Research within the thematic group Schools and the Societal Context of Education focuses on the impact of the institutional context of schools (laws and regulations, policy networks around schools, governance structures), their social context (e.g. features of students backgrounds), and the characteristics of the school organization on the quality of teaching and learning. Two lines of research can be distinguished (1) accessibility; (2) school effectiveness.
Research on accessibility builds on the strong Dutch mainly sociological tradition of research on education and social inequality. This line of research aims to increase our understanding of those factors influencing the degree to which education systems and schools are accessible to and effective for students with different characteristics and from different socio-economic backgrounds. Within and between student groups substantial differences can be found in learning-related variables such as cognitive capacities, learning styles, and socio-economic, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Efforts to increase educational accessibility and effectiveness require knowledge of the causal mechanisms and processes underlying (in)accessibility. A range of issues needs to be addressed: from shifts in social and ethnic diversity to the implications of these shifts for policies that govern schools. Some important questions for future research for instance concern the questions how schools can narrow the demographic and social divides of society and how the education system should be reframed in the context of the emerging global society and information age economy.
School effectiveness in the most general sense refers to the level of goal attainment of a school. Although average achievement scores in core subjects, established at the end of a fixed program are the most probable school effects, alternative criteria (e.g. the social functioning of students, schools’ responsiveness to the community and teacher satisfaction may also be considered). Next to assessing school effects as accurately as possible, the attribution of differences in school effects to malleable conditions is of particular importance. As such this type of research is closely linked to the ICO mission of establishing theories that can be used for optimizing educational effectiveness. In order to determine the net effect of malleable conditions (like the use of different teaching methods, or a particular form of school management) achievement measures have to be adjusted for intake differences between schools. School effectiveness research builds on theory development in other disciplines like sociology, work and organizational psychology, economics, and organizational sciences. Questions that will be treated in future ICO research concern the inclusion of a wider range of school outcomes in measuring school effects; school external factors blocking the efforts of teachers and schools, and the accurate measurement of absolute school effects.