Making the elementary schooling system in India work for disadvantaged learners: a cross-scalar comparative study of accountability relations

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Global development policy is concerned with equitable learner participation and achievement, yet low learning outcomes and stark learning inequalities are persistent. Marketisation of provisioning is a growing trend in education that has complicated relations of accountability and regulation. This study aims to advance an understanding of accountability for improved learning outcomes for disadvantaged children by departing from the established approach of isolating specific variables for reform. Instead, it conceptualises accountability as systemic and relational. It is designed to show how multiple actors across the home, community, school and bureaucratic scales have particular norms and interests, modes of participation and regulatory roles that shape learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. It examines both the formal rule-based relations of these system actors, and the informal, everyday practices of accountability - all of which bear significantly on progress towards policy goals, yet are so far poorly understood. 
This project focuses on learning outcomes for 'disadvantaged learners' in India: children of primary school age who are disadvantaged by a range of structural inequalities, which are often cross-cutting, such as gender, location, caste, and class. It takes key quality and equity provisions in India's Right to Education Act (RTE) and examines how these are taken up in different ways, and with respect to differing understandings of education quality and equity held by actors across the four system scales of home, community, school, and bureaucracy. Empirical work takes place in two States, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, focusing on two districts and within each, two blocks which are purposively selected to enable intra-block, inter-district and inter-state comparisons. In each block, we sample ten schools, which include government, private and large scale 'alternative' provision to examine the accountability relations that surround differently positioned learners. The study design follows a sequential mixed methods approach, beginning with qualitative investigation and then using a quantitative survey to validate and extend the qualitative analysis. We will use an innovative process tracing approach, anchored in the sample schools, to track how specific policy initiatives stemming from RTE directives are understood by multiple actors across system scales. This enables the study to identify how their practical actions converge and diverge with goals for learning - as understood both by the RTE and these actors - and the impact on children's learning outcomes. 
Our partner NGO, CSEI will co-deliver our impact strategy. We will co-facilitate workshops for bureaucratic actors that promote discussion of relational accountability and its implications for improving learning outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Co-produced outputs will include: a new Education Equity, Quality, and Accountability Audit (EEQAA) tool which community-led organisations will administer with CSEI support; a professional development module for Cluster Co-ordinators (who lead teacher meetings and have monitoring roles); a draft multidimensional framework for 'quality of education' which CSEI will disseminate nationally via its civil society networks. 
The project's approach to analysing multi-scalar accountability relations will challenge existing understandings of systemic reform, and provide empirical knowledge and tools with direct application for improving quality and equity in elementary education in India. Beyond this, its conceptual advances, outputs, and innovative process-tracing methodology will deliver analyses with international significance for state and non-state actors concerned with improving learning outcomes for disadvantaged learners.
Closing policy-implementation-outcome 'gaps' and improving learning outcomes for disadvantaged learners remain significant challenges many low-middle income countries. This study provides a conceptual framing of accountability relations, an innovative methodological approach to analysing them, and outputs that, accompanied by a rich empirical evidence base from India, have strong potential for national (India) and international impact. The impact strategy has been co-developed with our partner NGO, the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion (CSEI), which is an active member of the India's national Right to Education Forum, and of the National Equity Forum with over 100 community led organisations across 9 Indian states, and has international links.
India's 2009 Right to Education (RTE) Act legislates for 'quality' and 'equity' in learning, but what each means in practice is shaped by differing norms and interests, modes of participation and regulation of learning quality and equity across the system. The study will carry out a process tracing exercise, examining these aspects of RTE implementation, in two states. This aims to reveal relations of accountability within and across four scales (home, school, community, bureaucracy), to explain how and why these relations across the system 'converge' and 'diverge' with goals for learning, and to identify implications for disadvantaged learners. The impact objectives are to: draw on the research evidence and conceptual advances to deepen understanding of constraints and possibilities for change in India and beyond; generate and apply research-led outputs that enhance systemic capabilities for equitable reform in India and are of interest for other contexts; and facilitate discussion of multi-actor accountability relations and systemic change that betters deliver learning outcomes for disadvantaged children, with immediate impact in India and implications for reform in other countries. 
Identifying multi-actor accountability relations and their implications will generate findings that can be articulated as a focus for discussion and action via workshops with policy actors and civil society organisations, and linked networking activities. Effectiveness of the mixed methods, cross-scalar process tracing approach will be evaluated and the approach shared with national and international audiences of academics and practitioners, via conferences and the team's networks, with the intention of making it available to actors interested in investigating accountability relations in other country contexts. 
We will co-develop self-standing case studies of effective practices of equity and inclusion for disadvantaged learners as a briefing output, and include these in an in-service education module for teachers that enhances teachers professional capabilities on these topics. We will assist state agencies in promoting systemic take-up of this module and extend its impact via discussion in our national and international civil society networks. The team will also co-develop an Educational Equity, Quality, and Accountability Audit (EEQAA) tool, which will be administered by local Community-led Organisations and, once trialled, will be advocated via CSEI's links into appropriate national civil society Forums. The project will also produce a draft multidimensional quality and equity in education framework ready for further development and advocacy led by CSEI, again drawing on national Forums that promote the right to education and accountability for delivering it, operate across India, and have potential to reach thousands of learners. As with the EEQAA tool, the Leeds CSDD research cluster and the team's international civil society links will be drawn on to promote international outreach. 
Research training will help develop civil society research capacity in India and impact positively on knowledge generation capacity; and community-level capabilities in auditing for equity will be promoted.
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Research Grant
Fund Start Date: 
October 1st, 2017
Fund End Date: 
March 31st, 2020
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