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Teacher professionalism in a new era

Geoff Whitty
Institute of Education, University of London
Paper presented at the first General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland Annual
Lecture, Belfast, March 2006
Contemporary educational reform – including both marketisation and centralisation, but
also a ne emphasis on the involvement of a ider range of stakeholders – has resulted
in a period of significant change for teachers! It has also raised ne "uestions# for
e$ample, ho should e understand the role of the teacher% Who has a right to be
involved in decisions about education% Conse"uently, and perhaps more than ever in
recent times, e need to reflect on the appropriateness of e$isting notions of teacher
professionalism to the conte$t in hich teachers ork and to the goal of social &ustice!
'evolution and competition, alongside increasing central prescription and performativity
demands, have become global trends in education policy over the past tenty years, even
though the particular balance of policies has varied from place to place and, indeed, from
government to government ithin particular countries (Whitty, )oer * +alpin, ,--./!
0et, particularly in those countries that embarked early on these reforms, both market1
based policies and so1called 23hird Way4 alternatives are already demonstrating their
limitations, especially in relation to social &ustice!
In England, the 5e Labour government has recently admitted that its on research
demonstrates this failure# it shos that, although educational standards have risen overall
during its term of office, the relative performance of children from poorer socio1
economic backgrounds has not improved (6elly, 7889/! 3his is despite the fact that some
of 5e Labour4s policies had been e$pected to counter the social ine"uities that had
arisen from the policies of their Conservative predecessors!
3his nes did not come as a complete surprise to me: as early as ,--; )eter <ortimore
and I had arned that research indicated ho the sort of school improvement policies
then being advocated by 5e Labour might ell have this effect, unless much stronger
measures of positive discrimination ere introduced (<ortimore * Whitty, ,--;/! In the
same publication, e deplored the ay in hich many politicians blamed teachers for all
the ills of society and failed to recognise the strength of their commitment to educational
improvement! We also argued that it as unrealistic to e$pect teachers alone to
overcome the effects of social disadvantage on education!
0et, there is a real sense in hich recent reforms have been a response to perceived
failures on the part of teachers! 3his vie is certainly reflected in the 2official4 account of
reforms in England offered by <ichael =arber, the key architect of 5e Labour4s
policies (eg, =arber, 7889/! +e argues that there have been four phases of reform since
the ,->8s, as follos#
 ninfor!ed professionalis! – the period prior to the ,-.8s, often regarded as the
golden age of teacher autonomy but hen, according to =arber, teachers lacked
appropriate knoledge, skills and attitudes for a modern society
 ninfor!ed prescription – the period folloing the election of <argaret
3hatcher4s Conservative government in ,-;- and, in particular, its imposition of a
5ational Curriculum in ,-.. for political rather than educational reasons
 Infor!ed prescription – the period folloing the election of 3ony =lair4s 5e
Labour government in ,--;, bringing ith it (in =arber4s vie/ 2evidence1based4
policies such as the Literacy and 5umeracy ?trategies and ?tandards1based
teacher training
 Infor!ed professionalis! – a ne phase, &ust beginning, hen teachers ill have
appropriate knoledge, skills and attitudes so that the government can grant them
a greater degree of licensed autonomy to manage their on affairs!
@s 'ainton (7889/ rightly points out, =arber provides a crude analysis that is historically
inaccurate! ?he also ryly comments that 2AdeliveringB someone else4s thoughts, ideas,
strategies and lesson plans hardly counts as Ainformed professionalismB4 (,9-/!
In response, hoever, I shall suggest that, hile 5e Labour4s managerialist reforms
have so far failed to create the conditions for 2informed professionalism4, let alone the
positive e"uity outcomes that their advocates predicted, they have contained some
2progressive moments4! 3hese ill need to be held onto as e seek to develop a form of
professionalism that transcends both traditional professionalism and the attacks on that
tradition implicit in recent reforms! In this paper, therefore, I shall be interrogating these
reforms ith a vie to establishing the possibilities for hat I (and others/ have termed
2democratic professionalism4!
Approaches to defining ‘professionalism’
I ant to begin by looking briefly at approaches to defining 2professionalism4! @s I
argued in my book Ma"ing #ense of $ducation Polic% (Whitty, 7887/, sociological
discourse about professionalism and the state can go some ay in helping us to
understand the contemporary condition of teachers as professionals!
3he nature of professionalism as initially sub&ected to concerted attention by sociologists in
the ,-98s! 3he main approach at this point focused on establishing the features that an
occupation should have in order to be termed a profession! @ typical list included such items as#
 the use of skills based on theoretical knoledge
 education and training in those skills certified by e$amination
 a code of professional conduct oriented toards the 2public good4
 a poerful professional organisation
(<illerson, ,->C/!
