Teacher education and feminism

Teacher education and feminism

Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 23, No. 6, pp. 767–775, 2000 Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in the USA. All rights reserved 0...

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Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 23, No. 6, pp. 767–775, 2000 Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in the USA. All rights reserved 0277-5395/01/$–see front matter


PII S0277-5395(00)00140-0

TEACHER EDUCATION AND FEMINISM Pat Mahony Froebel College, University of Surrey Roehampton, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 4HT, UK

Synopsis — In this article I argue that recent years have seen a steady “reform” of teacher education. In the latest of a long line of initiatives, teaching is being restructured via a framework of National Professional Qualifications and Standards. These both centrally define the activity of teaching at various stages of the teaching “career” and establish new modes of progression for teachers. I argue that the framework neglects teachers’ responsibilities in relation to social justice in ways that are particularly worrying for feminists. In addition, I argue that the masculinist nature of the standards, the managerialist restructuring of the social relations within schools, and the drive to recruit more men into teaching all connect to the international epidemic of concern about the “underachievement” of boys. The article draws evidence from two externally funded projects undertaken with Ian Hextall between 1995– 1999. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

INTRODUCTION When I was asked to speak at Claire’s conference there was no doubt in my mind about what the subject of my paper would be— teacher education in England. Because this was a subject with which I burned Claire’s ears for some 16 years, there seemed no good reason not to continue. During the past 5 of those years I have undertaken two research projects funded by the Economic and Social Research Council with my colleague Ian Hextall. The first project, The Policy Context and Impact of the Teacher Training Agency, ran from September 1995 until November 1996, and the second, The Impact on Teaching of the National Professional Standards, began in December 1997 and was completed in December 1999. The second project included semi-structured interviews in 1998 with some 100 people, some of whom are quoted in this paper (for a summary of the project, including details of research methodology, see Mahony & Hextall 2000a). In exploring the issues at stake in greater depth, I am convinced that the current state of affairs grow ever more serious in relation to their implications for feminism. It is difficult to imagine that anybody could disagree with the belief expressed by all major political parties in recent years that “good

teachers using the most effective methods, are the key to higher standards” (DfEE, 1997, p. 1). Such consensus probably ends at this point, however, for as soon as notions such as “good teachers,” “effective methods,” or “higher standards” are defined, different value positions emerge about the purposes, priorities, and desirable ends of schooling and the best means of achieving them. In voicing some disquiet about the potentially negative impact of recent developments in teacher education policy on gender equality, I have no wish to fabricate a golden age in which anti-discriminatory practice was the norm. Indeed, much of my work in teacher education has consisted of arguing that teachers need to be educated to understand and intervene in the ways schools operate to reconstitute social inequalities organised around the axes of “race,” gender, class, sexuality, and ability. In being critical of current government policy, neither do I wish to disassociate myself from a commitment to wanting “better teachers” or even “raising standards,” but as I shall try to show in the rest of this article, current national and international trends in how teaching is defined, in how teachers are educated (or trained), and in how they come to be promoted are all matters about which feminists generally ought to be concerned. First some background.



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BACKGROUND The education and training of teachers, for long the subject of professional discussion, is liable to change as our system of education, and its task in our society, also change and develop. In a healthy education service, this process is accompanied by a continuing professional debate that may be expected to lead to action by those responsible for shaping the policies and practice of the service. (HMI, 1983, p. 1)

