Presentations of common features of educational reforms implemented in United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, France and Italy between 1990 and 2000 focussing on the new forms of internal regulation of these education systems.

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Le riforma scolastiche degli anni Novanta: nuove modaliltà di regolazione dei sistemi scolastici

The paper is in a sense outdated because based on data produced by two OECD surveys on the loci of decision-making in the education systems organised between 1992 and 1997. These surveys have been organized for collecting information allowing to produce indicators on education processes to complete the set of International Education Indicators of Education Systems (INES) produced by OECD since 1992.

The collect of information following an original methodology was focused on changes within lower secondary education. Results of the two surweys are not comparable between them, but provide a terrific inside about changes in education policies.

Executive Summary

In the last decades several European countries implemented some major reforms of their educational systems. This has been the case for the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, France and recently Italy. These are not small countries : the population size of England, France and Italy is larger than California; Sweden with a population of almost ten millions habitants is equivalent to a middle-sized US State and Spain with 40 millions habitants is larger than a middle-sized US State.

Despite the geographic and economic differences, the reforms of public education implemented in these countries present some common features:

- decentralisation of the loci of decision-making,

- increasing of local control, and the

- promotion of the autonomy of schools.

In all these countries, whatever the political majority governing the nation, the reform trends have been similar. In all these countries the aims of this movement were the improvement of the quality of education by redistributing the power inside the education systems , reducing the central control and an increasing schools accountability.

A comparative study of these reforms reveals at a first glance deep differences between these reforms:

- the domains of decision transferred from the central to the local level vary;

- the distribution of responsibilities to the schools and local authorities is very unequal fromone country to another;

- the type and amount of power endorsed by the State are different.

A taxonomy of the changes of the modes of pedagogical and administrative control reveals an opposition between North and South of Europe. The autonomy of schools has a different meaning in the five countries, as it is easy to see by examining the types of decision that schools can take.

Links between these reforms and achievements are difficult to establish, but preliminary figures suggest that results are stable. If this observation is confirmed, it will be necessary to conclude that expectations about these reforms are often illusions from the point of view of student achievement.

The comparisons suggest the presence of at least three main commonalities:

- the focus on evaluation;
- the focus on accountability; and
- the focus on a great concern with regard to educational expenditures.

It is nevertheless too early to conclude that these elements could constitute the core of a common education policy in Europe.

Final Remarks

The decentralisation process and the increasing level of decision-making competencies of schools are compensated at the central level by the development of sophisticated models of evaluation of education and schools performances. This trend has been well described by Ernst House. [1] Finally, the analysis of these changes doesn’t tell anything about the improvement of the quality of schools and of educational achievement. In fact, it is difficult to verify if decentralisation increases efficiency, improves financial control, reduces bureaucracy, stimulates responsiveness to local communities and creative management of human resources, improves the potential for innovation and creates more incentives for improving the quality of schooling. We can suppose that there is a link between these dimensions but this hypothesis has to be confirmed by results that are still lacking.

[1] For example in Aspects politiques des évaluations à grande échelle aux Etats-Unis. Dans : Politiques d’éducation et de formation, Analyses et comparaisons internationales n°11, 2004/2, pp. 94-101.

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