3hese lists reflected the nature of established professions such as medicine and la, hile
occupations that did not entirely meet such criteria ere given the title 2"uasi14 or 2semi1
professions4 (EtDioni, ,->-/! <oving to 2full4 professional status as seen as part of an aspiring
occupation4s 2professional pro&ect4 and this has applied to the strategy of teachers in many
In contrast, more recent sociological perspectives on professionalism have re&ected such
normative notions of hat it means to be a professional! Instead, they see professionalism as a
shifting phenomenon – a profession, they suggest, is hatever people think it is at any particular
time (+anlon, ,--./! Eather than asking hether the teaching profession lives up to some
supposed ideal, such an approach encourages us to e$plore the characteristics of teaching as an
occupation in the present!
Fther contemporary sociologists, particularly those orking in a feminist perspective, have
taken a more directly critical stance toards traditional conceptions of professionalism! Gor
e$ample, 'avies (,--9: ,-->/ regards the 2old professions4 as characterised by elitism,
paternalism, authoritarianism, highly e$clusive knoledge, control and detachment! ?uch
sociologists therefore "uestion hether aspiring to this model is appropriate!
In practice, of course, in most countries the characteristics of a profession have been
increasingly determined by the state, hich became the ma&or stakeholder in defining
professionalism in the tentieth century! <ost professionals are employed, or at least regulated,
by governments, ith professional status typically dependent on the sort of bargain an
occupation has struck ith the state – hat is sometimes called its 2professional mandate4! 3he
nature of teachers4 professional mandate has become a key policy issue for governments in
many countries, sometimes as part of a broader attempt to redefine professionalism, especially
in the public sector, and sometimes as a specific aspect of education reform!
I shall no look at the policy developments and their drivers that have contributed to these
From the ‘golden age’ of teacher autonomy to ‘steering at a distance’
3he teaching profession in England, and indeed 5orthern Ireland, has never en&oyed the
2licensed autonomy4 that occupations such as medicine and la have traditionally had, hereby
they have been permitted by the state to regulate their on affairs! 5evertheless, from the ,-98s
until the mid1,-;8s, it e$perienced a considerable degree of de facto autonomy – that 2golden
age4 of teacher control (Le Grand, ,--;/! )arents ere e$pected to trust teachers to kno
hat as best for their children! @ccordingly, the teacher4s role included the freedom to
decide not only ho to teach but also hat to teach! In this, they had a particular
responsibility for curriculum development and innovation! Even though effectively the state
paid most teachers4 salaries, it did not intervene actively in the content of either teacher
training or the ork of teachers in schools!
Grom the mid1,-;8s, hoever, there ere some dramatic changes in policy and, linked to
these, attempts to change the nature of teacher professionalism! 'ue to economic
donturn across the industrialised est, there as groing criticism of the 2sollen
state4 of post1ar social democracy, not only for cost reasons but also because the elfare
state had failed to deliver its original promise! 3his became coupled ith an intellectual
criti"ue of public sector management on the part of neo1liberals and public choice
theorists! 3he outcome as a call for public sector providers to be sub&ected to greater
accountability – both through market1based competition and increased surveillance by the
state! )articularly under 3hatcherism and similar regimes elsehere, there ere
singeing attacks on public sector professions, including teachers, ho ere accused of
abusing their autonomy to the detriment of pupils and society!
@ key strand of policy, as in other countries, has been to re1position public sector schools
as competitors in the marketplace, encouraging them to behave more like those in the
private sector! )arents have been offered greater choice over the school that their
children attend, hich is often coupled ith a shift to per capita funding and, in some
cases, e$perimental voucher systems! =udgets and managerial poer are handed don to
schools in the e$pectation that they can then respond more effectively to the preferences
of parents as consumers! While these developments are probably less advanced in
5orthern Ireland than elsehere in the United 6ingdom, local management of schools
and similar arrangements are already in place! When the 3ransfer 3est is abolished the
'epartment of Education has pledged to put in place a ne system based on informed
parental and pupil choice in the conte$t of a more differentiated system!
+oever, hile contemporary governments have been enthusiastic about making schools
more receptive to parents4 ishes, they are generally unilling to relin"uish control over
the outcomes that schools should achieve! 3hus, e have the apparent parado$ of the
2free market and the strong state4 (Gamble, ,-../! While devolution appears to offer
organisations greater autonomy, the state retains overall strategic control by setting the
outputs that providers need to achieve (5eave, ,-..# ,,/! 3his is operationalised through
the range of targets and performance indicators, and associated league tables that have
gron up around 2marketised4 systems! @lthough &ustified in terms of providing
information for the 2consumer4 and greater public accountability, these indicators also enable
government to scrutinise and direct providers! @rguably, they indirectly influence the
priorities of parents – ho in turn reinforce the pressure on schools to achieve government1
determined outcomes (@dnett * 'avies, 788H/!
