POLICY, PROFESSIONALISM AND MANAGERIALISM IN EDUCATION AND SCHOOLING: INTERPENETRATIONS AND AMBIVALENCES

© 2008 - 2012 RICHARD STAINES.
In memoriam Ina Staines, 2 January 1914 - 14 November 2005

 

CHAPTERS
  1. Introduction
  2. Manufactured crises: control, regulation and normalisation
  3. End Notes

 
1. INTRODUCTION

The starting point of this essay lies within the erosion and corrosion that has occurred in state schooling not only in the United Kingdom but worldwide and which has involved the reconfiguration of schools as small businesses and annexes of industry whose income becomes dependent on attracting 'customers' within competitive local markets. (Bash, 1989) My principal purpose here is ask questions, to raise issues, to disturb presumptions and assumptions that are often taken for granted. As Donaldo Macedo has written in his chapter 'Educational Reform: literacy and poverty pimps', (1994) the 1980s were characterised by an overdose of educational 'reform' pollution controlled mostly by a conservative discourse that celebrated a language of management, competition, testing, choice and free enterprise. 'What conservative educators fail to recognise, 'he continued, 'is that management and free enterprise do not necessarily translate into human freedom.' (p. 137)

I want to explore in broad terms (i) how the three major focal points of this reconfiguration, stated in the title of this text, intersect and interweave, and to survey areas that relate to (ii) how education policy comes to be articulated, to be formed, implemented, and (iii) touch on how it comes to exert its effects, intended and unintended, on subjects, most notably on teachers who experience, [re]interpret and [re]define it. The boundaries between these three signifiers in the title have become porous: policy begets performance (performativity), which, in turn, defines professionalism, with managerialism an ever-present, ubiquitous, inescapable factor in the equation, the latter constituted by a discourse that acts as a kind of invisible pedagogy emphasising the instrumental purposes of schooling: raising standards and performance as quantified by examination results, monitoring school attendance levels, school exclusions and school leaver destinations, and frequently articulating these alleged purposes within a lexicon of 'enterprise', 'excellence', 'quality' and 'effectiveness' (Gewirtz, 2002:32). More immediately, an emerging question: what happens when teachers are confronted with a contemporary policy issue? What kinds of impact have post-welfarist reforms in education had on the daily work of teachers, and what are the implications, not only for their classroom practice but in the very understandings they hold, individually and collectively, of 'professionalism' itself? How might teachers come to reformulate a contemporary policy issue and in what way, if at all, come to resist it? What happens when authorities seek to impose a policy on schools, on teachers, a policy from which, during its genesis, its formation and formulation, they have been excluded?

Ronald Barnett in his work, Realising the University in an Age of Supercomplexity, describes some of the present-day challenges faced by doctors, and in asking if it remains any longer possible for them to keep abreast of the field when confronted with new drugs, new forms of surgery, new instrumentation and, more recently, the demands inherent in the reformulation of their roles as cast in the forthcoming Health Bill, he raises the even more pertinent question of their own self-understandings:

Simply keeping abreast of the field may appear to be well-nigh impossible...but in addition to these cognitive and operating challenges, the doctor is also increasingly faced with challenges to his or her self-understandings. Working in an environment more subject to managerial disciplines, doctors are having to understand themselves as consumers of resources and as having to give a public account of their of their activities to their employing organisation. At the same time, patients are presenting with increasing claims emerging from a heightened sense of their rights within a re-ordered patient/client relationship. (2000: 6)

My purpose in glancing sideways to another profession is a simple one: if Barnett is right in concluding that professional life in medical practice is not 'merely' (my quotes) a matter of handling multiple frames of understanding, action and self-identity - multiplying frameworks that often conflict (p. 6), then this may similarly be the case for the classroom teacher. In short, what does it now 'mean' to teach? What has schooling come to mean?

