Portuguese authors (Nóvoa, 2007; Torres, 2011) have questioned the schools' capacity and ability to use their margins of autonomy, namely within countries following a strong tradition of political centralism, which creates a disposition to narrow or to expand their margins of autonomy, depending on their leaders' understanding of the political discourse, on their skill and experience in school leadership, namely on involving the school specific stakeholders.
The question is that in the context of European education policies and school performance, all stakeholders and mainly policy makers, need to respond to some sensitive questions:
Sometimes schools' regulatory frameworks for stakeholders' participation are not enough. As the experience of school life in Portugal and other countries often shows, the participation structures often condition peoples' thought and action (ESHA, 2014 Conference, Round table 4), preventing change to occur. Participation in decision making is not just a matter of regulatory frameworks but more importantly of school cultures that encourage and value stakeholders' engagement in school life. That is indeed a challenge for school leadership to address. And that can be achieved mainly through teachers, parents/families and students' involvement everywhere, but above all in socially deprived settings, where social and cultural gaps may exist between school heads, teachers and families/students. The dimension of cultural gaps demands a flexible school approach regarding families' involvement. In brief, a central question is: Is each and every school stakeholder performing his/her role in the best way possible? Why? What else and how can it be done?
Have school leaders the moral, epistemological, psychological and material resources to undertake this endeavour? If not, what is missing and how those lacking resources can be developed? Is there willingness, openness, knowledge and skill to support this learning process? Do school leaders capitalize on good practices of other schools and stakeholder groups, such as parents and youth associations?
In school education, as in any field of human life, closeness brings power to people involved but usually brings conflict first. Different people have different needs and interests and therefore different motivations, so clash is at first almost unavoidable. On the other hand, it has been also proved that conflicts that are positively resolved make everyone involved more empowered. So the assumption here is that dialogue, understandable and easily accessible information, and a democratic attitude would benefit the learning processes and equity for all students.
The assumption here is that European schools are living within overlapping and contradictory education paradigms, namely post bureaucratic versus hyper bureaucratic ones. The question is: how may schools overcome this situation? What reliable and readable information should schools collect and disseminate and in what format so as to make it accessible and useful to different stakeholders, and to build accountability on the quality of education provision in general and equity and learning in particular?
To what extent society in general and each and every school stakeholder in particular is concerned with equity and learning? Is social justice just a flag raised by particular social actors in certain fora? To what extent is it a generalized concern? Shouldn’t it be? If so, how can it be made a reality?
If legislation or any other formal regulations are understood as structuring the school system, what further support is provided by policy makers to foster cultural change? With no change in people’s beliefs and knowledge, any change hardly can be achieved.
(1=Strongly disagree - 5=Strongly agree)
* This tool is based on the "Strengthening Partnerships: Community School Assessment Checklist" e-book by Martin J. Blank and Barbara Hanson Langford (2000).