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A Critical Policy Trajectory Study of Local Area Education Planning in Bunbury, Western Australia, 1998-2000

O'Sullivan, Deborah (2009) A Critical Policy Trajectory Study of Local Area Education Planning in Bunbury, Western Australia, 1998-2000. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Local Area Education Planning (LAEP) Framework was released in Western Australia in 1997 and enacted in the regional centre of Bunbury, Western Australia, in the period 1998-2000. In a similar way to many other policies within Australia and overseas, LAEP aims to reform and restructure the public education system through involving community participation in educational decision-making. The enactment of LAEP was a highly contested process over the nature of community participation and a widespread view at the local level, that the Education Department of Western Australia had a pre-determined agenda to close schools and to introduce a senior campus and middle schools. In contrast to the major regional centres and metropolitan areas of Western Australia, where there have been school closures and amalgamations, as well as the introduction of middle schools and senior campuses, the LAEP outcomes for the Bunbury Education District, on this occasion, did not result in major structural changes to the delivery of education services. Located in the broad domain of critical social research, this study applies a critical ethnographic methodology and draws on 25 semi-structured in-depth interviews and secondary data sources to examine how key participants understood, experienced and responded to the enactment of LAEP. A Critical Policy Trajectory Framework informed by critical social theory, provides the theoretical lens through which to describe and explain the LAEP policy formation and enactment process at the macro structural (global, nation-state, state), middle-range agenda-building and micro lived experience levels of the policy process. A major conclusion of the study is that the social activism at the micro level of the policy trajectory interrupted the introduction of the Minister’s and the Education Department of Western Australia’s education reform agenda in Bunbury. However, the macro level discursive constraints associated with global level economising discourses and the centralisation tendencies of the neo-liberal state saw the Education Department of Western Australia’s Central Office policy elites steer at a distance (Kickert, 1995) to produce a policy settlement that retained the option for the State to pursue a neo-liberal education restructuring agenda in the longer term. To move beyond policy analysis frameworks that describe and analyse the factors influencing policy, this study synthesises some of the key ideas, insights and lessons emerging from the research, to develop a critically engaged policy perspective in the areas of policy, research and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Down, Barry
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