Making Policy in Scottish Education: Can we do it differently?

This paper focuses on the processes by which policy is made and implemented in Scotland, using the implementation of ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’ (Donaldson, 2011) as a case study. In particular, it identifies powerful actors in the spaces of policy mediation and implementation, and explores the many ways in which a policy agenda can become silenced, distorted or strengthened as it is translated by a policy network.

In short, ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’ is a policy text that contains fifty recommendations for the improvement of teacher education in its entirety. Education policy-making in Scotland is often described as ‘consultative’ and ‘participative’ (Menter & Hulmes, 2008), and is said to reflect some of the values commonly associated with Scottish education, such as meritocracy, democracy and egalitarianism (Raffe, 2004). However, it has been suggested that a certain degree of mythology may surround such claims (McPherson & Raab, 1988).

The current implementation of ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’ provides an interesting opportunity to explore this further. Over the last three years, two partnership groups have been established by the Scottish Government to discuss and plan the implementation of these recommendations: the National Partnership Group (NPG) and the National Implementation Board (NIB). Both groups can be considered as policy networks that provide a space for the mediation of policy between actors from a number of bodies in Scottish education (Sorenson & Torfing, 2008).

This paper draws on data from thirty semi-structured interviews conducted with members of the NPG and NIB and the analysis of working policy documents. Concepts from theories of democratic network governance (Sorenson & Torfing, 2008) and techniques from policy network analysis (Ball & Junemann, 2012) have been used to conceptualise the work of the NPG and NIB, while elements of Actor-Network Theory (Fenwick & Edwards, 2010; Latour, 2005) have been employed for the mapping of actors’ interests and agendas.

Although the NPG and NIB appear to act as spaces in which those involved in Scottish education can input to the policy process, initial findings have shown that there are other networks in which the ‘real’ policy-making takes place. We have successfully traced the way in which policy actors have used their positions within these networks to limit, distort and drive forwards specific parts of the policy agenda. In doing so we have identified a number of interests and political agendas at work, and revealed an unbalanced distribution of power within these formal ‘partnership’ groups.