Across the globe, education quality has become synonymous with student per- formance. The shift towards test-based accountability (TBA) has changed what is required of schools and what it means to be a ‘good teacher’. Different tools may trigger a performance orientation within schools, from administrative (such as the Inspectorate) to market (schools competing for students). It is logical to assume that TBA policies will be interpreted and enacted differently in schools at differ- ent ends of the performance spectrum, and this, in turn will affect the expectations on teachers and the pressures they feel. Based on interviews with teachers (n = 15), principals (n = 4) and the school board (n = 1), this study compares the experiences of teachers in two ‘high’ and two ‘low’ performing primary schools under the same management in one Dutch city. Findings reveal that the schools respond differently to TBA, and are facing different performance pressures, yet in all four, test data was found to significantly shape educational practices. It was further found that teachers experience pressure in different ways; however, it cannot be said that those in high- performing schools experience less pressure compared to those in low-performing schools, or vice versa. Rather, teachers’ experience of pressure is more closely connected to their schools’ logics of action: the practices the schools adopted in response to accountability measures and their relative market position.
School systems are shifting towards forms of post-bureaucratic governance (PBG), implying higher levels of school autonomy, choice, and performancebased management. Under this governance approach, which combines forms of administrative and market accountability, schools face greater levels of competition and external pressure to perform. Schools experience such pressures unevenly and address them through different responses. The paper develops a mixed-methods case study conducted in Madrid, a Spanish region where PBG reform has intensified in the last decades, and proposes a novel index to position schools within their reference local education markets. The results show that schools articulate a broad range of logics of action, largely interrelated with their position in the education marketplace. We also show that schools’ responses to external pressures are dynamic and marked by tensions of a different nature, which schools need to navigate, often without sufficient support from public authorities.