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Performativity: how measurement, evidence-gathering and accountability are wrecking education

August 4, 2015

I imagine you are familiar with the terms “evidence-based reporting” and “accountability”. Both of these concepts seem perfectly reasonable, don’t they? I mean, the idea of gathering evidence to draw conclusions or learn more about something is fundamental to the scientific method, and holding people to account for their actions is a crucial component of a fair and just society. However, these two concepts have been twisted together to form something different, known as performativity, which is severely damaging our profession. In this post I’ll try to explain what performativity is, and I’ll give some examples of its impact on my own teaching context. As you read, you may want to reflect on the extent to which performativity impacts on your professional practice.

We live in a world where knowledge is regarded as a commodity, a bit like oil. The well-known economist Joseph Stiglitz said, in 1999, ‘Knowledge and information is being produced today like cars and steel were produced a hundred years ago.’ (Stiglitz 1999: 1). This makes educational institutions sound a bit like factories, and to a large extent they are, with governments regarding education as a means of producing individuals with the knowledge and skills to develop their nations’ economies. Investment in education is therefore seen as investment in economic growth, as explained by Little in her definition of Human Capital Theory:

‘…the skills that people acquire are a form of capital, human capital…these are acquired through deliberate investments in education…skills are the capacities that contribute to economic production’ (Little 2003: 438).

The perception of education as a vehicle for economic development has led to governments becoming increasingly interested in educational performance and outputs. Like private companies, they want to know what they’re getting for their money, so they create a framework to evaluate the performance of educational institutions:

‘Now the state is the agent…which…defines the terms in and on which the education service will be evaluated. It defines educational “effectiveness”.’ (Cowen 1997: 67-68).

This evaluation process, according to Cowen, ‘…involves defining and measuring and publicising the “results” of education in quantative [sic] terms.’ (ibid: 68). So we’re talking about measurable criteria such as exam results, student retention, the use of checklists to evaluate teaching “performance”, that sort of thing. Using criteria like this to pass judgement on educational institutions, and individual teachers, is what is known as performativity.

One of the strongest critics of performativity is Stephen Ball, a renowned academic in the field of Education Policy. This paragraph gives you an idea of what he thinks of it:

‘Performativity is a culture or a system of “terror”. It is a regime of   accountability that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of control, attrition and change. The performances of individual subjects or organisations serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of “quality”, or “moments” of promotion or inspection. These performances stand for, encapsulate or represent the worth, quality or value of an individual or organisation within a field of judgement.’ (Ball 2013: 57).

Basically, performativity reduces teaching to a series of limited, externally imposed, measures, and places judgements accordingly on teachers’ ability to do their jobs. Teaching by numbers, if you like. In order to justify this means of evaluation, governments created what Ball has termed a “discourse of derision” (Ball 1990), described by Forde et al as ‘…the perception that teachers and the teaching profession are unable to deliver the required standards of schooling’ (Forde et al 2006: 25), thereby justifying the need for the state to intervene.

The use of measurable criteria to establish how well a system is working may seem like a reasonable and scientific approach to take. However, the location of power is significant here; the discourse of derision suggests that the criteria used are deliberately designed to make educational professionals look bad. Furthermore, performativity creates a culture within which, according to Forde et al, ‘…we laud that which can be measured and ignore what cannot be measured, even though it might be as important in the educative process.’ (ibid.).

We all know how hard it is to measure learning, and teaching for that matter. Using things like exam results to measure success doesn’t take into account distance travelled, or the number of barriers that students have to overcome in order to pass. Nor does it take into account any cultural or linguistic bias that may lie within the exam. For example, many English language assessments contain references to topics that some cultures are  more familiar with than others, or expect students to perform in a way that comes more naturally to European students than it does to students from, say, China. When evaluating teaching performance, the use of a set of pre-determined criteria skews the focus of the lesson towards the meeting of these criteria, rather than meeting the needs of the students as the lesson progresses (I’ve previously written touched on this issue here).

