Fabricating Quality in European Education (FabQ)

Fabricating Quality in European Education, a collaborative research project on effects of quality assessment in Danish, English, Finnish, Scottish and Swedish basic schooling 2006–2009

  • The 2005 Award ECRP (European Collaborative Research Projects in the Social Sciences) granted by the European Science Foundation and funded by the Academy of Finland and other EUROSCORES funding agencies.
  • The leading researchers: Jenny Ozga (Coordinator, University of Edinburgh), Hannu Simola (University of Helsinki), Peter Dahler-Larsen (University of Southern Denmark), Christina Segerholm (Universitet of Umeå).

Quality assurance and evaluation (QAE) is increasingly important nationally and transnationally in education. It may steer policy and practice at all levels and in all sectors of education in national systems, and may be understood as a form of governance of education. This project focuses on the governance of education through investigation and analysis of (a) the extent of policy convergence and divergence in QAE across the systems in the project, (b) the extent of Europeanisation of education across the different systems, and evidence of policy learning, (c) differences and similarities in the operation of QAE at different levels across systems and (d) impacts of QAE processes on teachers in the different systems. It draws on detailed individual multi-level studies that share a common design. These studies enable the collaborative project to identify and analyse, through a variety of theoretical approaches, the ways in which education is controlled, managed and governed through QAE. The collaborative project will, through this work, contribute to the development of comparative methodologies that are sensitive to the influence of trans-national pressures for QAE on national systems, while also recognising the importance of context in shaping responses to these pressures.

The overarching aims of the project are to:

  1. Develop understanding of QAE as a form of governance of education, through empirical investigation and theoretical work that draws on current social science approaches to the relationship between evidence, data and governing;
  2. Develop new methodological and theoretical approaches to comparative education in Europe, which combine perspectives on emergent global policy development with critical approaches to meaning-making through comparison and with attention to the mediating effects of national and local practices.

These aims are achieved through the following objectives: (i) comparing and contrasting national studies of QAE in selected social democracies in Europe (ii) mapping the terrain of QAE, in and across those contexts, (iii) exploring policy convergence, divergence and policy learning in this key area, (iv) investigating QAE systems, processes and technologies, including data production and flows, and their impacts.

Effects and Consequences of Quality Assessment and Evaluation in Finnish Comprehensive Schooling (EQAE) – The Finnish Research Project 2006-2009

  • Funding: 250 320 € by the Academy of Finland
  • The leading researchers: Hannu Simola (responsible), University of Helsinki and Risto Rinne, University of Turku
  • The researchers: Janne Varjo, Hannele Pitkänen, Susanna Hannus, Eero Väätäinen (University of Helsinki); Mikko Aro, Mirka Mäkinen, Sari Silmäri-Salo (University of Turku)

The objective of the study is to contribute to finding solutions to a key problem in Finnish education: that of maintaining its high and equal levels of educational performance (which have historical and specific national characteristics, see Simola in press) while responding to global pressures to modernise education in order to enhance competitiveness in the international marketplace. Quality assessment and evaluation (QAE) has the potential to operate as a means of policy convergence but it may also have a significant role in developing a distinctive Finnish approach that best suits the needs of the national system. The research project will therefore ask: (1) Is there evidence of a distinctive Finnish model of QAE in education? (2) What effects, intended and unintended, does QAE produce at the grass root level? And finally: (3) How does the Finnish context receive and mediate the global pressure for QAE?

We come to these questions from a range of theoretical perspectives that draw on ideas from across the social sciences, including sociology of education, educational evaluation and political science. We adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the research, and our key assumptions in addressing QAE are that it is a complex phenomenon, that is not well understood in the current, rather polarised literature. We will explore the reception and interpretation of QAE through a range of methods including documentary analysis, interviews and ethnographic studies of national and municipal level actors and schools. There will also be a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals. The team will consist of researchers from the research communities of Helsinki and Turku who have a strong tradition of research in both education policy and evaluation studies. Research training thus lies at the heart of the project. The question of global/local policy transfer is addressed in the comparative study “Fabricating Quality in European Education: Quality Assurance and Evaluation in Danish, English, Finnish, Scottish and Swedish Compulsory Schooling” that is being submitted to the ESF in parallel with this proposal. (ECRP 2005).

The results of the project will enable better planning and implementation of QAE systems at national, local and institutional level and the development of a Finnish model of QAE for schools. Dissemination will be supported through national research conferences and through the European Educational Research Association (EERA) conferences. Dissemination to key informants at national, municipal and school level is also planned through invited seminars and workshops.