which claimed consistency and validity through an explicit position that treated all schools the same, was examined against their own data. These data represent 1,477 of the ERO's reviews over a two and a half year period and this comprised approximately 30 per cent of all the ERO's review outputs from 1996 to 1998. Findings exposed major differences in levels of compliance between rural and urban schools, between schools in lower and higher SES deciles as well as some differences between school types. An over arching finding was that a level of inequity in the current system was due to the differential impact of the ERO's reviewing system on schools. This was manifest in the variables of the geographical location of the ERO Office, school location and school size. This belies ERO's own claims to national consistency in their evaluation of schools across the country and gives rise to question the validity and reliability of the ERO's own methodology. It also examines the Office's claims to independence, impartiality and objectivity, and outlines that these are ideological assertions, which require scrutiny. Examined from a multi-theoretical perspective using state theory, neo-marxist and managerialist discourses, the concept of accountability was shown to be a movable feast having been established, firstly, in terms of professional standards, and then in terms of fiscal imperatives following NPM principles. The ERO's application of accountability has promoted market mechanisms and in conjunction with their review procedures, these have acted as control mechanism over schools, forcing them into examining short term outputs on compliance issues rather than educational improvement outcomes for students. A central theme throughout the thesis followed Offe's claim that the state was constantly seeking to resolve tensions between democracy and the economy. The ERO, as state agency, extended its designated domain of authority beyond its statutory authority which raises constitutional issues for democracy in Aotearoa/New Zealand.