3hese developments have obvious implications for teachers and teacher professionalism!
?tandardised criteria no feed into the frameork of targets and indicators that schools and
individual teachers must ork to, and the ne assessment regimes provide a ealth of
performance data for their managers at all levels of the system! @lthough performance
indicators severely delimit and direct hat and ho schools manage their resources, the
stakes that are involved have still necessitated the groth of managerialism and the
development of a distinct managerial tier ithin schools! Fne conse"uence of this is likely
to be increased fragmentation of the profession!
From New Right restructuring to New Labour revisionism
In England, the Conservative government4s ,-.. Education Eeform @ct has often been
seen as the epitome of a policy combining market forces and state control! ?imilar levels
of prescription in relation to the curriculum ere introduced in 5orthern Ireland a year
later! Importantly, hoever, policy under the Conservatives by no means represented the
height of these trends in England! 'espite the proclaimed 23hird Way4 approach of 5e
Labour after ,--;, in practice its education reforms have built on the 2ne right
settlement4 and even gone beyond it – combining devolution, diversity, choice and even
privatisation, on the one hand, and centralised regulation, monitoring and even
pedagogical prescription, on the other!
@s part of this, under 5e Labour, e have begun to see developments that reinforce and
2concretise4 changes in the conceptualisation of teacher professionalism! 3here seems to
have been a progressive move aay from a concern ith up1skilling teachers as
individuals or even seeing responsibility for educational improvement as lying largely in
the hands of the teaching profession, hoever it is regulated! Instead, there has been a
groing focus on education as a collective endeavour, encompassing a much ider range
of stakeholders than merely the state and teachers themselves!
3his approach as effectively summarised in the ,--. Green )aper, Teachers& !eeting
the challenge of change ('fEE, ,--./, hich noted that 23he time has long gone hen
isolated, unaccountable professionals made curriculum and pedagogical decisions alone,
ithout reference to the outside orld4!
It ent on to list hat, in the government4s vie, a modern teaching profession needed#
 to have high e$pectations of themselves and of all pupils:
 to accept accounta'ilit%(
 to take personal and collective responsibility for improving their skills and sub&ect
 to see" to 'ase decisions on e)idence of *hat *or"s in schools in the + and
 to *or" in partnership *ith other staff in schools(
 to *elco!e the contri'ution that parents, 'usiness and others outside a school
can !a"e to its success( and
 to anticipate change and promote innovation!
In this respect, 5e Labour4s agenda for education may provide a useful 2case study4, or
2ideal type4 of here professionalism in education is heading – and I ant to look briefly
at a fe e$amples of the policies that have emerged from it!
Certainly, there has been a reinforcement by 5e Labour of the need for the state to take a
much more assertive role in specifying hat teachers are e$pected to achieve, rather than
leaving it to professional &udgement alone! 3here is a real enthusiasm for intervening in
the detail of educational processes, ith advice on all aspects of the day1to1day running
of schools and teaching itself! Gurlong (7889/ highlights the 7,888 model lesson plans
that teachers can no donload from the 'epartment for Education and ?kills ('fE?/
ebsite – something that ould have been unthinkable in England not many years ago
and is reminiscent of traditional English criticisms of highly centralised systems such as
those of Grance!
National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies
3his approach of intervening in the detailed processes of teaching, specifying ho to
teach in addition to hat to teach, supposedly based on evidence of 2hat orks4, is
particularly evident in 5e Labour4s 5ational ?trategies for Literacy and 5umeracy!
@lthough the levels of prescription e have seen in England have not been introduced in
5orthern Ireland, the 'epartment of Education has produced the #trateg% for the
Pro!otion of Literac% and Nu!erac% in Pri!ar% and #econdar% #chools ('E5I, ,--./!
3his has brought a drive for greater coherence and consistency across schools and some
degree of additional target setting!
In one sense, the ?trategies are &ust one element of a long process of curriculum reform
stretching back to the introduction of the 5ational Curriculum! =ut they are also
"ualitatively different, both in their immediate impact on teachers4 ork, and through the
pace of change they have ushered in! 'elivery has been standardised through prescribed
content and a ell1defined se"uence and structure to lessons, coupled ith the promotion
of particular teaching approaches – for e$ample, the Literacy and 5umeracy +ours (see
Webb et al, 788C/! Increased funding for research on 2hat orks4, professional
development courses for teachers, books and the production of classroom materials
supported this effort to standardise provision!