Focusing on the measurable at the expense of the less measurable also affects the professionalism of teachers. Forde et al describe a 1997 study by Wright and Bottery on teacher trainers’ perceptions of professionalism, which revealed this:

‘…while there was a very strong emphasis on the practical classroom skills, there was very low priority accorded to the wider professional growth of the trainees, or to their understanding of other parts of the educational process.’  (Forde et al 2011: 25).

I imagine that if a similar study was carried out today among teacher trainers on initial training courses in ELT, the results would be similar. Lots of focus is placed on the technical side of things – classroom management, clarification techniques etc, – but there’s very little focus on the wider implications of being a professional educator. Of course, this plays into the hands of employers in both state and private sectors; if teaching is simply a means of implementing a series of skills and techniques which can be acquired in the space of 4 weeks, teaching can be perceived as a fairly low-level job, and teachers themselves are relatively expendable. This helps to explain why English language teachers in many countries are paid so badly.

The other issue of concern is that of accountability. The impact of performativity on teachers, according to Ball, is ‘…a sense of being constantly judged in different ways, by different criteria, through different agents and agencies.’ The system is designed to ‘…make individuals responsible for monitoring and disciplining themselves, to make them responsive and flexible.’ (Ball 2013: 58). Teachers feel conscious of the need to perform according to the various inspection criteria, policies, reports and recommendations that are thrown at them. This starts to take precedence over the more immediate, actual needs of their students, to the point where teachers spend so much time trying to show that they are doing a good job, that they don’t have any time left to actually do a good job. All this evidence-gathering ‘…consumes so much energy that it drastically reduces the energy available for making improvement inputs.’ (Elliot 1996: 15, quoted in Ball 2013: 59-60).

Not that what actually goes on in the classroom counts for much anyway. The “best” teachers are not the ones who actually do a really good job, but those who are able to make it look like they are doing a really good job. This is what Ball calls ‘fabrications’, where individuals or institutions describe, in reports and other texts, the work they do using language that demonstrates that they are meeting performative criteria. What they say they do within these texts becomes more important than what actually happens in practice. Ball puts it this way:

‘Fabrications are versions of an organization (or person) which does not exist – they are not “outside the truth” but neither do they render simply true or direct accounts – they are produced purposefully in order “to be accountable”.      Truthfulness is not the point – the point is their effectiveness.’ (Ball 2003: 224).

So far I’ve been trying to describe performativity and its implications in a very general sense, with occasional references to ELT. Now I want to give some more specific examples of how performativity impacts on my own practice, because I feel that the performative culture I work in, rather than helping to maintain or enhance teaching performance, actually undermines standards. Have a look at these examples and see what you think:

  • Education Scotland, the body that reviews standards in Scotland’s colleges, uses the same criteria to evaluate teaching across all subjects. The criteria, therefore, are either so generic as to be meaningless, allowing for pretty poor standards to be accepted across the board, or they favour some teaching contexts over others. Is this type of value judgement likely to develop us as teachers?
  • The need to generate evidence can be ridiculously time-consuming. Senior managers understand this, but feel they must prioritise evidence-gathering over everything else. It has been suggested to me in the past that I cancel lessons in order to attend pre-inspection meetings. Shouldn’t the students and their learning take precedence over everything else?
  • “Best Practice” is a term that is commonly used when evaluating performance. If one college is doing something that works well for them, other institutions are expected to follow their example. But what if the thing they are doing for their students doesn’t match the needs of my students?
  • One of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) used to measure the success of our programmes is Retention, or how many students stay on the course until the end. If I want to ensure high retention, I need to recruit students who are unlikely to drop out of the course – this encourages me to prioritise people who are settled in the country, with a steady income and no major distractions that are likely to impact on their studies. But what about people in less stable situations – asylum-seekers (who could be deported at any time), jobseekers (who could get a job at any time, which, perversely, is recorded as a negative outcome), people with health issues, single parents (who are likely to miss classes if their kids get sick) – should they be excluded? If I excluded them, my KPIs would look much better.
  • If I have a student with poor attendance, punctuality, or discipline, I’ll try to identify the root of the problem and see if it can be solved. Sometimes though, for whatever reason, the best course of action may be to withdraw the student from the course. But this would negatively affect KPIs, so I am instead expected to do everything I can to keep the student on the course, no matter how negatively they influence class dynamics, and even if it is not in that student’s best interests.
  • The use of attainment figures as a KPI raises ethical issues when it comes to initial placement. The focus is on ensuring as many students as possible pass the course. So, do I place students in classes where they will be challenged and where there is scope for them to make a lot of progress, or do I place them at a level they can already achieve at, knowing that this will make my KPIs look better?
  • Of course, the other issue about attainment in a performative culture is that teachers are under pressure to pass everybody. When assessing students, I should employ good professional judgement and fail anyone who doesn’t meet the required standard – right? But if I do this it reflects badly on me. A teacher with a less well-developed moral compass might just pass everyone, and as a result they would look like the better teacher.

