Orr, Kevin (2012) Professionalism and performativity in the English Further Education sector: three longitudinal case studies. In: British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2012, 4 - 6 September, 2012, University of Manchester. (Unpublished)

This paper considers the tensions between professionalism and performativity in English Further Education (FE), which, with the publication of New Challenges, New Chances by the government in December 2011 has once again found itself at the centre of national policy for skills. The paper is based on data from longitudinal case studies of three teachers who gained teaching qualifications in 2006 and 2007, one in construction, one in literacy, the other in sports studies. Each participant has been interviewed and observed throughout this period. The paper examines the national and institutional context within which these teachers work and analyses the influences on their practice and their perceptions of teaching. These case studies describe “unique ‘close-up’ experiences… [and] offer a fractal expression of the whole set of social relations” (Colley 2006, p. 109), which analysis on a larger scale might ignore or distort. The paper draws on the concept of performativity to analyse the data and the longitudinal nature of the study has allowed examination of how attitudes and assumptions have altered.

These teachers’ careers have coincided with a period of constant flux in the sector. Major investment in FE under the New Labour government (1997-2010) was accompanied by close central scrutiny and control and this has been followed by substantial cuts in funding under the Coalition government (2010-) leading to the re-organisation of many colleges. The present economic crisis has, moreover, been used to justify and enable significant attacks on the conditions of all three of these FE teachers; each has suffered job insecurity and unemployment. The implementation of initiatives under both governments has involved a system of inspections and targets with which teachers must comply. This paper examines the impact of this performative system on teachers’ comprehension of professionalism, their practice and on their agency more generally. Through exploring the experiences of these teachers, this paper argues that the space for practitioners in FE to defend traditional educational values has narrowed. Despite the dominant rhetoric, the effect of policies which have promoted control over teachers’ practice through a structure of performativity have fundamentally distorted educational priorities away from learners.

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