In turn, the ?trategies have included ambitious targets and a significant programme of
pupil assessments to monitor achievement and the e$tent to hich all pupils ere
reaching a given level in their literacy and numeracy! In this, the levers of monitoring
and target setting have been such that they have enabled the centre to steer schools and
teachers much more closely than before (<oss, 788C/! <ore recently, steering at a
distance has entailed a combination of target setting and incorporating schools themselves
by re"uiring them to engage in a process of self1evaluation! @s the broader )rimary and
?econdary ?trategies – into hich the literacy and numeracy strategies have been
absorbed – also embrace a national approach to the improvement of behaviour and
attendance, they arguably e$tend the scope of this central direction ever further!
Complementary changes to teacher education
@nother area of reform has been teacher education, hich has seen changes to both its
structure and content! In England, training is no largely school1based, even on
programmes led by universities! It is a more practically1based form of preparation, ith
an emphasis on training rather than education and, in particular, the achievement of
practical competences that are set centrally (Gurlong et al, 7888/!
3he highly diverse array of teacher training courses provided by universities and colleges
in England as first brought under centrally mandated re"uirements in ,-.C!
@ccreditation as no dependent on meeting officially defined criteria, including the
number of eeks to be spent in school and the number of hours to be spent on English
and mathematics in primary training ('E?, ,-.C/! Control as tightened from the late
,-.8s ith a series of government circulars setting out competences that had to be met by
students before "ualifying to teach ('E?, ,-.-: 'fE, ,--7, ,--H/!
3he ork some of us did for the 'epartment of Education in 5orthern Ireland in the
,--8s as critical of this approach and e e$pressed the vie that 2the atomisation of
professional knoledge, &udgement and skill into discrete competences inevitably fails to
capture the essence of professional competence4 ('E5I, ,--H# C/! @nd, indeed, in some
cases, such an approach led to an unduly bureaucratic model of student teacher
development that, at its orst, as focused much more upon ticking bo$es of statements
of competence than upon the real issues related to teaching and learning!
@nother development, hich as taken up by the incoming 5e Labour government in
,--;, effectively turned the competences into hat as an ultimately unorkable eighty1
five page 2national curriculum4 for teacher training! 3his specified in very great detail the
content that had to be covered by trainee teachers in English, mathematics, science and
IC3! @s Gurlong et al (7888/ point out, although the curriculum as designed to
constrain teacher educators rather than the trainees themselves, it could be argued that the
2hidden curriculum4 of this approach provided 2Iappropriate socialisation into a
profession in hich official prescription of teaching approaches (encroaches/ on
autonomous professional &udgements4 (,9C/!
5e Labour has no abandoned this national curriculum to focus on the stipulation of
standards to be achieved by all trainees ('fE?J33@, 7887/! 3he resulting standards do
respond to criticisms of earlier versions by recognising the importance of refle$ive
practice and, overall, represent a somehat more manageable and holistic set! =ut it took
almost a decade for the English authorities to recognise hat e alays argued in
5orthern Ireland – that individual competences that ere not thoroughly and consistently
underpinned by clear professional values ould fail to deliver the sorts of professionals
needed in the tenty1first century!
3he English standards are currently undergoing a further process of revision as the
3raining and 'evelopment @gency for ?chools (3'@/ develops a frameork to cover
teachers4 hole career rather than &ust the initial training! =ut there are still different sets
of standards for different groups of teachers, some hich the 3'@ finds it difficult to
define clearly, e!g! @dvanced ?kills 3eachers and E$cellent 3eachers! @s my colleague,
?ara =ubb, ho is orking closely ith the G3C5I on the development of its on
scheme, has put it#
It4s such a shame the 3'@ hasn4t taken this golden opportunity to draft &ust
one ell thought through set of standards for the hole of the teaching
profession, like the ne 7; 5orthern Ireland competencesI3hese recognise
that each standard is a continuum to be met to different degrees depending on
a teacher4s role, e$perience and conte$t! 'oesn4t that make more sense%
(=ubb, 788>/!
3he 3'@ revie has also specifically addressed the issue of teachers4 research skills!
3his represents a move toards recognising teaching as a research1based profession! @s
their draft standards currently stand, hoever, the only teachers for hom the use of
research to inform teaching is stipulated are those ith @dvanced ?kills and E$cellent
3eacher status! Like many ho commented on the original draft, my vie is that the
hole profession should be research1informed, so I hope that the eventual standards ill
come to reflect this! Fn this basis, I elcome the General 3eaching Councils4 inclusion
of research pages on their ebsites! 3he G3C in 5orthern Ireland seems to pay particular
attention to this – ith the aim of collating a database of all educational research
conducted in 5orthern Ireland and of facilitating practising teachers4 attendance at the
5orth of England Conference this year!
