Sunday, 11 October 2015

Are we professionals or are we policy enactors?

The flagship policy of the Scottish Attainment Challenge with its laudable aspiration to raise the level of achievement and attainment for all pupils across Scotland cannot be argued with. However how this policy is being pursued within Scottish education could lead to tensions between the ideas of teachers as professionals versus teachers as policy enactors.

The Government has ploughed funding into the Scottish Attainment Challenge and will use the lesson learned from London Challenge to raise attainment for all, here. The tension arises when one of the first projects announced by the Scottish Government is standardised testing for primary pupils, here. The First Minister in launching this proposal is quoted to have said

"The basic purpose of the improvement framework will be to provide clarity on what we are seeking to achieve and allow us to measure clearly where we're succeeding and where we still need to do more” and  "by doing that, it will enable us to raise standards more quickly.”

This is countered in the public press by Stephen Curran, Glasgow City Council's executive member for education, here, as he warns of the creation of league tables by those out with Government as a means to control the attainment agenda and the First Minister accepted this could happen. How this plays out raises tensions for teachers as in imposing standardised testing treats teachers as policy enactor and does not take into account that teachers are professionals.

The notion of professionalism is a contested one, Torabain (2014:46) drawing on the work of Hargreaves, Whitty and Sachs, outlines some of the traits of teacher professionalism as “autonomous discretion, extended specialised training, social prestige, reasonable income, ethical codes of conduct and active unions”. Geopel concedes that there are competing versions of teacher professionalism(Whitty 2000:282) and the views are not static. Instead they are influences by government, policy and the profession as well both the public and the media.

 ‘Autonomous discretion’ is important to teachers as they feel that teaching is more than enacting policy. Policy enactment gives a mechanistic approach to teaching and most teachers are rightly also concerned with the social and emotional aspects of teaching. Policy enactment limits autonomy by prescribing ‘best practice’ without taking into consideration context. It focuses on young people’s economic capital as we guide them through exams to support them be ‘market ready’ post 16. Thus as discussed by Torabian (2104:54) “teacher professionalism then is a form of professional control of teachers to ensure services to those in power rather than a way to stress the inherent qualities of teaching (Ozga, 1995).”

 Alongside autonomy is accountability. Teachers recognise that they have public accountability as they are public servants. Teachers are accountable to the Government as they through local authorities pay the salaries of teachers and in times of austerity when there are lower public budgets, teachers along with all other service providers, come under more scrutiny as ‘best value’ is sought.

 Part of being a professional means that each teachers has both an internal and external accountability system. This accountability systems requires balancing the moral and ethical stance of the individual within the collective of the profession against external performance accountability by Government, in the form of data, including young people’s attainment and achievement. In other words, professional conduct balanced against enacting policy with limited criticality. Mausethagen (2013:425) draws on the work of Charlton (2002) when he states that “accountability is closely related to responsibility, trustworthiness and being answerable to one’s actions” and Biesta (2004, 2010) when he goes on to say that “teacher responsibility can be conceptualized as teachers’ ‘internal accountability’ in terms…of being accountable to students, parents and the wider public”. External accountability tends to be more mechanistic, technically defined and measured by limited data sources. However, there is a balance to be made in the internal and external accountability system for teachers as they balance their needs as an autonomous professional with expertise, skills and abilities that have been developed and honed, with the needs of the government to provide public accountability for the expenses of education and also the social and economic capital being built by the young people of Scotland.

 The politicising of the education agenda is a fundamental aspect of how the government and teaching profession engage with each other and the level of trust within this relationship. The relationship between successive governments and the teaching profession stem from the different objectives each holds and is viewed from differing perspectives.

 This raises the tension between the purpose of education and the purpose of schooling and how ‘professional’ teachers are ‘allowed’ to be. Teachers use their professionalism to guard against policy enactment that does not align with their values and leads to as Torabian (2104:55) states “strategic compliance (Shain & Gleeson, 1999), but not total obedience


Biesta, G. (2004). Education, accountability, and the ethical demand: Can the democratic potential of accountability be regained? Educational Theory, 54(3), 18.

 Biesta, G. (2010). Good education in an age of measurement. Ethics, politics, democracy. Colorado: Paradigm Publishers.

Charlton, B. G. (2002). Audit, accountability, quality and all that: The growth of managerial technologies in UK Universities. In S. Prickett & P. Erskine-Hill (Eds.), Education! Education! Education! Managerial Ethics and the Law of Unintended Consequences. England: Imprint Academic.

Geopel, J. (2012) Upholding public trust: an examination of teacher professionalism and the use of Teachers’ Standards in England: Teacher Development; Nov2012, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p489-505

 Mausethagen, S. (2013) Accountable for what and to whom? Changing representations and new legitimation discourses among teachers under increased external control; Journal of Educational Change; Nov2013, Vol. 14 Issue 4, p423-444

Ozga, J. (1995). Deskilling a profession: professionalism, de-professionalisation and the new managerialism. In H. Busher and R. Saran (eds). Managing Teachers as Professionals in Schools. London: Kogan Page.

Torabain, E. (2014) WTO/GATS and the global governance of education: A holistic analysis of its impacts on teachers' professionalism, Educate, Vol 14, Issue 3, p44-59

Whitty, G. 2000. Teacher professionalism in new times. Journal of In-Service Education 26,
no. 2: 2815.






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