What's the Big Idea? How will the Big Society influence education policy?

Stephanie Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


Since its introduction, the Government’s Free School programme has inspired debate. Its conception is partly the result of policy borrowing, with the UK government referencing the Swedish programme in particular as a legitimising discourse. Analysis of documentation reveals that Swedish Free Schools are characterised by discursive practices associated with the knowledge economy imaginary, containing themes such as personalised learning, ICT and performance management. However, Free Schools in the English education system appear to be a very different assemblage. Here, ‘traditional values’, reminiscent of The Black Papers, are foregrounded. This is exemplified by the Government’s flagship Free School in Tower Hamlets where Classics feature in its curriculum and ‘discipline’ is promoted. Additionally, elements of the policy can be seen as a translation of the Big Society imaginary with emphasis placed on location and community rather than global discourses; the government is imagined as enabling rather than enterprising.

Rather than being coherent and self-contained, education policy is the outcome of discursive and institutional struggles. Constructions of knowledge are sedimented and naturalised through ideologies and fantasies (Howarth, 2010), whilst prevailing imaginaries are translated through policy projects (Robertson, 2010). This paper will use critical discourse analysis to unpick political rhetoric; exemplifying the Big Society corpus and exploring the movement of ideas between Swedish and English free school policies. In doing so, it will consider the impact of The Big Society on the way education discourses and pathways will develop in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2012
EventBritish Education Studies Association - University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Jun 201230 Jun 2012


ConferenceBritish Education Studies Association
CountryUnited Kingdom

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