I’ve tried to demonstrate through the above examples how a performative culture, rather than maintaining or raising standards of education, actually conspires to make the quality of teaching worse. As professionals, we teachers are caught in an impossible paradox. If we do the things that we know to be right (prioritise teaching and learning over everything else, challenge our students, have an inclusive recruitment policy, instil a productive and hard-working class dynamic, use professional knowledge and judgement when assessing students’ performances etc.) it may look like we are doing a bad job. If we “play the game” and focus solely on doing what is required to look good on paper, we could find ourselves doing things that we know to be immoral, unethical or unprofessional.

In Stephen Ball’s article entitled ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’ (Ball 2003) he argues how performativity isn’t just damaging teaching, it’s damaging teachers as well:

‘The novelty of this epidemic of reform is that it does not simply change what people, as educators, scholars and researchers do, it changes who they are.’ (Ball 2003: 215).

Ball argues that teachers are required to question or contravene the values that were previously fundamental to their professional practice, to such an extent that they no longer know where they stand. I’m not sure if I would go that far myself, but I can see the effects of performativity on my own working environment, and they are not good. As G.E Johnson, a teacher quoted by Ball, puts it:

‘What happened to my creativity? What happened to my professional integrity? What happened to the fun in teaching and learning? What happened?’ (Ball 2013: 59).

It’s not impossible to do a good job within a performative culture, but justifying what you know to be right, when externally-imposed value judgements say otherwise, is a constant battle. And it’s getting harder and harder.

References

Ball, S. 1990, Politics and Policy Making in Education: Explorations in Policy Sociology, London: Routledge.

Ball, S. 2003, ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’, Journal of Education Policy, 18:2, 215-228.

Ball, S. 2013, The education debate (2nd edition), Bristol: The Policy Press.

Cowen, R. 1997, ‘Autonomy, Citizenship, the Market and Education’, in D. Bridges (ed.), Education, Autonomy and Democratic Citizenship: Philosophy in a Changing World, 61-73, Abingdon: Routledge.

Elliott, J. 1996, ‘Quality assurance, the educational standards debate, and the commodification of educational research’, BERA Annual Conference, University of Lancaster.

Forde, C., McMahon, M., McPhee, A. and Patrick, F. 2011, Professional development, reflection and enquiry, London: Sage.

Little, A. (2003), ‘Motivating learning and the development of human capital’, in Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 33:4, 437-452.

Stiglitz, J. 1999, Public Policy for a Knowledge Economy, available from: https://www0.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jstiglitz/download/speeches/PublicPolicy/Public_Policy_for_Knowledge_Economy.pdf [last accessed 01/08/2015].

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51 Comments
  1. Ken MacDougall permalink

    Really nice post, Steve. Interesting that it hasn’t produced the responses that a ‘softer’ one on coursebooks did.