A traditional purpose of schooling has been to provide a liberal education for its pupils. Another function has been to divert part of the cost of producing trained and pre-sorted workers for the labour market from employers to the state, more specifically perhaps to tax payers. An increasing share of this cost has been diverted in recent times to the tax payer, and the tax-payer's progeny have come to be represented, in ways not dissimilar to the patients mentioned above, as 'consumers' as well as beneficiaries of schooling. The prime mover for the diversion of the costs of schooling away from the Treasury and on to the tax payer seems to be indicative of the continuation of the global crisis of capital accumulation, with a key mechanism in this process involving the sustained, systematic devaluation of that mode of liberalism which once held that the central purpose of education and schooling was to be something that would be universally beneficial for all. Concomitant with this move has been a simultaneous revaluation of those elements within that liberalism that proclaim the desirability of 'choice' and the practice of self-determination, both elements constructed within an assumption that the centrality of the market is unquestionably the best mechanism for the equitable allocation and distribution of goods and services. The consequences of these moves have been evident now for the best part of two decades, the plethora of government proposals, reports and policies embodying, reflecting and upholding the view that new forms of management and the adoption of new structures are able to offer the key to 'improvement'. (e.g. The Picot Report, Administering for Excellence, 1988)

Amongst the multiple moves that have occurred since the legislative framework of the Education Reform Act appeared in 1988 has been the stress on 'excellence' which has involved educational discourse displacing previous understandings of the term such that student underachievement (once again) becomes the fault of the individual student:

Student failure, which was at least partly interpreted as the fault of severely deficient educational policies and practices, is now being seen as the result of what might be called the biological and economic marketplace. This is evidenced in the growth of the forms of Social Darwinist thinking in education and in public policy in general...[the assumption] is that by expanding the capitalist marketplace to schools, we will somehow compensate for the decades of economic and educational neglect experienced by the communities in which [inner-city] schools are found. (Michael Apple, 1988: 170)

Besides 'excellence' and in desperate pursuit of the injunction quoted below, now two and a half decades old, the official orthodoxy continues obsessing on 'standards', whilst ignoring, or being unaware of the fact, as Frank Furedi has noted (2009: 215), that many of the prevailing practices - inspections, examinations, teaching to the curriculum - encourage a process of standardisation instead of improving standards.

We must raise standards consistently, and at least as quickly as they are in competitor countries (DES and Welsh Office, 1987: 3)

Amongst the list of features of the 'new post-welfarism' (Sharon Gewirtz, 2002) which overlap yet remain distinct are: (i) the insertion into schools of managerial regimes of regulation; (ii): a reconfiguration of schooling's social relations achieved through the subjugation of the classroom teacher and through the inculcation of competitive individualism; and (iii): the 'privileging of traditionalist pedagogical regimes' (ibid: 122) - fundamental dislocations and incongruities which Basil Bernstein has represented as involving the state having 'embedded a retrospective pedagogic culture into a prospective management culture' (Bernstein, 1996/2000: 61), and, moreover, constituting features which, when in combination:

...contribute to the silencing of dissenting voices...and to the production of systemic stress (Gewirtz, 2002: 122)

However one might conceptualise policies, whether they be thought of as 'outcomes' or 'processes' , or maybe both, they have the capability of triggering stress and sometimes debilitation and exhaustion amongst teachers, and there is no shortage of literature that presents the personal testimonies of classroom teachers vividly vindicating these observations (e.g. Bland, 1995); a key study here is Bob Jeffrey and Peter Woods (1998) Testing Teachers: the effect of school inspections on primary teachers - a terrifying text. Is there space for resistance? Are possibilities identifiable for 'cracks', interstices to appear so as to offer and enable the work of deconstruction and subterfuge since so much of the discursive language of contemporary educational policy and policy-manufacture embeds and encloses 'ambiguities, contradictions and omissions'? (Bowe, et al 1992: 13; Nias, 1993) Being neither clear-cut, nor as necessarily 'closed' as they might appear at first sight (Hogan et al, 1998), policies warrant sustained contestation, for more than being merely 'outcomes', they are also more than a matter of something 'generated' by a single group (politicians) and 'implemented' by another (bureaucrats, teachers). Nor are they hermetically sealed 'moments' in some linear, horizontal line of development; rather they should be conceptualised as processes involving struggles over 'representation', their 'tone' more a matter of being what specific viewpoint(s) and agglomeration of interests they exclude. These struggles should be seen processually, for they culminate sometimes in uneasy truces and unstable settlements between contending groups (Sedunary, 1996). Arguably, there is a case for a new professionalism (notwithstanding the highly ambivalent and unstable ideology inherent within the term) - to emerge, a professionalism that resonates with an understanding that takes into account, perhaps even attempts to accommodate, policy heterogeneities and ambivalences. What is the alternative?

