23 SES 01 B, Teaching and Teacher Education
In this paper, we present the findings of a comparative study of the policy discourses of teacher collaboration which have emerged through the European Union Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020) strategic framework and individual Member State education reforms. Using Critical Discourse Analysis as a methodological approach, we focus principally on key policy reports and recommendations of the European Commission and national policy documents from England, Ireland and the Netherlands between 2010 and 2017. This longitudinal, documentary research enabled an exploration of both the temporal and spatial continuities and changes, and the national distinctiveness of the teachers’ professional mandate (Whitty, 2000). We argue that collaborative professionalism (Whitty, 2008) is promoted as a ‘common sense’ solution to teacher, school and system improvement. However, the extent to which teacher collaboration is given semantic status and/or legitimated as a professional project – and not part of a wider neo-liberal reform agenda linked to national structural reforms or performance in the local or global school market – is dependent on the principal actors involved in the policy production and a wider range of situational, political and cultural factors.
As education systems globally adopt large-scale policy reforms of decentralisation, deregulation and privatisation, the organisational context of teachers’ initial education, professional practice and continuing development has become increasingly divided between a market of public and private providers. To counter the concomitant fragmentation in the knowledge base of the teaching profession, collaborative working practices in and between schools are being promoted by policy actors at international level (European Commission, 2015; OECD, 2013). The European Commission, particularly, has highlighted professional collaboration as a way to strengthen teaching in Europe. In a 2015 synthesis of research evidence related to teacher quality and effectiveness across the region, it noted that the presence of collaborative practice in schools is ‘positively linked with teachers’ levels of satisfaction - both their satisfaction with the profession and with their work environment’ (2015, p. 4). Equally, citing a report by Isac and her colleagues (2015), it highlighted ‘the association between teachers’ participation in professional development activities (such as engaging in collaborative research, conducting observation visits to other classrooms or participating in teachers’ networks) and their likelihood of using innovative pedagogies more frequently’ (Isac et al. 2015, pp. 128-129). Still, despite the perceived benefits of teacher collaboration to professional knowledge, community and the overall attractiveness of the profession – significant when there is a teacher recruitment and retention crisis in many EU Member States – there is no comparative research on how national policy makers have implemented the necessary support mechanisms to facilitate such practices. More critically, in neo-liberal ideological cultures of competition and comparison, there is a need to investigate the extent to which policies of collaboration might simply be manufactured by policymakers, employers and managers to serve their political, economic and organisational aims and interests (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012). This paper aims therefore to explore the policy discourses of teacher collaboration in three different EU Member States – England, Ireland and the Netherlands – by addressing the following questions:
- What are the dominant discourses of teacher collaboration in the EU and national policy texts?
- Is teacher collaboration a clear policy focus in all three national contexts, or is there a notable difference in the emphasis placed on it?
- Can the dominant discourses of teacher collaboration be understood as simply a reflection or an extension of EU policy, with clear evidence of ‘intertextuality’ (Hyatt 2013), or are there significant variances in how ‘collaboration’ is construed?
- Finally, how do the policy discourses of teacher collaboration link to wider debates in education at European and global level?
Scholars have acknowledged the need for more context-specific, comparative policy analysis (Ball, 1998; Taylor, 1997). As in most comparative educational research, the unit of analysis in this qualitative case study is the nation-state: England, Ireland and the Netherlands. In addition to their geographical proximity, these countries have important political similarities; all are long-standing members of the European Union and, in recent years, have been led by centre-right coalition or majority governments. To a greater or lesser extent, each of these Member States exhibits a broadly neo-liberal orientation. However, to avoid the trap of "methodological nationalism" (Dale and Robertson, 2009) and mindful of Ball's (1998) contention that 'national policy making is inevitably a process of bricolage' (p.126), we position our research within both an EU modernization agenda and the wider Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) (Sahlberg, 2011). Given their shared characteristics, an examination of the similarities and differences across these Member States not only responds to the comparative policy research lacuna identified above but is timely for its investigation of the impact of multi-scalar modes of governance on teachers' work. Since teacher collaboration might be used for ideological or political, rather than professional aims, this study required a more critical analytical approach. Using Critical Discourse Analysis allowed us to interrogate the 'common-sense' assumptions of language which legitimise exploitative social relations (Fairclough, 1989; 1994). Specifically, we analysed the extent to which 'collaboration' had been utilised by the various policy actors to gain teachers' consent to an ideology of professionalism appropriate for a competitive knowledge-based economy. Using Fairclough's (2010) three-dimensional framework, each document was analysed as a text, discourse practice and social practice. With a critical realist ontology, it aimed to understand the dialectic between the micro (policy text) and the macro (society). At text level, particular attention was given to the linguistic choices made by the text producers, the value of certain words to certain social groups, the degree of agency in teachers' collaborative practices, the level of obligation which teachers were under to collaborate, and the extent of local and global coherence achieved through, for example, the repetition of lexical items (synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, meronymy, collocation). At discourse practice level, the sociocognitive aspects of text production and interpretation - such as the inclusion or exclusion of social actors - were examined. Finally, at social practice level, the documents were analysed according to the cultural, political and economic context of their production.
While our comparative findings remain tentative, an initial review identifies some interesting data. Of particular interest are the correspondences between EU and national policy on teacher collaboration. For example, there seems to be some slippage between 'peer learning' and 'peer review' when it comes to discourses around teacher collaboration at both the EU and national levels. This is evident in both Ireland and the Netherlands to a greater or lesser extent. England, by contrast, appears to frame collaboration at the level of the leader and the school, perhaps as a consequence of an increasingly marketised approach to education and part of a wider mechanism of educational governance. As more detailed comparative analyses are undertaken across the three Member States, more informed assessments can be made on the impact of local contexts and wider education debates on discourses of teacher collaboration.
Ball S.J. (1998) Big Policies/Small World: An introduction to international perspectives in education policy in Comparative Education, 34:2, 119-130, DOI: 10.1080/03050069828225 Dale, R. and Robertson, S. (2009) Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education. Symposium Books. European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015. The Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions, and Policies. Eurydice Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Fairclough N. (2010) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London: Routledge. Fairclough N. (1989;1994) Language and Power. London and New York: Longman. Hargreaves A. and Fullan M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. London: Routledge. Hyatt D. (2013) The critical policy discourse analysis frame: helping doctoral students engage with the educational policy analysis in Teaching in Higher Education, 18:8, 833-845, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2013.795935 Isac M.M., Dinis da Costa P., Araújo L., Soto Calvo E. and Albergaria P. (2015) Teaching Practices in Primary and Secondary Schools in Europe: Insights from Large-Scale Assessments in Education. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. OECD (2013) Teaching and Learning International Survey 2013. Paris: OECD. OECD (2016) Supporting teacher professionalism. Insights from TALIS 2013. TALIS, Paris: OECD. Sahlberg, P. (2011) The Fourth Way of Finland in Journal of Educational Change, 12:2, 173-185. Taylor S. (1997) Critical Policy Analysis: exploring contexts, texts and consequences, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 18:1, 23-35, DOI: 10.1080/0159630970180102 Whitty G. (2008) Changing modes of teacher professionalism: traditional, managerial, collaborative and democratic in B. Cunningham (2008) (ed.) Exploring Professionalism. London: Institute of Education (pp. 28-49). Whitty G. (2000) Teacher professionalism in new times in Journal of In-Service Education, 26:2, 281-295. DOI: 10.1080/13674580000200121.
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