People to trust;Books
David Bridges on what it means to be a professional.
The increasing control exercised in recent years by central government over the school curriculum, pupil assessment, teachers' terms and conditions of service and the teacher unions has once again thrown into question the "professional" status of teachers.
The erosion by government of the role of the universities in initial teacher education (and indirectly in the continuing education of teachers) and its definition of the knowledge required by teachers in terms of competences acquired largely through practice has similarly challenged prior conceptions of the character and status of teachers' professional knowledge. The time is ripe for a review of the implications of these changes for teachers' claims to professionalism.
Eric Hoyle and Peter John have provided a lucid and wide ranging contribution to such a review. Their book lacks anything very new in either empirical evidence or conceptualisation of the issues, but it offers a well-balanced and accessible presentation of the key issues and themes.
The opening chapter offers a helpful discussion of the notion of professionalism, which the authors recognise to be problematic in a variety of ways. They acknowledge that it is part of "the ideology, rhetoric and strategies which occupations deploy in the interest of their own self-aggrandisement" but also observe how it has been appealed to by government in industrial disputes as part of its attempt to deflect teachers from industrial action and require their polite acquiescence in its policies.
However the authors use the term as a central organising concept for exploring three aspects of "professionality": teachers' knowledge; the significance of autonomy for effective practice, and values and attitudes entailed in the notion of professional responsibility. These constitute the central chapters of the book.
Hoyle and John argue that the existence of an identifiable and publicly acknowledged corpus of professional knowledge is a condition for achieving professionality. While recognising the obstacles to such acknowledgement, they claim with generous eclecticism that "the various methodologies" now have a sufficient sophistication to produce "what amounts to a considerable body of professional knowledge that can help practitioners think about and remedy many of the classroom problems they face".
The issue of teacher autonomy is dealt with, to my mind somewhat unsatisfactorily, exclusively in terms of teachers being free from certain kinds of political control. Insufficient attention is paid to the kind of personal autonomy, the intellectual and moral qualities which equip someone to act autonomously under conditions of freedom or indeed oppression and the particularly important implications for teacher training which this dimension of professional autonomy entails.
Perhaps some of this is captured in the authors' account of responsibility as an ingredient of professionality. Responsibility here refers to the process whereby teachers ensure that the interests of clients are met in terms defined by the teachers' own and possibly divergent views of what those interests are. Such responsibility sits alongside the more convergent principle of accountability, which demands that teachers demonstrate their conformity with expectations set for them by some external client group. "Responsibility implies a degree of autonomy and requires from clients a degree of trust," argue the authors. Perhaps the key question for teachers' professionalism is whether parents and the community will ultimately feel greater trust in their teachers than in government which exercises ever greater control over them on the excuse that it is protecting parents' interests. As things stand at the moment I might well put my money on the teachers.
The final chapter stands alone to some extent as an account of the "reconstruction" of teacher education over the last 20 years and reveals, perhaps, one of the seams of joint authorship. It is slightly disappointing that it does not spell out the full implications for teacher training of views presented previously of the character of teachers' professional knowledge or of the fertile notion of responsibility. However the book deserves reading by anyone who cares about the professionality of teachers, to which cause it will itself make a healthy contribution.
David Bridges is professor of education, School of Education and Professional Development, University of East Anglia.