Unquestioning subservience to authority in today's world is one of the greatest threats to an active, moral, intellectual life (Edward Said, 1994: 55)

Shirley Grundy, in her essay, 'Beyond Professionalism', in arguing that professionalism - a 'tired old concept which could be left behind' (1989: 79) - views it as something which is essentially normative, regulatory, rather than being only an empirical characteristic; she sees the need to acknowledge that whatever the term might signify, it exists in a realm in which the evaluation of action will always tend to be problematic since decisions concerning what constitutes 'the Good' will, of necessity, be subjective and partial, particularly with pleas for excellence in education inevitably interpreted by bureaucracies requiring quantifiable results of the teaching process and high quality products of the schooling system:

The reduction of professionalism to technical processes will not work, since social interaction, which is fundamental to professional practice, cannot be reduced to the certainties which technology promises (Grundy, 1989: 80)

In a simple taxonomy, Richard Hatcher (1994) offers insights into the ambiguities and waywardness of the term and enumerates four different perspectives on, and interpretations of 'professionalism' within a spectrum of understandings, suggesting that the policy processes that were occurring two decades ago (i.e. before 1994), as well as afterwards, more recently, represent[ed] a 'struggle to construct a new form of "incorporated professionalism " '....founded 'not on the notion of teacher autonomy but on a market-driven technical/rationalist ideology' (1994: 55) out of which a 'new entrepreneur' emerges and is given sanction to operate in the school classroom. Previous conceptualisations of 'incorporated professionalism' had been based largely on collectively-held understandings and assumptions about what it 'meant' to be a teacher, beliefs that acquired maximum strength in the 1960s, if not before, when the influence of teachers on government policy appeared, when viewed retrospectively, to have been at a peak, a period when notions of teacher 'autonomy' were not seriously in question. What differentiates and characterises different types of professionalism is how, in the end, these understandings relate to the state, that is, whether or not the state becomes the major determinant in advancing the working lives and interests of teachers - 'incorporated professionalism' -, or, alternatively and antithetically, whether understandings of the term can be productively sought more through the adoption of collectively-held modes of resistance to the state, as in Hatcher's 'class-struggle professionalism', whereby teachers corporately endeavour to ally themselves with working class forces against the capitalist state in an attempt to resist its relentless, incessant hegemonic encroachments, particularly those perceived as operating to the ultimate detriment and enfeeblement of their day-to-day working interests and lives. Between these two broad understandings of the term, there are intermediate positions which Hatcher cites: (i): the adoption of a stance vis-a-vis hegemonic policy formulation and implementation that involves compliance without commitment: 'accommodated professionalism', and/or (ii): an attempt that pursues an alternative agenda to that of the state but without the quest necessarily involving the search for external allies such as other workers: 'dissident professionalism'. (Hatcher, 1994: 57)

 
2. MANUFACTURED CRISIS: CONTROL, REGULATION AND NORMALISATION

The matters raised so far have as their backcloth a phenomenon whereby, as McMurty has expressed it, 'the educational process [has] been so persuasively subordinated to the aims, objectives and practices of business that its agents are no longer able to comprehend their vocation in any other terms' (McMurty, 1991: 210), a reformulation involving the entire restructuring, reconfiguration of teaching itself. Nor is the United Kingdom alone in having witnessed this 'remake' involving the development and nurturing of 'quasi-markets in education' (Lawn, 1995); indeed, through the political, economic and social flows and multi-layered processes of globalisation, different forces continue to operate in different countries, and in different ways. Overall, however, has been a marked thrust towards heightened centralisation and burgeoning regulation, most notably over curriculum matters, as well as inherently contradictory moves towards the privatisation of educational 'delivery'. The pace of the implementation and establishment of these processes continues to accelerate into the new millennium. Foremost among them has been, and continues to be, the total absence of teachers' voices from the reform process. If the aim was to have been the production of a differentiated, flexible teacher workforce, then this appears to have been the effect of these processes; new kinds of teachers and classroom assistants are appearing in the United Kingdom, subjects who have the potential to act...as 'low skilled workers alongside the new core workers, the multi-skilled teachers' (Lawn, 1995: 358) These developments illustrate the extent to which relatively long-standing and generally agreed understandings of professionalism and of professional standards of work constructed over several decades by teachers themselves in a spirit of collective endeavour, i.e. 'old' incorporated professionalism, have been summarily displaced and overturned by a definition of 'professional standards' created not by teachers but by so called 'senior management', the sanctioned conduit through which the ideology flows down from policy makers to the classroom practitioner. This definition of a 'new' 'incorporated professionalism', in acute contrast, focusses its searchlights on an individual teacher's day-to-day performance.