    • Hi Ken, and thanks for commenting. I think a lot of people who read this blog work in private language schools, and I’m wondering if they maybe feel that performativity only exists in the state sector and therefore has nothing to do with them. Of course, there are plenty of examples of performative measures being used to control and de-professionalise EFL teachers in the private sector – why do they think they are paid so badly?
      Steve

      • Don’t straightforward considerations of supply and demand serve to explain levels of pay, often low, to be found in the ELT industry around the world? Many of the consumers, of course, are themselves poor. Higher pay for teachers would mean that many who presently enjoy English language instruction could no longer do so. It might be objected that language school owners are exploiting teachers and learners alike, but are we so sure that this is true? Do language school owners in Vietnam, say, or in Brazil, make outrageous profits? Basic economic theory suggests they make normal profits, profits comparable with those made by fishmongers and hairdressers, since if they made profits much greater than that then some among the fishmongers and the hairdressers would seek to become language school owners, and that this increased competition would drive down the profits to be made from owning a language school to the point at which there was no longer any advantage to be had from being a language school owner rather than a fishmonger or a hairdresser.

  2. As a practising classroom teacher, I naturally have a great deal of sympathy with what you say here Steve, rather as turkeys are often persuaded by arguments against Christmas. It is of course frustrating for us to have to spend our time completing what often feels like meaningless paperwork and in persuading people in authority that we really are doing the things that they demand that we be doing but that strike us as being, at best, of questionable relevance. Ours, though, is not the only profession in which this frustration is felt. Police officers, for instance, report a similar frustration. They, like us, would prefer to be spending more of their time doing their actual job than in filling in reports and the like. Professionals, be they teachers or police officers, surely know their jobs better than anyone else does. We should surely be allowed to get on with them, exercising our professional judgement and creativity and whatever, without external interference. For some reason, though, as I write this, the words ‘Hillsborough’ and ‘Jimmy Saville’ keep popping into my mind. Indeed, as I understand it, Harold Shipman sincerely believed he was doing his victims a service. Accountability, as you say, really is a mainstay of democracy. If we don’t like the present methods by which our profession is held accountable we should surely suggest others.

    • Hi Patrick,
      I think you could support your argument further with many examples of sexual abuse that have taken place in schools over the years. Of course accountability is important, and some kind of measures need to be in place to make sure teachers don’t abuse or misuse their position.
      But performativity doesn’t focus on that sort of accountability. A teacher could be doing all sorts of things with/to their students, either inside or outside the class and, as long as the students keep coming, the results are OK, and they can churn out a decent observed lesson every now and again, whatever they are doing would go unpunished.
      It’s the oversimplification of the whole teaching and learning process that is the problem. Assuming that you can measure the quality of teaching simply by looking at a few stats is fatally misguided, and it certainly doesn’t get to the bottom of any serious abuses of power that teachers might be guilty of.
      If you’re looking for alternatives how about peer review and professional discussion? Critical reflective practice within departments or between departments from different institutions? Observation as a means of development rather than purely for appraisal? Real, qualitative feedback from students rather than just getting them to tick boxes while the teacher stands over them?
      It’s not easy to measure teaching or learning as there are so many variables. Relying on very basic KPIs for your data gives an inaccurate picture and leads to all sorts of negative consequences like the ones I’ve described in my post.
      Steve

      • Peer review and professional discussion are great but relying on members of a professional group to evaluate one another, rather than subjecting them to the discipline of accounting for themselves to an outside body, is what gives rise to a kind of self-justifying group mentality such as is often found in the police. It’s easy to explain yourself to someone whose job is the same as yours. They’re bound to be very understanding. We should remember that our salaries are paid by taxpayers, most of whom earn a good deal less than we do. I think that they are entitled to a comprehensive and comprehensible (to a non-specialist) account of what it is that they are paying for.

      • Joe P permalink

        I would argue that the vast majority of measures are not for the benefit of teachers, students or even parents, but for the benefit of politicians. Politicians want easily-digestible stats that prove they’re doing a good job. Managers are the same. It’s undeniable that if you start to measure people’s performance and link funding or pay to that, they will start to focus their energy on what is measured at the expense of what isn’t. And given how little of teaching and learning is reliably measurable, that is a big problem.

