II. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the concept of professionalism as it relates to the current role of the teacher working in the PCET sector As alluded to in the previous section, professionalism and what it is that technically constitutes a ‘profession’ as opposed to merely an occupation, and what it means to be ‘professional’ has long been in debate.
Millerson (1964) compiled a list of characteristics that members of a ‘profession’ should have – these included skills based on theoretical knowledge, education and training, a code of professional conduct and a powerful professional organisation. On this basis, Avis (2006) contends that teachers have never been professionals, merely paid workers. He compares teaching with the professions of medicine and dentistry, who he says can claim autonomy within their profession, have their own professional bodies and are bound by their own rules.
Although it has been said that autonomy has traditionally been a key feature of professionalism (Dennison and Shenton, 1990), Elliott (1996) suggests that degrees of autonomy and status of other professions, such as doctors, cannot usefully be compared. Education is Government influenced rather than wholly autonomous, although there was a period after the Second World War when Le Grand (1997) suggests that there was de facto autonomy (Whitty, 2005), which suggests that teachers had an assumed professional status that was unchallenged.
It could be argued though that up until the economic crisis of the 1970’s it suited the Government to adopt a laissez-faire attitude to teaching and allow teachers a form of licensed professionalism (Dale, 1989). If teaching does not possess the core features that technically qualify it to be called a ‘profession’, this raises the question of what it is that affords teachers an assumed status?
Hanlon (1998) argues though that “professionalism is a shifting rather than a concrete phenomenon” (1998, p45) and states that teaching is one of a group of occupations that are now commonly thought of as professions, a view shared by Whitty (2005) who purports that “the fact that we normally talk about the teaching profession means that teaching is a profession, even when we cannot tick off those core characteristics listed earlier (by Millerson)” (Whitty, 2005, p65).
For Hoyle and John (1995), however, the term ‘profession’ has no common agreement despite its everyday usage and in the instance of teaching Belcher (1999) suggests that “there would probably be disagreements as to status” (Tight, 2002, p88). From the perspective of accepted professions, such as medicine and dentistry, this would be understandable, since they have earned their status rather than assuming it. In the past it has been possible to teach in Further education without having first earned a teaching qualification.
Compare this with a doctor or dentist, neither of whom would be permitted to practice without first obtaining the qualification laid down by their professional bodies. It is no surprise therefore that there has been debate around professionalism, what constitutes a profession and what it is to be ‘professional’. To be ‘professional’ as opposed to ‘a professional’ has different connotations altogether. Being professional in this sense refers to a certain expectation of conduct, dress and integrity, behaving ‘professionally’ (Wright and Bottery, 1997).
Perhaps it could be said that teaching has been a professional occupation with notions of professionalism, rather than a true profession? In relation to the current role of the teacher in the PCET sector, there appears to be a sense of an erosion of professionalism that can be tracked alongside the changing political climate from First Way acceptance of teachers as autonomous professionals, through Second Way regulation and management of education and the deprofessionalisation of teachers, to Third Way and ‘reprofessionalisation’ of teaching under a managerialist regime.
Since Incorporation Further Education has been the subject of a managerialist doctrine, characterised by the ideology of a business ethic (Elliott, 1996), resulting in a semantic shift in the connotation of professional as adjective and noun which has somewhat decoupled the term from its original reference (Hoyle, 1992, cited in Elliott, 1996, p3). McCulloch et al (2000), however, purport that ‘profession’ “is a socially constructed, dynamic and contested term” representing “judgements that are specific to times and contexts” (cited in Robson, Bailey and Larkin, 2004, p184).
If this view is accepted it could be said that the sense of erosion of professionalism experienced by some teachers stems from a romantic notion of ‘days gone by’ (pre-1976) or even from the basis of a flawed sense of expectation of status in the first place (based on an assumed rather than actual autonomy). Theoretical positions on professionalism offer little support to the notion that teaching should be considered a profession – the functionalist view lists one of the essential attributes of a profession as the igh rewards…in both financial and status terms…a reflection of the high value society places upon their services and the regard in which they are held (Barber, Hara, p58). In respect of the high value of society, the discourse of derision used to displace teachers by Government, and the subsequent public suspicion has already been discussed (Ball, 1990 cited in Usher and Edwards, 1990), but with regard to high rewards in financial terms, a consequence of the new funding councils is that lecturers have a higher intensification of work (Randle and Brady, 1997) for a lower remuneration (Shain, 1998).
In terms of status, Furedi’s (2002) culture of fear pervades the FE sector, fear of redundancy, fear of inspection, fear of not being able to cope with the increasing demands of a management culture (Shain, 1998) – not quite the high rewards of status.
The Marxist view of professional groups is that they are merely differing levels of servants to the rich and powerful, with higher professions reaping higher rewards for their direct services, a plastic surgeon for example earning much more than a general practitioner that serves the community, and teaching seen as a quasi professional, in that although not paid directly for their services they are upholding a system that benefits the rich (class handout). It could be said that this view is more of a reality than that of the functionalist, although it is likely that teachers do not think about themselves this way, but in fact are ullible fools who will be (and are being) dispensed with now that their usefulness has passed (Wright and Bottery, 1997, p236). Perhaps not dispensed with, but re-modelled “to provide no more than their technical expertise within managerial strategies and policies devised elsewhere” (op. cit, p235). The Weberian view of professionals as self-interested (Parry and Parry) does not correspond with the humanistic and libertarian values of many teachers, certainly student teachers, who have been shown by Avis and Bathmaker (2004) to exhibit characteristics contradictory to values of corporate professionalism.
It is also suggested by Parry and Parry that professionalism involves a professional body with a code of conduct, which of course has not been the case of teaching in the past. With the launch of the General Teaching Council in 2000, however, something of a paradox now seems to be emerging under New Labour – an independent professional body for teaching in England, yet education under tighter Government control than ever (Whitty, 2005, p67).
An anxious attempt to get voters on side, says Hayes (2003), with a hint at redefining “professionalism for the modern world” (Estelle Morris, 2001, cited in Hayes, p94), which in no uncertain terms does not mean leaving professionals to go their own way, without scrutiny – we will always need the constant focus on effective teaching …and the accountability measures (Estelle Morris, 2001, op. cit, p94) This sums up New Labour’s autonomy, what Hayes (2003) calls the ‘big tent’ view of professionalism.
It seems to be a case of – we will call you professionals, we will let you have a professional body with your own code of conduct, but ultimately we don’t trust you to do what we want so we will manage you. A clear case for continuing confusion, and a neat opportunity for “therapeutic strategies to enable us to cope with the loss of meaning” (Hayes, 2003, p95). Bibliography Armstrong, P. (2000) Never Mind the Quality, Measure the Length: Issues for Lifelong Learning, University of London, Supporting Lifelong Learning Global Colloquium 2000
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