The work of teachers has always been intense. But amongst the surveys on their work investigating the heightening fraughtness of the daily and weekly obligations and demands made on them that has been carried out since 1992, that of the School Teachers' Review Body (2000) deserves mention. This survey highlighted how the total average hours spent by full time primary classroom teachers in March, 1994, 1996 and 2000 increased from 48.8 in March, 1994 (48.9 for secondary teachers), to 52.8 hours in March, 2000 (51.3 for secondary teachers). The increased emphasis on formalised assessment, target-setting and 'performance monitoring' has generated significant amounts of paper-work at a time when classroom teachers are simultaneously (i): reporting that growing amounts of time are taken up with dealing with challenging or disruptive pupil behaviour; (ii): feeling under permanent compulsion to make frequent adjustments to their syllabuses in response to changing external requirements, and (iii): experiencing 'initiative overload': the feeling of being persistently assailed by new government initiatives. (School Teachers' Review Body, 2000) In 2000 the introduction of 'Performance Related Pay' placed an additional burden on teachers, and, according to a survey conducted by the polling organisation, MORI, has also contributed, in not a few instances, to a significant decline in workforce morale. (Mansell, 2001) Moreover, as Sharon Gewirtz has reported (2002), in oversubscribed schools these stresses and strains have been compounded by excessive pupil crowding, (certainly resembling the kind I had experienced at a personal level whilst working at a 'grant-maintained' school in the early 1990s in south-east Essex1); and in undersubscribed schools by indifferent physical conditions, inadequate learning support and shortages of textbooks and essential equipment.

How had the moral panic over education and schooling been manufactured, and, moreover, in such a way as to foreground these issues? A text such as that of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Governance in Transition: public sector management reforms in OECD countries (1995) provides a clue, being one of the early reports signalling to policy-makers in education around the globe to address the 'concerns' that are referred to in the document, alleged anxieties that included a decline in public confidence in general government ability to rectify social and economic ills; a perception that the performance of public sector workers was generally inferior to that of the private sector; and the impact of 'globalisation'. Indeed, much earlier than the appearance of these manufactured misgivings, in the 1970s both the House of Commons Select Committee and the OECD had censured the Department of Education and Science, as it was known then, for appearing to have no real role in education. Hence the hankering for the exercise of more 'order', more 'efficiency', with 'testing', 'planning', 'standards', above all, the desire for a centralised syllabus and curriculum:

By infiltrating the Department for Education and Science and other state institutions, the New Right coalition was able to make radical and substantive changes to the environment in which education policy-making is conducted; to the allocation and distribution of resources; and to the discourses, rhetoric and agenda setting within which official and semi-official debate takes place. (Carr and Hartnett, 1996: 160)

Accordingly, whilst public sector organisations were required to be reconceived and restructured as 'producers', capable of converting inputs into outputs of goods and services, the general public were to act as 'consumers' who, quite literally, consume these 'products' and outputs, a fundamental repositioning that involved the redefinition of 'success' itself as a signifier of the 'efficient delivery' of these 'services' and outputs. Above all, the optimum way of maximising such 'efficiency' was to be via the promotion of competition amongst providers. (Hamilton, 1996). Markedly exhortatory in tone, the policy processes continually place an obligation on the governments to 'empower' the 'consumer', with the requirement that organisations such as schools have the obligation to become more avowedly 'client-centred' in their approaches and demeanour, processes which when dexterously enlisted by the mass-media in their furtherance, would be couched in what Wallace has termed a 'discourse of derision' towards the 'obstructiveness' of the so-called 'educational establishment'. (Wallace, 1993) Targets might even include the entire staff at a school, such as the attack on the William Tyndale Junior School in Sable Street, Islington (see John Gretton and Mark Jackson, [1976] William Tyndale: collapse of a school - or a system?), with such revilement reflecting and constituting fabricated constructs of inadequate, partial, tendentious and distorted perceptions of the very purposes of schools, arguably of social reality as a whole. These assaults were intentionally deployed to advance particular interests:

