Policy Borrowing, OECD’s PISA and the Media – Cass Education Open Seminar, 25 February 2020

Cass Education Open Seminar  All Welcome!

Guest Lecture ET7750 Education Policy in Practice  

UEL Cass ED 2.02, 25 February 2020, 5.30-7.30 pm.

Policy Borrowing, OECD’s PISA and the Media

Dr. Sue Grey, PhD (London)

UCL Institute of Education

Since its introduction, the OECD’s PISA programme has been portrayed as central to both the emergence of a regime of global governance and a convergence of educational policies towards a western model. Whilst there is an extensive literature describing both the impact of the OECD as an international organisation on national education policies, and the selective interpretation of the PISA results by policymakers, there is a relative paucity of analysis of how PISA data is presented to the public within nations by three main sources; namely the OECD itself, politicians and the media. This study focuses on the operations of the media in two countries: England and Sweden, after the publication of the PISA 2012 results. Using tools of semiotic and linguistic analysis against a theoretical framework based on media logic, it explores the ways in which PISA data is transformed and used by different actors to further established domestic agendas, as well as helping to define ‘what matters’ in education in media and policy spaces. 

The study argues that PISA data is subject to a ‘Rashomon effect’, whereby different actors portray the same body of data differently, creating multiple prisms through which the global messages of the OECD are filtered and transformed as they enter public space via the media. While transformations take place within the OECD Education Directorate itself, and at the initial media launch of PISA results, it is at local media level that policy messages from the OECD are most liable to reduction and transformation. The norms and practices of ‘media logic’ drive the operations of those whose role includes scrutinising the powerful and holding their actions to account on behalf of the governed. It is argued that the media in the two countries studied treated the PISA results as local political news stories, seeking to further debates on domestic reform agendas and arguments while largely ignoring the underlying remit of the OECD and its educational activities.

This thesis demonstrates that the media in the democracies studied do not function as a neutral means of conveying information about PISA to their audiences, and that reporting focuses on local concerns of crisis, blame and proposed salvation, while the power of the OECD to increase its reach into education spaces is taken for granted, tacitly legitimised and uncontested. This results in a form of ‘mediatised global governance’, whereby the media help to shape and alter the ways in which PISA acts on global education policy.

Bio note

Sue Grey recently completed her PhD on PISA, the media and the governance of education in England and Sweden, at UCL Institute of Education.  Before moving to academia, Sue taught in English schools for many years, as both a primary class teacher and a secondary subject teacher, and in special needs settings. Her background as a linguist led to her research interest in comparative education, and her most recent work focuses on the role of the media in education policy discourse and governance.

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