Teachers’ professional autonomy in England : are neo-liberal approaches incontestable?
This article is informed by a longitudinal research project undertaken with 22 teachers, four head teachers and two other related education professionals in England between May 2010 and April 2011. Drawing on 50 semi-structured interviews and some related email correspondence, the project investigates this cohort’s view of teachers’ professional autonomy. It takes as its starting point the hegemony of neo-liberal policy and the adoption and reinforcement of this by UK political parties of all persuasions. The outcomes of the project demonstrate that notwithstanding the thrust of such policy – manifested most obviously by the current conversion of increasing numbers of schools to semi-privatised academy status – teachers acknowledge, explicitly or otherwise, the prevalence of performativity and survivalism yet often retain loyalty to the concept of education as a liberal humanist project as opposed to that of a provider of human capital. In short, they manage to cling to a notion of teaching that transcends the demands of the pursuit of measurable standards. They also recognize the central paradox of the current policy ensemble embodied in the inconsistency of rhetoric from government about professional autonomy alongside strong central control and scrutiny. The article goes on to ask whether, given the expressed antipathy on the part of this government and its predecessors towards research informed policy in general, and to qualitative research in particular, it is possible that such voices will be heeded by power. There are clear implications here for teacher education at initial and post-qualification level