Since these words were written over 16 years ago (about the time Claire and I met), schooling has been characterised by a great deal of change. This has resulted in an enormous increase in legislation and associated documentation, exemplified by Batholomew’s Law of Education (a comprehensive record of Government legislation on education) increasing in size from one volume to three in the decade 1987–1997, and now covering approximately 3,000 pages (Liell, Coleman, & Poole, 1997). The amount of legislation also provoked comment within the legislature. These included Lord Russell’s comment, “Well, my Lords, here we are again. We are debating the Second Reading of the 13th Education Bill in 14 years and Lord Judd’s enquiry as to ‘whether there is now a constitutional requirement that there should be an annual Education Bill’” (Hinds, 1995, p. 79). Each Education Act had its impact on teacher education as we sought to engage student teachers in an up-to-date, critical professionalism based in the changing realities of schooling. In addition, we had our own teacher education reforms that from the mid-1980s began to establish the hoops and hurdles version of university teaching that was to become the norm. The reforms included: the setting up of the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, which validated (or not) our courses according to centrally prescribed criteria; the establishment of alternative routes into teaching (some requiring no input from Higher Education Institutions); the development of partnership arrangements between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and schools, with locally negotiated payments (resulting in competition between HEIs); the devolution of responsibilities for induction to schools (which removed some of our work and

our income); and the introduction of competence-based approaches to the assessment of students (which marked the beginning of centralised control over what could count as the legitimate definition of teachers work). All of this spelled trouble for feminists. The Conservative administrations of Thatcher and Major were not noted for their commitment to feminist values1 and their definition of a “good” teacher was poles apart from those of us who believed (and still do) that teachers have a responsibility to work in ways that attempt to interrupt rather than reconstitute patterns of discrimination and oppression. In September 1994, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) was established to reform teacher training. This came as something of a shock to those who felt they had already been “reformed.” One of its major initiatives has been to develop a framework of national standards—an initiative picked up and tweaked by the Labour government as central to its programme of “modernising the teaching profession” as laid out in the Green Paper (DfEE, 1998a). In a set of measures heralded as giving “something for something” the Green Paper proposals include the introduction of a performance management system in which a restructuring of the profession, the introduction of annual appraisal, and performance-related pay are all underpinned by the framework of standards for: the award of Qualified Teacher Status (the first mandatory gateway); completion of induction (the second mandatory gateway); movement through the performance threshold to gain access to a higher pay spine; award of Advanced Skills Teacher grade and award of National Professional Qualification for Headship. In a relatively short space of time, teaching in England has become defined by standards for teachers at different stages of their career that centrally specify both the nature of their work and criteria for promotion. It is by these standards that teachers will be judged, and those meeting them promoted. How do the standards sit within a feminist agenda? IMPLICATIONS OF THE STANDARDS It is worth noting that a person whom Ian and I interviewed at the Equal Opportunities Commission expressed considerable irritation at the Commission’s lack of involvement in the

Teacher Education and Feminism

consultation processes used in developing the standards. . . . we got to the stage where we thought, there’s a list here of people they don’t want to send their consultations to. I mean it’s the sort of inverse of having a list of people to mail out to. (EOC officer)

It is not surprising then that the standards have been subject to considerable criticism (Mahony & Hextall, 2000b) some of the standards are OK, the language of others . . . for me . . . there are connotations of male ways of teaching . . . authority, discipline and control rather than the more subtle strategies you see the women developing. Some of the standards are wide open for interpretation—for good and ill. It’s what’s missing that’s the problem and how far people will even notice it. (Deputy Head in charge of student teachers)

Some of our interviewees included in the “what’s missing” category, the responsibility of all teachers to understand and challenge how schools both operate within and reconstitute social inequalities. When pressed, they acknowledged that a training institution could decide to go beyond the standards, but they were doubtful whether this was realistic given the time constraints, the pressures of inspection on courses, and the fact that “equal opportunities is not high on the agenda these days.” The danger is that in the absence of a clear articulation of values through which to ground the standards: . . . the default position for many new teachers would be a predominantly middle class, predominantly white and predominantly monocultural set of assumptions which would not of itself challenge, for example, heterosexist and ablebodied assumptions about “normality.” (Ainsworth & Johnson, 2000)

This general issue exploded in the Times Educational Supplement: The Government’s chief race adviser has accused the Teacher Training Agency of “sticking two fingers up” at anti-racism. In a blistering attack Sir Herman Ouseley, head


of the Commission for Racial Equality, called the agency “negligent” and ministers “impotent” in their failure to put equal opportunities firmly on the teacher-training curriculum. (Ghouri, 1998, p. 1)

