23 SES 04 D, Policy Reforms and Teacher Professionalism (Part 3)
Paper Session: continued from 23 SES 02 D, 23 SES 03 D
A central aspect of contemporary international education policy debates concern the need for improving the quality of teachers as one of the primary ways of increasing student results in international tests and evaluations. Such reforms, aimed at increasing the effectiveness or status of teachers in general, are often framed as being geared towards processes of teacher professionalization. However, the concept of professionalism, and consequently the desired outcomes of processes of professionalization, is not easily defined, opening room for political struggles over the meaning ascribed to it in different contexts. It is the overall intention of this paper to critically examine such political struggles over definitions of these concepts in the context of contemporary Swedish education policy making. Even if the paper draws on the case of Sweden, the discussion has wider implications as the political and institutional arrangements affecting the way education policies are currently framed are becoming increasing similar between countries, due to the fundamental influence of intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union (EU) or the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on national policy making in the area of education.
The introduction of ‘professional’ terminology in relation to teachers in Sweden was not introduced by teachers themselves or their organizations, but was imposed upon them as an integral part of the political process of educational decentralization and deregulation. However, as the traditional bureaucratic hierarchies of the welfare system were dismantled the possibility of adopting professional terminology became available to occupations, and occupational organizations, not normally considered full-fledged professions. This led to an expansion of the use of professional terminology on behalf of a number of public service occupations (e.g. teachers, nurses, social worker) previously referred to as semi-professional. This transformation of the system of welfare provision constitutes a precondition for the Swedish Teacher Unions to adopt and use a professional discourse as a strategy for trying to improve the conditions of their members in different ways.
This paper summarizes the results of a Ph.D-project aimed at analyzing how Sweden’s two Teacher Unions construct their own versions of teacher professionalism in relation to two recent Swedish education reforms, intended to increase the professionalism of teachers. Using theories from the sociology of professions coupled with an institutional approach to the study of organizations the paper analyzes how the Teacher Unions construct professional projects in relation to each other as well as in relation to the reforms of the current Ministry of Education. Viewing professionalism as an institutional logic, it investigates the different strategies employed by the two Unions and considers their effects on the overall professional ambitions of Swedish teachers. By doing so it highlights the complexities facing occupational organizations – such as unions – as they engage in political struggles over how the meaning ascribed to concepts like professionalism is to be decided. In this sense, the Unions are considered as a kind of institutional actors using the idea of professionalism in order to promote their own ideas of how the future development of the teaching profession may best serve the interests of their members. The unions’ focus on processes of professionalization is also considered as a kind of identity-work aimed at providing Swedish teachers with a clearly defined occupational identity within the framework of a transformed welfare system.
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