Right from the beginning, with the first Black Paper, the New Right took the media very seriously and realised the media had to be involved if the fight was to be won. It developed good relationships with the educational correspondents of key newspapers, but the background noise was the 'discourse of derision' that the 'educational establishment' had to endure in the process [...] Images were of 'incompetence, slovenly, subversive, or just trendy teachers who failed to teach or control the pupils in their charge'. The background actors were the 'wild-eyed theorists, out of touch bureaucrats and the complacent self-interested leaders of some unions'. (Carr and Hartnett, 1996: 147)

One major 'solution' was the introduction of managerialism (more accurately, 'new-wave managerialism'), a self-contradictory, essentially irrational but deeply 'totalising' ideology that parades itself as being eminently rational. Pat Mahony and Ian Hextall write that 'performance management' presents workers/teachers as units of labour to be distributed and managed, the characteristics of these labour units deemed largely irrelevant providing that they comply with certain specifications and meet particular working criteria (2001:176). Managerialism 'totalises' in the manner whereby it relies on fundamentally individualistic notions of motivation, achievement, performance and progression. The basic operating unit is that of the enterprising individual, ambitious for his/her future, 'jealous of their achievements and personally motivated in their orientation to teaching' (ibidem: 177)2 Managerial discourse takes it as axiomatic that the individualistic model will unfailingly prove to be more efficient, effective and economical in relation to its outcomes. Moreover, the individualistic orientation penetrates directly into the core of collective models of organising and protecting teachers, their rights, their conditions of service and rewards:

Insofar as unions are left with a role within such a model it is to patrol the boundaries of the system to ensure that the practices are conducted in accordance with the established procedures; they are by default themselves painted into an individualistic rather collectivist purpose vis-a-vis their members. (Mahony and Hextall, 2001: 177)

The appeal of the new management discourse of 'excellence' appears to have as much, if not more, to do with the cultural reconstruction of work-based identities as with the 'values of the technologies or organisational forms they propose'. (Wood, 1989) Essentially an 'imperialist discourse'... [the ideology of managerialism] marginalises the problems, concerns, difficulties and fears of 'the subject' (i.e. the subjected) - the 'managed' - and which involves the development in schools of systems of surveillance, normalisation and regulation that are thought necessary to exert the kind of detailed control of individual behaviour required by domination, and in which disciplinary power takes on the form of a domination that is mediated by a 'system' rather than by individual teachers.3 As is argued by Esland et al (1989) this discourse has been a substantial component of the political agenda of the New Right whereby the overarching objective has been to control employees, to exact their compliance, and, to that end, assembling a set of practices spawning a series of regulations and methodologies that have exerted powerful constraints over the identities, responsibilities and workloads of professional workers in the public sector who previously had perceived their working relationships as primarily founded on notions of collegiality and set within high levels of trust. The discourse of new managerialism is positioned within assumptions about the apparently inevitable logic of ever-increased efficiency and productivity; managers are thus to have more power to manage and to devise new techniques securing not only compliance but the redefinition of teacher professionalism. (Meerson, 2001: 78-79) Implicit in the implementation and development of these hierarchical systems of regulation in schools has been the assumption that the individualised 'self' of the teacher is something infinitely 'plastic', hence the promotion of notions of 'self-management' as the key to 'success' and the cultural intermediaries of 'excellence' advising all workers to 'make a project of themselves' (Bourdieu, 1984; Featherstone. 1987; Bonner and du Gay, 1992), in other words to work constantly on their relations with employment, and all other areas of their lives, so as to develop a 'lifestyle' which will maximise the worth of their existence to themselves. It is worth drawing out the contrast which the authoritarianism and hierarchical monitoring of contemporary management culture, with its preoccupation over the moulding of workers' subjectivities, presents with previous modes of authoritarianism. For whereas the exercise of traditional authority presupposed the likelihood of resistance by a 'fixed' human nature whose destructive elements could be domesticated if not entirely eliminated, the newer systems of managerial control and regulation aim not necessarily at the extirpation of rebellious teacher behaviour by altering the context in which it is expressed, but instead aspire to mould and shape it at will:

