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Understanding school-NGO partnerships

Peter Sleegers (BMC Consultancy, Amersfoort, The Netherlands)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 18 June 2019



In the author’s reflection on the special issue, the author will start with a brief discussion of the different theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions of the articles. In addition, the author will argue that the challenge for research on school–non-governmental organization (NGO) interactions is to move beyond the use of a myriad of conceptual models to a more coherent framework to better understand what system and nonsystem actors do, how they do it and how the broader institutional system enables or constrains collective action. The author concludes with some suggestions for future research. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


In this paper, the author reflects on the design and findings of articles that focus on the involvement of non-governmental or third sector organizations in education.


By taking up these different themes, the articles reported in this special issue help the author to get a better picture of the growing plurality and power of third sector organizations and their interactions with schools. The work also raises questions about the legitimacy of NGOs in education, the weakening of democratic control over public schooling and the possible role of private interests and the concentration of power in facilitating equal opportunities for all students and promoting educational excellence. Given their methodological designs, the studies make an important contribution to our understanding of what nonsystem actors do and how they interact with schools.

Research limitations/implications

By using a neoinstitutional framework, the research on school–NGO interactions will be informed by a coherent conceptual framework that conceives school systems as open systems and focuses on the intersection of instruction and organization, while simultaneously treating the system as the relevant unit of analysis (see Cohen et al., 2018). The works of Glazer et al. and Peurach et al. reported in this special issue are good examples of the kind of research that is needed. Following this work, future studies into the involvement of third sector organizations in education using a neoinstitutinal lens should give careful attention to historical analysis and also need to examine changes over a longer period of time as new institutionalized patterns do not emerge quickly and “interact with the hand of history in shaping instruction” (Peurach et al., p. 25).

Practical implications

The articles in this special issue may prompt more researchers to inquire school–NGO interactions and push future research efforts to understand the complex picture of increasing institutional diversity from a more neoinstitutional perspective. Findings from these cross-national studies, with careful attention to historical analysis of the intersection between organization and instruction, may help the author to develop a theory of design (Rowan and Miskel, 1999) that can provide practitioners with tools to redesign and change the regulative, normative and cognitive mechanisms that constrain and enable collective action.


Different studies have examined how policy decisions emerge and are implemented, and how this affects the “technical core” of schools (Cohen and Hill, 2001; Hiebert et al., 2005). However, most of these studies have predominantly focused on the vertical interactions between formal system actors at the state, district and school levels to analyze how policy decisions are shaped as they move through the multilayered system. Little attention has been paid to the horizontal exchange relations between the public policy system and NGOs and how these connections influence management and instruction (Coburn, 2005; Rowan, 2006). Given the increasing institutional diversity, conflicting trends and dilemmas school systems are faced with, scholars have emphasized the need to develop an understanding of the role the educational infrastructure can play in supporting improvement (Cohen and Moffitt, 2010; Cohen et al., 2018).



Sleegers, P. (2019), "Understanding school-NGO partnerships", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 322-328.



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