In response, a senior TTA officer said that the agency was “not prepared to prescribe” anti-racist work (Ghouri, 1998, p. 2). This was unconvincing in a context where the National Curriculum for Initial Teacher Training does prescribe the training curriculum for primary and secondary English, mathematics, and science (DfEE, 1998b). It is difficult to avoid a pessimistic view of the likely impact of the standards on practice. Even the standard “have a working knowledge and understanding” of anti-discrimination legislation (TTA, 1998a, p. 11) is unlikely to yield a demand for the kinds of sophisticated antisexist practices we know are possible (Kenway & Willis, 1998). This is because the kinds of approaches that teachers need to develop to satisfy even the most minimal account of nondiscriminatory practice are in no way covered by the legislative framework of the relevant Acts (Mahony & Hextall, 1998); schools have not yet been taken to court for failing to address racism or homophobia, nor is there any legal redress for parents who object to their daughters being used to control the boys or subjected to a continuum of sexual harassment (Mahony, 1989). The masculinist conception of the leader embedded in the content of standards for headteachers (TTA, 1998b) are even more problematic. As with the standards for Qualified Teacher Status, a great deal hangs on interpretation, but given the gendered nature of management, there are a number of reasons to be concerned. Women make up 83% of primary school teachers, yet only 53% of primary heads are women. Fifty-two percent of secondary teachers are women, yet only 24% of headteachers are women (Millett, 1998, p. 14). The TTA claims more women are coming forward, but this may be small comfort, because models of leadership and management tend to be masculinist in character. Modern management theory derives mostly from the private sector, and even the most cursory inspection of popular texts reveals a great deal about the kind of “person” represented by the modern manager


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or leader. Ostensibly presented as gender neutral, these texts privilege competitive, conquering, aggressive, and power-seeking masculinities, either by providing examples of individual, “successful” leaders who are nearly always men or by promoting images of tough, unflinching, rational, action-orientated, analytical, objective, risk-taking, financially astute “people” in total control both of their vision and the place of others within it (Collinson & Hearn, 1996). Whilst avoiding these excesses, the National Standards for Headship nonetheless represent a hierarchical, individualistic, and somewhat heroic management model in which responsibility for and control of others’ work are central features of the head’s role. In this model, headteachers “lead by example,” “provide inspiration and motivation,” “create an ethos and provide educational vision,” “create and implement a strategic plan,” “ensure that all those involved in the school are committed to its aims” (p. 9), and they “monitor and evaluate the quality of teaching” (p. 10). Attributes include “personal impact and presence,” “resilience,” “energy, vigour and perseverance,” “self-confidence and intellectual ability” (p. 8). In the research Ian and I conducted, these Standards were variously criticised for “puffing up headteachers with power” (Headteacher; TTA, 1998b), or demanding the impossible (“where does it say walks on water”) (LEA officer), and the gender biased nature of the language elicited considerable comment. I would say it’s very male orientated language. Maybe it’s my understanding of what a male manager looks like, but that’s —I’m not comfortable with a lot of the language in here “command credibility,” “discharging”—sounds like . . . a battle field. (EOC officer)

How control will be exercised will undoubtedly vary between individuals. However, such individuals, whatever their personal politics, do not exist independently of the presumptions and expectations underpinning the context in which they work. In claiming that there is a considerable fit between conceptions of “the manager” (or in more recent parlance “the leader”) and particular modes of masculinity, I am not here advancing an essentialist thesis in relation to

women and men; quite the opposite, and with far more potentially negative consequences. If masculinities and femininities are socially constructed, ordered, and practised differently in different contexts, the problem goes far beyond the presence or absence of women and even beyond the relative positioning of women to men. What is at stake are the values, ways of understanding the world and ways of relating to others that are traditionally polarised around the binaries of “femininity” and “masculinity.” If success in management is defined in masculinist terms, then women (and men) will be pressured to conform to its dictates in ways that may create tensions between their values and their power to act in collaborative ways. Much of the recent feminist literature on women in management (Deem & Ozga, 2000; Shakeshaft, 1995; Weiner, 1995) has been optimistic about the impact of women in educational management. On the other hand: . . . a number of studies have shown that as women move up the organisational hierarchy, their identification with the masculine model of managerial success becomes so important that they end up rejecting even the few valued feminine managerial traits they may have endorsed. (Kanter, 1993, p. 72)

