Policy networks in Scottish teacher education reform: the myth of democracy

  • Anna Beck (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation



This paper emerges from a larger study that traced the development and implementation of a recent teacher education policy in Scotland, ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’ (TSF; Donaldson, 2011). Shortly after the publication of TSF, the Scottish Government set up a partnership model, the National Partnership Group (NPG) to refine and begin to implement a number of its recommendations in partnership between key organisations in Scottish education. The membership of the NPG consisted of representatives from these key organisations, as well as a small number of individual teachers.

Taking a critical policy analysis approach, this paper sets out to investigate the representation and participation of actors within the policy process and identify the voices that were not heard within the NPG. The research employs elements of actor-network theory (ANT) to conceptualise the participation of institutional actors as a process of ‘interest translation’ (Edwards, 2012), and draws on literature in the area of policy networks (Ball & Junemann, 2012) and democratic network governance (Sørensen and Torfing, 2005) in order to examine the processes by which the NPG operated. The data used in this paper consists of interviews conducted with members of the NPG and documentary evidence in the form of minutes of meetings, policy documents and press releases.

Drawing mainly on the perspectives of actors central to the process, this paper highlights the complexity and subtly of the policy processes at work. On the surface, the development of a partnership model was regarded as evidence of the government’s apparent commitment to collaborative and democratic policy-making. However, the findings of this research suggest that underneath this ‘simulacra of order’ lay great disorder: divergent institutional interests, unequal power relations, strategic institutional positioning and a conservative network culture that favoured the participation of some actors over others.

It is expected that these findings will be of relevance to Nordic educational research given the increasing focus on teacher education reform across Europe. Furthermore, many of the issues that this paper highlights around power and participation in the policy process may be symptomatic of Scotland’s size and close-knit community of policy-makers. As such, it might be interesting to compare the findings of this research to countries of a similar size.


Ball, S. J., & Junemann, C. (2012). Networks, new governance and education. Bristol: Policy Press.

Donaldson, G. (2011). Teaching Scotland’s Future. A report of a Review of teaching education in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Edwards, R. (2012). Translating the prescribed into the enacted curriculum in college and school. In T. Fenwick & R. Edwards (Eds.). Researching education through Actor-Network Theory (pp. 23-39). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2005). The democratic anchorage of governance networks. Scandinavian political studies, 28(3), 195-218.

PeriodMar 2017
Event titleNordic Education Research Association (NERA) Annual Conference
Event typeConference
LocationCopenhagen, DenmarkShow on map