From landscape to political economy: change in teacher education

Teacher education is now characterised by greater organisational diversity in provision in many countries. Markets or quasi-markets for teacher ed programmes are not a universal feature, of course, but even in the Nordic countries, where there remains a stronger, state- planned model, there are modest but sometimes influential new providers at the margins. In the US, the universities, as legacy providers of initial teacher education (ITE), have been seriously challenged in recent years by a new cadre of private providers in what has always been more of a genuine market, one characterised both by price competition and strongly differentiated brands. And England is a highly distinctive case internationally where both the ‘model of the market’ and the state’s interventionist, controlling instincts have led to a sector characterised by historically important providers like public universities and groups of schools (‘SCITTS’) but also new entrants that might be described as ‘enterprising charities’ or even sole trader entrepreneurs.

Our ‘Changing Landscape of Teacher Education’ research is now moving into a different phase with new articles in press and under review that address some of this diversity from a political economy perspective. The first new article, about to be published in the Journal of Education Policy, takes the first round of the Teaching and Leadership Innovation fund as a point of departure and shows how a new political economy of teacher development in England has emerged, arising out of the elision of ‘teaching quality’ and ‘social mobility’ over the last decade of austerity policies. In particular, the paper argues that we are seeing new developments in what Jennifer Wolch (1990) called ‘the shadow state’ – non-state organisations that do work formerly undertaken by the public sector but still within state control.

‘A New Political Economy of Teacher Development’: forthcoming in the Journal of Education Policy

Also under review, a paper that looks at bargaining at times of reform and whether these negotiations stimulate meaningful change in initial teacher education provision. Then, at the end of this year – fingers crossed – we hope that the book reporting on the different strands in our research and taking a comparative perspective across England, the USA and Norway will be published.

Warwick Mansell, freelance investigative journalist and the founder-editor of Education Uncovered website, is a key partner, co-researcher and co-author in several of these writing projects, representing a unique collaboration (in the field of teacher education research, anyway) between academic researchers and investigative journalism. Other collaborators include David Spendlove (Manchester) and Sarah Steadman (ESRC-funded doctoral researcher at KCL).

It’s been a genuinely fascinating experience completing the underlying research over the last couple of years. One previously unexperienced oddity was an intervention by the DfE (the Education ministry in England) who asked our potential research participants not to work with us (the details of which we confirmed through a Subject Access Request)! We’ve also met and talked to a wide range of people and companies that I am certain I would never had encountered if we hadn’t done this research.

So, given the analytic focus we have adopted and the concepts we use to explore the field, it seems the right time to change our project title from the ‘Changing Landscape…’ to the ‘Political Economy of Teacher Education’ (PETE). PETE seeks to:

  • Examining the relationship between privatisation policies framed through discourses of equity and justice, the pedagogies of teacher education and professional identity of the school teacher;
  • Analyse the emergence of new relationships of co-production between the state and teacher education enterprises, including the co-creation of shadow state structures;
  • Understand the rhetorical production of reform ideas and how these create funding opportunities for policy entrepreneurs;
  • Theorise questions of novelty, scale and value in teacher education innovations internationally.

So farewell ‘landscape’ and hello ‘PETE’. More to come.

New article on ‘Teach for All’ published in Journal of Education Policy

The first fruits of my British Academy-funded project have finally appeared in the form of an article now published in the Journal of Education Policy. ‘Teaching other people’s children, elsewhere, for a while: The rhetoric of a travelling educational reform’ was co-written with Meg Maguire (King’s College, London), Tom Are Trippestad (Bergen University College, Norway), Xiaowei Yang and Yunqiu Liu (East China Normal University, Shanghai) and Ken Zeichner (University of Washington, Seattle). The paper is available to download from the Articles page on this website and is Open Access so can also be downloaded freely from the journal web page.

The article provides a rhetorical analysis of the Teach for All movement, focusing specifically on Teach for America, Teach First, Teach First Norway and Teach for China. Teach for All is the umbrella organisation for around 36 Teach First-like project around the world and what we were interested in was the way in which this globally travelling teacher ed reform idea ‘touches down’ (to use a phrase used by Terri Seddon and Jenny Ozga) in different places around the world and then grows within the local culture. So Teach for All does not look, feel or do the same thing in its 36 different localizations even though they all strategically appropriate and playfully adapt the same rhetoric. Although the article could be read as a critique of Teach for All, an equally open reading would be that we show just how effective Teach for All and its different projects have been in persuading multiple constituencies that they have the right ideas. And, by implication, how strikingly ineffective universities have been at persuading people about theirs.

Teach for All - a globally travelling educational reform idea
Teach for All – a globally travelling educational reform idea – where teaching becomes ‘leadership’

However, the implicit critique within the rhetorical analysis is that Teach for All presents a challenge to the various national cultures of teaching as a profession on the basis of evidence that is, at best, contentious. Further, by turning school-teaching into a short-term missionary activity in the communities of non-dominant and subjugated populations in order to develop the leadership potential of the ‘elite’ individuals selected as participants, the Teach for All idea does not provide the children and the schools within those communities with what is likely to be more effective in helping them to transform the life chances of those children – high-quality, well-prepared, culturally-literate teachers who are prepared to stick around and build long-term relationships with young people, their families and communities – as well as their colleagues within schools. By sticking around, the evidence suggests, teachers are more likely to be truly effective and expert.

A demonstration in Chicago about the privatisation of schools and the role of Teach for America
A demonstration in Chicago about the privatisation of schools and the role of Teach for America

In the US, a backlash against Teach for America led by some its former participants has been long underway. In part, former Teach for America participants are protesting against what they see as the organisation’s role in the privatisation of public (state) education, but they also draw attention to what they see as inadequate preparation for the settings in which they were sent to teach. Articles about this movement and their criticism are available here and here. So it is not just academics who are drawing attention to the problems inherent within the design. That said, Teach for America is on the wane with policy-makers in the US too and there are other, more worrying challenges to an adequate preparation for new teachers emerging through private providers who mimic university structures while providing a deeply ideological, reformist alternative. But that’s a story for another day.