There is now a highly developed international literature on the impact of the new managerialist movements in relation to work cultures (Itzin & Newman, 1995; Limerick & Lingard, 1995; Mahony, 1997; Walby & Greenwell, 1994). As Janet Newman (1995, p. 11) has argued: . . . organisational cultures have been highlighted as a significant barrier to change. Even in organisations where equal opportunity initiatives are well developed, their cultures may be resistant and intractable. . . . (also) experience has shown that a focus on “numbers” alone is not enough to bring about organisational change. . . . Where women face hostile cultures, the pressures are great and an undue amount of energy has to be expended in developing strategies for survival.

I have argued so far that the standards are significant in structuring or affirming social relations in ways that feminists have long sought

Teacher Education and Feminism

to change. Teachers, the majority of whom are women will be judged by those higher up a hierarchy (increasingly dominated by men), according to criteria that emphasise performance, technique, and skill and that fail to engage with the value dimension of education that has inspired generations of feminist teachers to enter and stay in teaching. The danger in this moral bankruptcy is painfully highlighted by Ronit Lentin’s contribution to this journal issue. This raises a question about where these initiatives have come from. POLICY ORIGINS In relation to education policy, the imperatives emerging from the school effectiveness and school improvement movements have been profoundly influential. The key to “effective” schools is seen as “effective” teachers and leaders (“effective” schools being defined, through the process of school inspection, largely in terms of academic performance, which is reinforced through the publication of annual league tables) (Hextall & Mahony, 1998). On this, there is no disagreement between the former Conservative and the current Labour Secretaries of State (DfEE, 1998b; Shephard, 1996). The emphasis placed on “effective” schools arises from a belief that they are crucial in the production of a labour force with sufficiently high levels of knowledge and skill to guarantee the competitiveness of the United Kingdom in the global economy. Such a (utilitarian) belief is not without its critics. For example, using an inter-disciplinary approach and drawing on international data, Ashton and Green (1996) devote an entire book to unpacking and challenging what they call the “simplistic consensus” from which “policy debates and much scholarly discussion begin” (p. 3), namely that more and better skills necessarily lead to an improvement in a nation’s economic performance. Also, from a recent project on school leadership, undertaken in Australia, Denmark, England, and Scotland, empirical evidence supports the view that policy development is not simply a reaction to the supposedly deterministic imperatives of the global economy but that local cultures, histories, and traditions play a significant part in choices about how schools are organised and their purposes defined, what it means to be a teacher or a headteacher, and


who constitutes the “we” making such decisions (Moos, Mahony, & Reeves, 1998). Second, the policy origins of the standards framework can be situated within transformations occurring across the public sector and internationally. In movements that can be broadly described as managerialist, “efficiency” principles drawn from the private sector, have been imported into the public sector of advanced economies and increasingly introduced to developing countries. The influence of supranational organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Lingard, 1999) and the World Bank (Smyth & Shacklock, 1998) make it important to move beyond the specificity of national mechanisms. Trends identified as common include: the pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness through employee performance measurement; increased demands for public accountability in achieving targets; new centralised forms of surveillance and regulation accompanying decentralised responsibility for local management. In the United Kingdom (though not elsewhere), the introduction of managerialist principles was justified by questioning the motivations and efficiency of public sector workers. Education, in particular, was seen as epitomising: . . . much that was seen to be wrong with burgeoning state power. It was construed as expensive, not self-evidently adequately productive, insufficiently accountable, monopolistic, producer-dominated, a bastion of an entrenched professional elite, resistant to consumer demand and, at worst, self-generating and self-serving. (Fergusson, 1994, p. 93)