Looking more generally at Continuing )rofessional 'evelopment, in England there are
no much broader opportunities opening1up for e$tended professional development
through, for e$ample, the 3'@4s )ostgraduate 'evelopment )rogramme! =ut, as ith the
draft teacher standards, these opportunities are currently available only to a small
proportion of the orkforce! @t the same time, other courses for teachers have become
increasingly centrally1defined and focused on short1term practical training closely tied to
government ?trategies – for e$ample, additional phonics training to support the Literacy
?trategy! In this sense, C)' opportunities are no largely focused on the needs of the
school and its pupils rather than the individual teacher! 3he G3C5I is currently orking
to establish a 2mi$ed economy4 model that addresses individual as ell as school1based
and systemic needs! 5evertheless, and particularly so in England, this shift reflects hat
is a broader significant development for the future of teacher professionalism – the
emphasis on education as a collective endeavour and the role of other stakeholders in
raising standards in school!
Teacher professionalism in a changing contet
Workforce remodelling
@n important aspect of 5e Labour policy in England has been its school orkforce
remodelling agenda and the 788H 5ational @greement on Eaising ?tandards and 3ackling
Workload! @ key element of this concerns the use of teaching assistants! While most
sections of the support staff orkforce in English schools have gron in recent years, the
number of teaching assistants has risen dramatically! =eteen ,--; and 7889 the number
almost trebled – from H9,988 to &ust under ,88,888! =y comparison, the number of full
time e"uivalent (G3E/ 2regular4 teachers
in the maintained sector rose by &ust C,888 to
reach around CH8,888 last year ('fE?, 7889a/!
3he groth in teaching assistant numbers in England has been accompanied by marked
changes in the nature of their responsibilities! 3his has involved a shift in focus from
2Eegular4 teachers are those ho hold either a permanent contract or a temporary contract of one month or more!
purely 2care and housekeeping4 toards greater involvement in the actual process of
learning – including, for e$ample, assisting ith the assessment of pupils4 learning! 3his
e$pansion of the number and role of teaching assistants is not an entirely ne idea in
England! 3he ,->; )loden Eeport and ,-;9 =ullock Eeport urged that more profitable
use be made of elfare assistants and ancillary help (<arland * Eutter, 788,/! =y the
,--8s, concerns about teacher supply and teacher orkload again highlighted the
potential for making greater use of support staff! It as the literacy and numeracy
?trategies, hoever, that ere the main driver for the first real e$pansion of teaching
assistants and a idespread movement into learning support and even teaching1type roles
in mainstream classrooms!
While the remodelling agenda has seen administrative roles reallocated from teachers to
support staff, it has also seen a 2reaffirmation4 of the ne role of teaching assistants! In
particular, in 788C the government established the +igher Level 3eaching @ssistant
training and assessment programme, hereby teaching assistants can pursue +igher
Level 3eaching @ssistant status! 3he government has taken the same approach to the
training of teaching assistants as it has ith teachers – setting out standards that must be
evidenced! In this case there are thirty1one such standards to meet, many of hich are
not dissimilar to those for teachers (see 33@, 788H/!
3he government has played an active role, then, in blurring the distinction beteen
teachers and teaching assistants! <any of the teacher unions have accepted this, albeit
ith varying degrees of enthusiasm, as a means of helping teachers to focus on teaching
rather than administration or behaviour control! 3he largest teachers4 union – the
5ational Union of 3eachers – hoever, refused to support the orkload agreement! 3he
union presented this in terms of the potential for the dilution of the professionalism of the
teacher function and declining standards here staff ithout a teaching "ualification
ere left in charge of hole classes – hich 2+igher Level4 teaching assistants are indeed
permitted to do! =y contrast, the government argued that the agreement as part of a
process in hich different professional and professionalising groups recognise their
complementary roles in improving education in the interests of all (<orris, 788,/!
I understand that a recent revie of teachers4 pay and conditions in 5orthern Ireland
found strong opposition from both management and unions to the introduction and
employment of +igher Level 3eaching @ssistants! 3his as partly because there is no
general shortage of teachers and partly because their use is seen as reducing the standard
of teaching provision ('E5I, 788C/!
Children’s agenda
Linked to orkforce remodelling in schools is an even broader 2Children4s @genda4!
