The regulation of teaching as symbolic politics: rituals of order, blame and redemption

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This article explores the school inspection as a political ritual for the management of tensions between competition and equality inherent in neo-liberal educational regulatory regimes. At the centre of the article is a case study of how teachers in an allegedly failing working-class English primary school coped with issues of social class, educational success-and-failure and an Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) inspection and related accountability measures. National educational policy - relative performance data and inspection - generated a crisis within the school, and intervened in teacher discourse about the role of social class in pupil attainment. Whereas previous scholarship on OFSTED and inspections has emphasised their harmful effects on teachers and teaching practice, the current article broadens the focus from regulatory to political issues, from specific schools to the stability of the educational order more generally. Based on this case study, situated within a broader analysis of shifting discourses about social class and education in English educational policy, I argue that (1) the current regulatory regime makes 'failure' inevitable, thereby posing a symbolic problem for policy-makers and politicians; (2) by identifying failure and allocating blame, the inspection ritual fulfils an important symbolic function; which (3) serves to buttress the legitimacy of the neo-liberal educational order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-659
Number of pages17
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • case study
  • educational regulation
  • educational success and failure
  • politics of blame
  • school inspection
  • social class

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language


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