School actors’ enactment of a performative accountability scheme in Russia: Tensions, dilemmas and strategies

In European and global educational debates, performative or test-based accountability has become central to modernizing and raising the performance of education systems. However, despite the global popularity of performative accountability modalities, existing research finds contradictory evidence on its effects, which tend to be highly context-sensitive. With the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of the mechanisms and contextual factors that explain the effects of performative accountability, this study investigates the enactment of a performative accountability scheme adopted in the Russian school system. The analysis is based on interview and observation data collected during an in-depth qualitative study of two neighbouring schools with contrasting logics of action. Our findings illuminate the specific ways in which accountability policy outcomes are mediated and shaped by schools’ context and agency. We show how schools with different logics of action react to external pressures, and how different professional groups within schools experience policy pressures in dissimilar ways. We conclude that performative accountability mechanisms reinforce instrumental, and impede expressive, logics of action in schools. In both cases they produce tensions, particularly for schools in disadvantaged areas.