10 SES 11 D, ‘Professionalism’ and the Governance of Teacher Education across the British Isles
The reform of teacher education across and beyond Europe is a key means by which nation states are endeavouring to enhance the quality of their teachers: a policy aspiration seen as key to improving pupil outcomes and therefore to improving nation states’ performance globally.
The notion of ‘professionalism’ as a construct that binds teachers together as an occupational group remains a strong one, and one that plays a central role in the reform of teacher education. However, the power and purchase of the concept must not obscure the complex ways in which ‘plural conceptions of professionalism’ (Gewirtz et al 2009: 3) are mobilised in support of quite different, and oftentimes contradictory, agendas. This was an argument well understood by Ozga and Lawn (1981) when they argued ‘the fact that both the state and the teachers make use of the same term does not mean that they are essentially in harmony" (p. vii). Hence it was perfectly possible, they argued, for the state to invoke ‘professionalism’ as a strategy of control, and to seek to enforce particular teacher behaviours, whilst teachers might invoke the same concept as a strategy of resistance, and to assert their case for autonomy. The contested nature of these discourses highlights the ways in which notions of teacher professionalism can be viewed as signifiers for a broader understanding of the relationship between teachers and the state, and can provide a conceptual lens by which the governance of an occupational group can be better understood.
This symposium seeks to better understand the relationships between teachers and the state, by drawing on the concept of professionalism as a mode of occupational governance in analysing contemporary approaches to teacher education policy-making in four national contexts across the British Isles (we define ‘teacher education’ in its broadest sense, from initial teacher education to career-long professional learning). It is timely because there is evidence of substantial and significant changes in the ways that ‘professionalism’ is constructed in contemporary education policy discourses, and it is important to recognise that within the British Isles, despite the geographical proximity, such discourses play out very differently in the individual nations. This symposium includes papers from the four jurisdictions of the UK – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – as well as the neighbouring Republic of Ireland. Even within the UK itself, relations between teachers and the state cannot be understood in the context of a singular and centralised state but must take account of a state power that is mediated through models of devolved government and the individual nations that make up the UK. The geographical and political connection of the five nations represented here, set against elements of historical, political and cultural independence, position the British Isles as a very interesting crucible in which to examine issues relevant to teacher education policy in countries worldwide.
Through policy analysis of teacher education reform in the five nation states presented here, this symposium seeks to illuminate the dynamic and changing nature of teacher professionalism relating to teacher education, at a time when changes are significant in scale and pace, but also when differences within the various nations of the British Isles appear to be becoming increasingly divergent.
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