The increasing professional/managerial split in the public sector has been the subject of much discussion in the social policy literature where particular attention has been given to the way that power has been seen as shifting towards managerial “leaders” (in our case, the headteacher) and away from the those (teachers) in direct contact with their “customers” (pupils) (Clarke & Newman, 1997). Within this wider context of education policy and public policy, the development of National Standards can be seen both as providing a centralised specification of “effective teaching” and as the codification of relations between man-


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agers and managed. The National Standards can thus be understood as a technology enabling central government to retain control, while at the same time decentralising or devolving responsibility for implementation. In virtually all sectors, operational decentralisation has been accompanied by the extended development of performance management systems. Such systems seem designed to both monitor and shape organisational behaviour and encompass a range of techniques, including performance review, staff appraisal systems, performance-related pay, scrutinies, so-called “quality audits,” customer feedback mechanisms, comparative tables of performance indicators, including “league tables,” chartermarks, customer charters, quality standards, and total quality management. (Hoggett, 1996, p. 20)

In this system, managers or “leaders” become locally responsible for staff compliance, and are given the means to reward “preferred” teachers (Smyth & Shacklock, 1998). As Clarke and Newman (1997) note, many employees in public sector institutions experience a good deal of tension in being pulled in contradictory directions between professional and managerial values. Such positions are often an uncomfortable place to be because they are subject to conflicting demands and expectations in a field of tensions between service and corporate concerns. Such hybrid formations are also the focal point for “devolved stress” as significant organisational tensions and conflicts come to be embodied in single individuals. (1997, p. 77)

BACK TO THE FUTURE The latest initiatives contained within the Labour government’s programme of “modernising the teaching profession,” as laid out in the Green Paper (DfEE, 1998a), have been partly justified as providing a more attractive career structure to address problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers. We need more teachers (not least to replace those who are wrung dry from years of constant change), and in particular, we need more male teachers. In this development, are we at last witnessing the

arrival of a policy that we can endorse? After all, feminists have long argued for men who can work constructively with boys in posing alternative masculinities that do not privilege aggression, violence, and competition, that are less damaging to women, girls, and other men, and that are more suited to the labour market of the future. Unfortunately, this is not what recent governments have had in mind. In asking why we need more men, what is it they are supposed to do or be for, little sustained evidence or argument is available. Anthea Millett, former Chief Executive of the TTA, has said publicly that men are better advocates for the profession than women, and that their increased presence will raise the status of the profession (Pepperell & Smedley, 1998). She has also appealed to a “general consensus” in claiming that: If present trends continue, there will be very few male class teachers in primary schools by 2010. Secondary teaching too is now attracting fewer men than women. There is a general consensus that this is not desirable. All else apart, a profession where one sex or the other predominates to such an extent is simply not a true reflection of society today. And, if we are to continue to attract large numbers of high quality candidates for teaching, we cannot afford to write off half the human race. (Millett, 1996, p. 6)

At this point we might wonder why successive governments have been less than concerned about the converse situation, namely, the over-representation of men in the higher echelons of government departments and policy making circles. The theme of “feminisation” was reiterated in Anthea Millett’s valedictory speech in December 1999, and another “obvious” reason introduced justifying the pursuit of more male teachers. . . . the percentage of males entering training in 1997 was 13% onto primary courses and 40% onto secondary. These figures represent a steady decline over the last 10 years and more up to date figures reveal that this decline is continuing. That means a chronic under representation in teaching of about half the population.. . . The challenges that these statistics pose are obvious. The feminisation

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of the profession leads to an absence of male role models for many of our pupils, particularly those from the majority of one parent families. (Millett, 1999, p. 2)