Legislation based on the $)er% Child Matters Green )aper ('fE?, 788H/ has sought to
ensure multi1agency ork in the interests of children and involve children and young
people themselves in decision making! 3o support this policy, Local @uthorities are
being encouraged to bring together education and social services departments into
poerful education and children4s services departments and to establish 2Children4s
3rusts4 to co1ordinate these services ith other statutory and voluntary agencies! @s part
of this development, an 2e$tended schools4 programme seeks to establish ider services
in all primary and secondary schools – including study support and family learning
opportunities and sift referral to a ider range of specialised support services, if not on1
site services in childcare, youth &ustice, health and social care! 3his is something that has
been tried successfully in ?cotland and is often seen as vital if the effects of social
disadvantage on educational achievement are to be minimised!
In 5orthern Ireland the government ill shortly publish its strategy for children and
young people! Its consultation document incorporates many of these themes,
emphasising the need for organisations at all levels and in all sectors to ork together to
support a 2hole child4 needs1centred model! 'raft actions for the 'epartment of
Education include e$ploration of the e$tent to hich schools could be resourced to
become multi1agency centres ith out1of1hours usage (FG<'G<, 788C/! 3hese kinds of
developments ill obviously bring far1reaching changes to the ay in hich different
elfare services are configured, but also to the ay both teaching and support staff ork
ith other professionals!
Parents and business
@t the same time, particularly in England e have seen a greater emphasis on the voice
of parents and business in relation to hat happens in schools! Local @uthorities and
Ffsted have both sought to give more attention to parents4 interests! Ffsted, for e$ample,
ill no be able to respond to concerns raised by parents themselves about their
children4s schools! <eanhile, businesses and other stakeholders have been increasingly
encouraged to become involved in the education sector by part1funding and running
anything from a local initiative to national programmes and individual schools (see
'ickson et al, 788H/! ?pecialist schools ith sponsors no constitute the ma&ority of
secondary schools in England and all secondary schools are no being encouraged to
take this path! ?imilar thinking underlies the @cademies programme and controversial
proposals for 3rust schools ('fE?, 7889b/! I understand that a small1scale pilot of
specialist schools in 5orthern Ireland, hereby schools must raise private sponsorship
and develop sustainable links ith business, is scheduled to commence in @pril!
!ploring responses to recent reforms
Gaced ith the sort of reforms I have outlined, there must be a strong temptation on the
part of the teaching unions, and indeed the General 3eaching Councils, to adopt
defensive, e$clusory positions associated ith traditional models of professionalism!
3his is in some ays understandable – particularly in the face of government reforms that
have undermined key elements of teachers4 autonomy and bargaining position! +oever,
I ould argue that it is also likely to prove untenable and e need anyay to consider
hat might be a more genuinely progressive strategy!
Ff course, these tensions are not &ust being played out through the unions! 3hose of us
ithin the education research community have ourselves raised a range of deep1seated
concerns about recent education policy in terms of its implications for teachers! In
particular, the process of marketisation and centralisation, groing performativity and the
shift to standards1based teacher training have all been seen by some of my colleagues as
an unacceptable attack on teacher autonomy and teacher creativity, transforming teachers
from professionals to technicians (eg, @dams * 3ulasieicD, ,--9: 3omlinson, 788,:
+all * ?chulD, 788H/!
Gor ?achs (788H/, riting in the @ustralian conte$t but referring to cross1national trends
in policy, the modern professional in the eyes of governments is increasingly one ho
orks efficiently and effectively in meeting the standardised criteria set for the
accomplishment of students and teachers as ell as contributing to the school4s formal
accountability processes! @s Gurlong (7889/ similarly argues, this is a form of
professionalism hich accepts that decisions about hat to teach, ho to teach and ho
to assess children are made at school and national level rather than by individual teachers
themselves! @s he continues, this brings ith it a move aay from seeing the individual
teacher as an essential actor!
I do not necessarily disagree ith these commentators4 observations on the ays in hich
reforms have impacted on teachers# I noted earlier my on concerns about, for e$ample,
performativity, managerialism and the nature of some sets of teacher competences and
standards! +oever, here I differ ith these commentators is in their tendency to imply
that all current reforms ill lead to the de1skilling and de1professionalisation of teachers!
Indeed, it seems to me that some of the reforms I have mentioned may have the potential
to e$tend, rather than restrict, the professionalism of teachers!
@s a sociologist influenced by the contemporary approaches to the study of
professionalism that I outlined earlier, I ould argue anyay that hat e are seeing in
interventions such as 5e Labour4s in England is not necessarily an e$ample of de1
professionalisation in some absolute sense, but an attempt at re,professionalisation – that
is, the construction of a different type of professionalism, considered by those like
<ichael =arber to be more appropriate to the times and to 5e Labour4s political pro&ect!
