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Chair: Michele Schweisfurth, University of Glasgow, Scotland

Practitioners in education are under fire on a number of fronts.  Accountability regimes in many countries are shaped by narrowed understandings of learner attainment and of teachers’ roles in improving it. The outcomes of national – and, increasingly, international – standardised tests not only generate large sets of data:  they set new standards by which teachers are judged. Control is centralised; responsibility and blame are delegated. This regime incorporates new sets of actors, including international organisations such as the OECD, and private interests in the form of ‘Edubusiness’.  In contexts of resource constraint, including large parts of southern Europe, practitioners are expected to do more with less and with little job security.  In settings where teachers have traditionally been respected members of the community and an important component of the intelligentsia, such shifts in identity are particularly painful.

Education practitioners include those working at all levels of the system and outside of it, from early childhood care and education through schooling and higher education, and in adult education and training.  For practitioners involved in teaching and learning, pedagogy is more than what they can be observed doing: it is an expression of what they believe, and of their own human and professional identities.  Embedded as it is in individual’s beliefs and identity and in cultural norms, pedagogy remains one of the hardest things to change through policy. Yet it is often targeted as a lever for improvement, with ready-made imported solutions, and with little attention to practitioner voices and cultural and resource realities.

In these challenging times, glimmers of hope include individual and collective resistance to the blunt instruments of policy change.  While the educational agenda for practitioners is arguably narrowing and converging overall, there are new policy foci in some contexts, bringing attention to areas such as wellbeing and equity.  These come with new responsibilities but also opportunities.  And practitioners are not always right. Sometimes other marginalised voices, including those of learners and parents, are part of the call for change. Key themes to be addressed within this working group include:

  • Practitioner identity in contemporary contexts including: resource stringency; migration; political shifts; technological innovation; and new understandings of accountability and autonomy.
  • The construction of ‘best practice’ pedagogy through, for example, the washback effects of standardised international tests such as PISA or PISA for Development, the workings of aid organisations in the Global South, and new forms of governance that emphasise performativity and measurement. How is improvement defined, and how are practitioners engaged (or not) to work towards it? 
  • Sites of renewal and resistance.  How do practitioners work individually and collectively to uphold values which they perceive to be under threat? What are the roles, for example, of teacher unions, practitioner voices in policy formation, and subtle forms of non-compliance or mediation at the grassroots level? 

The working group invites contributions which address or question any of the themes above and which explore the tensions and competing imperatives that practitioners face in the contemporary context.  We especially welcome comparative studies but strongly encourage all submissions to set their work rigorously in national and international contexts.