However, behind the preoccupation with representation, other highly stereotyped assumptions have occasionally peeped through. In an article that reveals the disparities between policy makers’ expectations of male teachers and those of the teachers themselves, Pepperell and Smedley (1998) provide details of comments from policy makers that exemplify the kinds of assumptions being made in relation to the recruitment of men, namely, that in addition to providing “role models” and making “better advocates,” they help to address the under-achievement of boys by exposing them “to some of the values that men may show, a competitive edge for example” (pp. 347–351). Such assumptions present a very narrow, traditional conception of masculinity that seems out of touch with a growing recognition that masculinities are socially constructed and organised in a variety of ways to produce a gender regime characterised by internal hierarchies of power and creating a “patriarchal dividend” for men in relation to women. Pepperell and Smedley (1998) suggest that we can best locate concerns about the recruitment of men into teaching firmly within what is now an international preoccupation with the supposed “underachievement” of boys. In this debate, it has been additionally suggested that more men teachers are needed to exert firmer control on boys, to compensate boys for paternal absence (often framed as the problem of single mothers), and to counteract the exposure of boys to too much girl-orientated teaching, material, and pedagogy that threatens their maturation into “real men” (Elwood, Epstein, Hey, & Maw, 1998). Sandra Acker (1995), amongst others, argues that such assertions about what boys need if they are to grow into “real men” are not new. Both in the past and now they hinge on particular conceptions of the culture and modes of masculinity into which boys have to be inducted as well as assumptions about what women signify and represent. What is unacknowledged in the “more men into teaching” drive is any sense that we may need to address the question of what sort of men are we talking about (Mahony & Smedley 1998).


The drive to recruit more male teachers, directly tied to the current international preoccupation about boys, ranges across an alphabet of countries including Australia, Barbados, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, the Grenadines, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, St.Vincent, and the United States, to name but a few. There is not space here to examine the nature of the evidence underpinning this international panic nor to critique the partial nature of the concerns on which it is based (see Mahony, 1998), but one undoubted effect has been to create a “sex war” mentality expressed each year in virtually identical media headlines across the globe, all proclaiming a similar message that boys are losing out to girls (or men to women) (Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998). As a consequence, pressure mounts to change classroom practice in ways that benefit boys, and resources are being poured into boys’ projects. Discussion documents and packs of materials are being produced by the ton, and we are urged to choose curriculum texts in relation to their robust male themes. Whether teachers who are being trained according to the standards will be in a position to recognise that in the making of literacy or “achievement” or boys’ motivation they are helping to shape future social relations, in ways that benefit some at the expense of others, is doubtful. Critical professionalism is not what the standards are about. Engagement with the politics of the present and the future is not currently defined as within a teacher’s role. This does not mean that teachers have ceased to remake social relations, merely that they have been denied the space to reflect on what this means, the processes through which it occurs or its implications for the subjectivities of individuals and the structural divisions being cast between groups of young people. It also means that that they have been denied the space to develop pedagogies that interrupt or challenge the existing social order. Such a politics of naivete is reminiscent of the period of the mid-1970s when I entered teacher education—a time when we had yet to experience the “new social movements” that helped us to see, hear, and understand how teaching is a political activity. It could be said that 20 odd years is a rather long time to go round in a circle. Yet the current denial of the politics of teaching does not simply return us to a past in which we were ig-


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norant. It requires either suppression of what we learned (impossible—one cannot unsee, unhear, and undo understanding), or we have to position ourselves progressively in relation to current orthodoxies. Although there is not space here to begin to rehearse what this may mean, at least we need to recognise that it is easier than it sounds. To remain an “insider” is to face the danger of collusive bargaining; to become an “outsider” is to risk being ignored. The “insider” problem can be partly mitigated by having a community of trusted friends with whom to share personal and professional dilemmas. Claire was part of that community for me, and I miss her. ENDNOTE 1. For an account of the New Right and their influence on the politics of policy making during the Conservative administration, see Ball (1990). Two prominent members of the original TTA Board were publicly associated with the New Right.

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