If this is the case, there may be possibilities for pursuing other strategies of re1
professionalisation! It may be that ne 2prospective4 identities could be constructed as an
alternative both to an outmoded traditional professionalism and 5e Labour4s version! It
is surely not necessary to move from academic criti"ue of recent reforms to an argument
that teachers4 professional &udgement, hether individual or collective, should not be
challenged! Indeed, to this e$tent, the "uestioning of traditional modes of professionalism
by 5e Labour and similar governments elsehere trades upon legitimate concerns
about ho has the right to make decisions about public education in a democracy!
+ence, I am not entirely persuaded by the alternative solutions that academic
commentators have typically offered so far! While these sometimes include calls for the
2democratisation4 of the profession, they do not amount to the sort of 2democratic
professionalism4 that I ould advocate! Gor e$ample, although Leaton1Gray4s (788>/
conception of a more engaged professionalism properly entails fuller engagement of
teachers ith their professional associations, it ultimately looks rather too much like a
traditional understanding of professionalism – ith an emphasis on teachers e$erting
greater influence over policy and e$tending their autonomy as an end in itself! 3his is
perhaps not the best ay to in friends and influence people!
@s Laton argued many years ago, there are different levels of decision making in
education and the further one gets from the individual encounter in the classroom, the
more other stakeholders need to be involved (Laton, ,-.8/! =ut even in the classroom,
the active role of other adults and, indeed, students themselves is increasingly recognised
as important in the development of appropriate learning environments (Gielding and
Eudduck, nd: Gielding, ,---/! 3he capacity to collaborate ith others, rather than merely
instructing them, must surely be an important competence on the part of contemporary
professional teachers! In England, the e$panding role of teaching assistants is a case in
point! ?imilarly, both the English and 5orthern Ireland education departments are
looking more closely at school councils and other mechanisms for pupil involvement in
decision making in schools (FG<'G<, 788C: @donis, 7889/
With regard to teacher education, I have never taken the vie that the government1
defined standards cannot encapsulate the re"uirements of a forard1looking
professionalism! @nd as I indicated earlier, even the officially specified competences and
standards have no begun to modify the narro technicist model of professionalism,
initially in 5orthern Ireland but subse"uently in England! Gurthermore, the developments
around the children4s agenda broadly defined ill re"uire a move aay from purely
cognitive targets for education and are likely to re"uire some rebalancing of the standards
and inclusion agendas! In my vie, these are positive changes that should be elcomed
and capitalised upon by teachers as e$tending their influence, but in partnership ith
In the parallel e$ample of nursing and related professions, Gough (7888J8,# HH/ pointedly
suggests that, in an era of patient empoerment, 2enabling people around us to change is
dependent on transforming ourselves first4! @dvocates of a ne style of professionalism
ithin these occupations have seen the managerial reforms associated ith markets and
consumerism as offering possibilities for partnership, collaboration and reflective practice
more suited to contemporary conceptions of citiDenship and democracy than are
traditional modes of professionalism ithin the health service! 3hus Gough argues that
empoering patients involves unpicking 2old style professionalism4 and demands a ne
emphasis on 2ho the patient can be best served through ne ays of orking – not
shoring up old professional demarcations and engaging in endless turf ars4!
Implications for the "eneral Teaching #ouncils
I no turn to the "uestion of ho such developments position the General 3eaching
Councils for England, Wales and 5orthern Ireland – arguably 5e Labour4s one direct
intervention in relation to teacher professionalism!
Established beteen 7888 and 7887, the General 3eaching Councils each place raising
the status of teaching and maintaining and promoting the highest standards of
professional practice at the heart of their remit! @t the time, the establishment of the
Councils as seen by some as the turning point at hich teaching had become a bone
fide profession in terms of the traditional characteristics of a profession that I referred to
earlier! 3his as especially so hen they ent on to develop codes of professional
conduct! 3his aspect of the Councils is also reflected in the current membership of their
governing councils – ith the e$clusion from membership of other sections of the school
orkforce and, certainly in England, the limited influence of other stakeholders!
+aving achieved, at least in some respects, the century1long occupational pro&ect of
making teaching a profession in the traditional sense, it hardly seems fair to suggest that
further change may be necessary! =ut e do need to consider hether, if the respective
Councils are to ma$imise the positive influence of teachers in the changing conte$t I
have described, this is the model that serves them best!