...we have [in managerialism] the latest and most successful systematising of the 'carceral' society; that it contains and organises to its own deadly ends most of the alleged freedoms of liberal individualism, removing the freedoms, as Foucault tells us, without the agents even noticing...managerialism is the latest thing in the protean discourses of power. (Inglis, in Carr [Ed], 1989: 42)

The power of managerialism resides in its effect as a moral technology through which it subtracts the moral/political elements from organisational, institutional discourse, reassigning them in the supposedly 'neutral' language and modes of bureaucracy and technology; beneath the flag of a neutral humanisation of work processes, this technicist ideology has been one of the most formidable techniques of social control ever developed (Willis, 1976). Efficiency and production, e.g. at the level of the individual school; pupil results at GCSE level; preoccupation with school pupil intake numbers; with school league table position and pupil exclusion figures; standards; cost-effectiveness; job-skills; work discipline - all become defined by dominant groups, and are always threatening to become the dominant manner by which schooling is generally conceptualised.4 They minimise or even push aside concerns for a democratic curriculum, for the autonomy of teachers, issues of social class, of gender, and race and ethnic equality. I want to end this essay in an open-ended way, without drawing conclusions, but with a quote from a teacher who was asked about her experience of 'performance management'. The quotation is related in Hogan et al (1998):

The fact is, it doesn't really change anything...we have some teachers in this school I'd have to describe as appalling, and you'd hope the performance management process would help to pick them up. It hasn't. They're still there and as bad as ever, and I find that pretty disappointing.

 
3. END NOTES

End Note 1: It was at this school that the author encountered a particularly stifling and divisive management micro-culture and atmosphere found by some on the staff to be rigid, highly enclosed, authoritarian and sometimes obstructive, as well as abnormally over-bureaucratic and petty-minded! Led by a 'gang of four', it was habitually expressed in styles of management practice and management-staff interactions that came over as overbearing, secretive and officious.

End note 2: The enhanced (quasi-) autonomy of the empowered, 'enterprising' teacher promoted by managerialist ideology means that individuals become more personally exposed to the risks and costs of engaging in a particular activity. As Gordon expresses it, entrepreneurial 'government makes its own rationality intimately their affair' (1991:48); what is 'offered' is constituted as an 'enhanced autonomy that is simultaneously qualified by the same situation that produced it' (Sabel, 1991: 43). In other words, the price of being 'offered' autonomy by management is the acceptance of responsibility for exercising it particular ways and for the outcomes produced by the exercise. This means that individuals are exposed to the costs of engaging in any activity and more dependent on their own resources for carrying it out. As du Gay comments (1996: 183), 'Once inside enterprise, one cannot hand one's autonomy back; instead one has - or is forced, in effect - to exercise it continuously in order to guarantee one's own reproduction.'

End note 3: In drawing attention to the cruelly oppressive nature of modern managerialism, Inglis (1989: 49) cites the observation of Giddens (1985) that 'the clinching last of four features of the nation state and its modernity, after its setting up of capitalist enterprise and industrialisation together with its protection of these by formalised control of violence (police, the army), is its system of surveillance.' (Giddens, 1985:5).

End note 4: Michel Foucault (1977) has described the steady advance of the organisational matrices whose 'petty, malicious minutiae' mark out, measure and subjugate the innumerable varieties of productive behaviour: the disciplines of normalisation - psychiatry, psychology, counselling, evaluation, profiling, regimes of accountability and 'appraisal' - 'mark out the dispositions of time, space, identity and attitude by which mass society maintains its order' (or has its order maintained for it), dictating even the very terms which we count as spontaneous and fulfilling within ourselves and within our lives.

Note: The above text is a revised, recalibrated version of an earlier essay, the broad substance of which was written in conjunction with the module, 'Theory and Policy in Education', as part of the Masters' degree in the Sociology of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, conducted in the Autumn of 2007. It was submitted in the following Spring Term.

 
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