Sunday, 22 January 2017

Policy, professionalism, and performativity

Spending some time working at the Scottish Government offices at Victoria Quay has piqued my interest in policy. Some of the questions I have asked Scottish Government colleagues are; Who creates policy? How is it created? What research is it based on? How is it implemented, enacted? Is policy quality assured? Basic questions I know but a starting point.
During the SERA conference in November I went along to hear Paul Adams of the University of Strathclyde to further my knowledge on policy. Paul very kindly gave me a reading list he uses with his M.Ed. candidates so I could do reading, etc. on policy, as given I work full time I could not enrol in the class. The reference on the reading list that has really resonated with me is Paul’s own book entitled ‘Policy and Education’, this is well written and very readable. In this post, I will use Paul’s book to briefly discuss the link between policy, professionalism, and performativity as these are high on my personal ‘thinking about’ agenda at the moment.
‘Profession’ is a contested concept and is dependent on the political stance and values of the viewer. Teachers tend to discuss their profession and professionalism in terms of behaviour, conduct and standards they hold alongside status given through public perception. However, teaching in the past has been considered a quasi-profession, being given more accolade than some jobs but not a true profession as it blends altruism with intellectual engagement. The ‘golden age’ of teacher professionalism is considered to be the 50’s and 60’s, Hargreaves (2000) describes this as the period of the ‘autonomous professional’, where professional judgement was highly valued. Professional judgement is back in focus as the NIF states that “consistent, well-moderated teacher judgement” (p12) will be used to support pupils progress.
Both Day (2002) and Brennan (1996) argue that teachers as ‘professionals’ has been eroded by decentralisation and intensive government scrutiny and that teachers are now part of ’managerial professionalism’, as control has shifted away from professionals towards systems managers. So, improving professionalism, through policy, which is linked to improving practice, may come at the cost of a more technical approach for teachers and move away from the autonomous stance of professionalization which increases teacher status.
The classical view of professionalism put forward by Robinson et al (2004) has three dimensions; reasonability (altruism), autonomy and knowledge, an alternative model is offered by Carr (1992) who defines four dimensions of professionalism, which are;
          procedural : mastery of technical skills
          deontic: teaching being done for others in the light of professional judgement
          supererogatory: the way in which teachers carry their professional lives into their personal lives
          axiological: the way in which teachers live their personal lives is as a role model.
Elliot (1991) discusses a model of new professionalism which considers professionalism in relation to teachers making informed judgements and decisions, while working in diverse situations and contexts. This leads to some common threads, regardless of context, in; collaborative working, effective communication to support understanding of different viewpoints, a holistic approach as the basis of professional practice and reflection to support professional judgement. As such, new professionalism is more concerned with quality of service rather than status (Evans, 2008) and promotes the idea of the professional as a reflective practitioner where professional learning is based on context and collaborative approaches in situ (Elliot, 1991). This type of reflective practice supports the development of deeper understanding of both the teachers and pupils learning and links with Hoyle’s (1974) term ‘extended Professionality’.
Neoliberal policies brought in by the Blair Government (1997) led to a performance management system which positioned teachers as a ‘unit to be managed’. Although Scotland has autonomy over education policy, there is evidence of policy migration as Scotland too has moved to a more performativity culture, where ‘commercialised professionalism’ which panders to profitability and international competitiveness (Whitty, 2000) also gained some traction. This created a rift in the teaching population as longer serving teachers tended to have a more holistic vision, both for their professionalism and pedagogy, whereas, newer teachers having not known anything different, seemed more content with managerial and test-based education (Day, 2002). This rise of performativity created unforeseen consequences as the caring role of a teacher was reduced and it became a function of administration rather than the altruistic and moral stance of the teacher, Noddings (2002) argues, ‘care about’ (attainment) takes precedence over ‘care for’. This precedence of attainment leads to test scores being used as the measure of ‘what teachers do and how pupils achieve’ and the wider view of achievement is reduced. This stance is premised on all pupils having an equal starting point, ignoring social factors, and becomes a means of control by the government. This diminishing professionalism where ‘best practice’ is shared as ‘the way to do things’, regardless of context. We know that not all children have an equal starting point and this is now being addressed in Scotland through the NIF as stated on p3 “ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap” and through the Scottish Attainment Challenge. More controversial is the intention of the Scottish Government to continue the pursuit of national assessments which many consider not the best way to show pupil progress.
Performativity also threatens teachers sense of agency and encourages uncritical compliance. It reduces teachers time to connect with pupils thus changing teacher identity to a more managerial model, which diminishes teachers sense of motivation, efficacy, and job satisfaction. Mark Priestley, University of Stirling, writes extensively on performativity and his must read blog can be found here
In literature, professionalism is a contest proposition. In policy, it is often used as a means of control leaning into a performativity, accountability and managerial agenda. For me, teacher professionalism should encompass the knowledge, skills and abilities, attributes and disposition that supports teacher learning for improved pupil outcomes. This must also sit alongside the moral imperative, the human face of teaching underpinned by values where connection with learners are just as important as attainment data.

Adams, P. (2014) Policy and Education; Routledge

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