Fiscal cuts in education and their effects: Politicising learned helplessness as a disciplinary technology in education leaders in Catalonia. An exploratory research study


  • Jordi Collet-Sabé University de Vic-UCC
  • Marta Garcia-Molsosa University de Girona
  • Matthew Clarke University of Aberdeen
  • Charlotte Haines Lyon York St John University



education policy, education cuts, learned helplessness, rachet effect, disciplinary technology, Catalonia


The paper aims to explore how head teachers and other education service leaders and their teams have been experiencing shifts in their identities during the last decade of education cuts in Catalonia (Spain), and the possible effects during the current COVID-19 crisis on educational leaders. Our exploratory hypothesis covers the crisis years (2008–2015) and on into the non-recovery years (2015–2020) until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During these years, through what Ball (2008) describes as a “ratchet effect,” education cuts and their everyday effects in schools produced learned helplessness (LH) in head teachers and leaders. Theoretically, we propose to examine this malaise from a political angle, seeing it as a disciplinary technology to transform education leaders’ identity and practices. To corroborate this, we conducted four interviews with head teachers of different public primary, secondary, and special education schools, and a psychopedagogical service leader in the same semi-rural area in Catalonia. The exploratory results show that the incremental and selective cuts soon became a new normal and created feelings of (political) learned helplessness that may be seen not as negative side effects but as a disciplinary technology that reshaped leaders’ subjectivity. At the same time, education leaders carried out some (ir)responsible practices of resistance that can be understood as care of the self and others. More research needs to be done with different agents to capture the complexity and ambiguity of cuts and LH as a political phenomenon.


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Author Biographies

Jordi Collet-Sabé, University de Vic-UCC

Jordi Collet-Sabé is an associate professor of sociology of education at the University of Vic-UCC (Barcelona), where he was the Vice-rector for Research. His research interests are education policy at global, national, regional, and local levels; family–school relations; education inequalities; and education for the common (good).

Marta Garcia-Molsosa, University de Girona

Marta Garcia-Molsosa is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Girona under a competitive grant (POTDOC-UdG2021/18). Her area of research is the education of vulnerable childhood and adolescence. Concretely, her research focuses on the schooling of children in residential care as a population at a higher risk of school drop-out.

Matthew Clarke, University of Aberdeen

Matthew Clarke is a professor of in the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and has also worked in universities in Australia, England, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. His research interests focus on education policy and politics, particularly their implications for teachers, and his work draws on psychoanalytic, political, and social theories.

Charlotte Haines Lyon, York St John University

Charlotte Haines Lyon is a senior lecturer in School of Education, Language and Psychology at York St John University. Her research interests are democratic policy making in schools and education, especially in the light of the current turn towards authoritarian schooling in England and the United States.




How to Cite

Collet-Sabé, J., Garcia-Molsosa, M., Clarke, M., & Haines Lyon, C. (2022). Fiscal cuts in education and their effects: Politicising learned helplessness as a disciplinary technology in education leaders in Catalonia. An exploratory research study. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30, (159).