3he dilemma about hich ay to go in response to recent developments is already
evident in debates ithin England, and I ould be surprised if similar issues did not arise
in 5orthern Ireland! 3ake, for e$ample, some reflections on the part of the Chief
E$ecutive of the G3C for England, Carol @dams, regarding the children4s agenda! @s
Carol notes, this agenda – and similar developments in 5orthern Ireland – raises a
number of considerations for the teaching profession and its representative bodies! Fn
the one hand, could pupils, parents and the ider community become confused about the
uni"ue role and contribution of the teacher% Could a child4s right to learn be threatened
by the ne multi1disciplinary agenda% While Carol herself elcomes many aspects of
the ne agenda, she argues that e need 2to hold fast to the simple premise that a school
is a centre of learning4 and thereby be clear about the role of the teacher (@dams, 7889/!
Fn the other hand, this does not necessarily re"uire a defensive, e$clusionary and inard
looking stance on the part of teachers! Indeed, if the key "uestion is ho can teachers
ma$imise children4s opportunities to learn, that can only be achieved by orking ever
more closely ith the other stakeholders! =ringing about the conditions in hich all
young people can realistically, in the G3CE4s on ords, 2access the best possible
standards of learning and achievement4 ill necessitate much closer orking ith other
professional groups and ith progressive social movements, as ell as changing
teachers4 conventional ays of orking here necessary to support the positive aspects
of the ne agenda! What e must achieve is surely a balance beteen defining the
teacher4s proper role and staking out the territory too rigidly! In this respect, it is good to
see that the G3CE has recently "uestioned hy the 3'@ and the Children4s Workforce
'evelopment Council (CW'C/ are consulting simultaneously on distinct sets of
induction standards rather than orking in tandem!
Towards a ‘democratic professionalism’
+oever, it is notable that the G3CE4s concern here is to facilitate inter1professional
orking beteen distinct groups ithin the children4s orkforce! =ut the sociological
criti"ue of professionalism as elitism could also apply to inter1professional agreements!
In a democratic society, the professions also need to be open to the concerns of other
stakeholders! Gor myself, I have no problems about the government4s demand that other
stakeholders should have a role in education decision making, though I do have a
problem about its limited conception of ho those other stakeholders might be and about
ho it goes about seeking involvement from them!
In my vie, genuine stakeholder involvement should be elcomed by the professions and
the democratisation of professionalism should be adopted as an alternative to both the
traditional professional pro&ect and the managerialist professional pro&ect currently
promulgated by governments! @ democratic professionalism ould seek to demystify
professional ork and build alliances beteen teachers and other members of the school
orkforce, such as teaching assistants, and e$ternal stakeholders, including students,
parents and members of the ider community! Gor many of these groups, and
particularly marginalised sub1sets of them, decisions ill have traditionally been made on
their behalf either by professions or the state (@pple, ,-->/!
If teachers are to make a real contribution to the e"uity agenda as ell as the standards
agenda, they must ork actively ith others committed to teaching for a &ust society
(Gale * 'ensmore, 7888: 788H/! @ democratic professionalism thus encourages the
development of collaborative cultures in the broadest sense, rather than e$clusive ones! It
certainly suggests that the teacher has a responsibility that e$tends beyond the single
classroom – including contributing to the school, other students and the ider educational
system, as ell as to the collective responsibilities of teachers themselves to a broader
social agenda! Indeed, under democratic professionalism, this broader agenda becomes
part and parcel of the professional agenda rather than being counterposed to it!
?achs4 (788H/ notion of an 2activist identity4 for teachers goes some ay toards
recognising this! +er activist professional orks collectively toards strategic ends,
operates on the basis of developing netorks and alliances beteen bureaucracies,
unions, professional associations and community organisations! 3hese alliances are not
static, but form and are reformed around different issues and concerns! @ctivist
professionals take responsibility for their on on1going professional learning, and ork
ithin multiple communities of practice! 3hese develop in larger conte$ts – historical,
social, cultural, institutional (,.,, see also ?achs, 788,/!
In conclusion, democratic professionalism and this associated 2activist4 identity re"uire
not merely stronger professional bodies and associations but ones that are themselves
prepared to ork in an open and meaningful ay ith a much more varied range of
stakeholders! In England this is not proving easy, not least because recent policies have
undermined both the morale of, and public trust in the teaching orkforce! 3his, in turn,
has limited the e$tent to hich teachers can engage authoritatively ith other
stakeholders! In 5orthern Ireland, hoever it may seem to you, the relative standing of
teachers is such that you are starting from a position of greater strength and confidence as
you confront the need to ork ith others to help shape the progressive opportunities that
are provided by policies like those relating to the childrenKs agenda! I hope the General
3eaching Council for 5orthern Ireland ill grasp this opportunity!
3his paper develops the analysis offered in my book Ma"ing #ense of $ducation Polic%
()aul ChapmanJ?age 7887/! I am most grateful to 'r Emma Wisby for her help in the
preparation of this paper!
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