Successful Educational Settings as Action Nets (SESAN)

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2009 - 2014
Project owner
The Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg

The Swedish Research Council

Short description

The overall aim has been to study the organizing and re-organizing in and of successful educational settings of the so-called “individual programme” in Swedish upper secondary education. This took place during a period of a major national restructuring of the Swedish upper secondary school. The project started in 2009 and was presented at VRs conference Resultatdialog 2014.

About the project

The individual programme was pointed out by the Minister of Education as being “a failure” and “the most unsuccessful contribution of all in the Swedish educational system” (The Swedish national radio news, “Ekot”, 2008-03-28). We have conducted field studies in settings that were regarded successful, in order to study how they are organized and how they re-organize and are re-organized in relation to the restructuring. The settings were selected on the basis that many students pursue their studies there, and students in evaluations have showed that they value them: they like them and they learn there. Others have spoken highly
of them, e.g. key persons in the municipal organization or other educators in the field. In this sense, we regard them as successful.

Study of educational settings

Through field visits and more mobile field techniques, we have studied a handful of educational settings and their so-called “action nets” (Czarnaiwska 2007; 2008) from 2009–2014 . The individual programme was restructured into five introductory programmes with the reform of 2011 and thus this major restructuring of the five introductory programmes was studied from ”within”.

The contributions of the project span over different areas of analysis:

The clear educational routes

One is in the area of policy analysis: There is little research on the field of education for students not eligible for upper secondary education and none conducted at the time of the major reform of 2011. We analyze the intent of the reform of “the clear educational routes” and the motive to sort students into five different introductory programmes as an attempt to ‘regulate content and behaviour’ (Apple, 2004: 23) and a striking example of what Apple calls conservative modernization. As Apple also points out, such attempts and approaches are often paired with neo-liberal ideals. In Henning Loeb & Lumsden Wass 2015 a and 2015 b this is shown and we shed light on an increasingly differentiated, ambiguous and fragmented upper secondary educational system, where economic and operational matters are to be decided on and handled locally. We use the concept of translation to show how teachers and other educational staff deal with local adaptation and problem-solving in this situation.

Local actors

In another article (Henning Loeb & Lumsden Wass 2011) we focus more closely on local actors how a successful teaching team defend their educational setting. This is done in times of what we call a situation of international marketization, when the municipality is preparing for the reform. Here we use concepts from action net and actor net theory, as well as from theories of accounting. A case study is presented as an outline of a teacher teams’ response to an accounting request and their mobilisation to defend their pedagogic activity for pupils with dire needs. The accounting response involves translating,c ollective editing and inscribing the pupils and the pedagogical activity. It is a matter of naming and mubering and we show how teachers have become skilled practitioners of accounting practices. Our case provides an empirical example in line with research on performance management: there is no possibility for teachers not to involve themselves in the techniques in use and employing the right signifiers when defending their pedagogical activity.

Pedagogical interactions

Another article (Henning Loeb & Lumsden Wass 2014a) gives a closer look at successful pedagogical interactions that we found representative after some months of field studies. The students spoke highly of the teachers and their teaching, so this has been the center of investigation in this close-up study. A theoretical point of departure has been the theory of action nets and the focus has been on connections of actions and institutionalized patterns. Institutionalized patterns of visible pedagogy with strong classification and strong framing (cf. Bernstein 1975) are identified. However, the examples also show other more subtle interactions. These are analysed and shown to be of great importance with the help of concepts from John Dewey (1916) and his emphasis on the role of communication and interaction in the educational process. The combination of using concepts from Dewey as well as Bernstein provide a critical discussion on a how ‘educational environments need to liberate and to organize the capacities of the students’ (Dewey, 1916, Ch. 8).

Vocational introduction

A special interest has been vocational introduction, one of the five introductory programmes that was established. The survey showed how vocational introduction differs widely regarding costs; in two of the municipalities it is the most expensive introductory programme, in one the second cheapest. Skills development and vocational knowledge development differ and the analysis shows how some practices can be ‘socially oriented’ and focused on developing social and generic skills, rather than aiming at developing a broad vocational knowledge base (Berglund & Henning Loeb 2013) Some arrangements are also very workplace specific, with a risk of a narrow and inflexible employment future. The contribution of these findings is of great importance, as it has not been researched and as Sweden has historically many young immigrants and vocational introduction is an educational solution that is recommended by many as a way to employability.

Berglund, I. & Henning Loeb, I. (2013): Renaissance or a backward step? Disparities and tensions in two new Swedish pathways in VET. International Journal of Training Research, 11(2), s. 134–149.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2011): Internal marketisation and teachers defending their educational setting – Accounting and mobilisation in Swedish upper secondary education. Education Inquiry, 2(4), s. 619–636.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2012): Vad är Yrkesintroduktion och hur kan det utformas? I: I. Henning Loeb & H. Korp, red: Lärare och lärande i yrkesprogram och introduktionsprogram, s. 199–214. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Henning Loeb, I. (2012): Resan till Bulgarien. En berättelse om ett internationellt utbildningsutbyte, dess organisering och förmågor som frigörs. (RIPS, Rapporter från Institutionen för pedagogik och specialpedagogik, nr 4.) Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2014a): A policy of individualization and flexibility ignoring the situation of non-self-reliant individuals: The example of Swedish basic adult education. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 12(2), s. 399-422.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2014b): Synlig pedagogik och subtila interaktionsmönster. Fallstudier av framgångsrik undervisning vid IV och IM. Utbildning och demokrati 23(2).

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2014c): Framgångsrika lärmiljöer som handlingsnät. I Resultatdialog 2014.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2015a): Introduktionsprogrammen i gymnasieskolan. I: S. Lindblad & L. Lundahl (red.): Utbildning – makt och politik. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Henning Loeb, I. & Lumsden Wass, K. (2015b): Clear educational routes. An example of conservative modernization in Swedish upper secondary school. Policy Futures in Education. (Accepted for publication 2015.)

Hill, M. (2012): Att få tid att finna sin styrka. I: I. Henning Loeb & H. Korp, red: Lärare och lärande i yrkesprogram och introduktionsprogram, s. 183–198. Lund: Studentlitteratur.