        There was a story just the other day about how the most effective headteachers long-term are paid the least under the current UK system. The headteachers that are paid the most are the ones that come in for about 2 years, redirect all of the resources to students who are taking their exams that year, get rid of any students likely to drag the average results down, then leave and let someone else deal with the students who were in years 7-9 under that regime (i.e. the ones whose resources were redirected to “more important” students in the career of that particular headteacher). They’re the “most effective” according to government measures and highlight how any performance measures have to be very carefully considered.

        I’ll just give one anecdote highlighting the problem of performance analysis. I used to work for an English school where you would get a pay rise every year. Obviously under this system, it was possible for a bad teacher to get well paid simply by being there long enough. Not ideal. They then introduced a system where your pay rise was directly linked to your performance in your observed lessons. Fair enough, you might think. Except that previously, when choosing which class they’d like to be observed on, teachers would often choose a class they were struggling with in order to get feedback on their weak points. What do you think happened when they started linking observations to pay? In dealing with this relatively minor problem (how many ESL teachers really stay at a company for years?) they’ve created a system where teachers are encouraged to hide any classroom issues they are having.

    • Patrick, just to briefly address your comments about supply and demand. In David Graddol’s IATEFL plenary in 2014 he talked about the huge amounts of money that the ELT industry generates, and how it’s not clear where this money goes. I think it’s fair to say that the people who do best financially out of a language school are the owners. Indeed, if you take Eastern Europe in the 1990s as an example, it was not uncommon for people from very diverse backgrounds (some may even have been fishmongers and hairdressers) to invest in private English schools, and a lot of people did very well very quickly.
      Relying on market forces to dictate wages is a mainstay of neoliberal economics, which is largely responsible for the wage inequality that we see in the world today. I don’t need to tell you that.

      • Indeed, I don’t think anyone believes that market forces are a good way of promoting equality. Still, failing communism, market forces are what we’re stuck with.

      • Relying on market forces to dictate wages is, as you correctly state, a mainstay of neoliberal economics, but it is so only because it is a mainstay of all classical economics, including the Keynsian economics of Krugman and Stiglitz. Even Syriza stopped short of challenging this. Hence their failure.

  3. Teachers are strongly inclined to self-importance. It appears to be an occupational hazard. I can only wonder what we would make of a refuse collector or a hospital orderly making the same complaints about their jobs that G. E. Johnson makes about his (or hers, but there does seem to me to be something definitely masculine about the exact quality of his narcissistic whining.)

    • Oh Patrick, it seems that you’ve become a victim of performativity yourself. You believe that teaching is on a par with non-professional manual jobs and can be evaluated in the same way – do you? Did you empty the bins? Yes (tick). Did you put the bins back after you emptied them? Yes (tick). Did you mop the floor in Ward B? Yes (tick). Is the floor now clean? Yes (tick).
      Our masters would like us to believe that teaching can be measured and evaluated in the same way. It’s a means of de-professionalising us so that we can be made to look like our jobs are easy we’re not doing them properly – so that any bad results can be blamed on teachers, so that the teaching process can be regarded as simply a question of implementing some technical procedures:
      Did you make eye contact with the students? Did you select a familiar and non-controversial topic? Did you contextualise the language item before introducing it? Did you ask concept questions to clarify the language item? Did the students use the target language during the lesson? Did you achieve your aims? Yes, yes, yes, tick tick tick. Is that it though? Are these the only types of questions that we need to ask? Is that all that teaching involves? I believe there’s a lot more to it than that, and I think you do too. If you don’t, try reading this: http://www.pre.aegean.gr/Documents/Downloads/four%20ages%20of%20professionalism.pdf
      It might help to convince you how teaching is under threat as a profession, and that comparing teaching to non-professional jobs is really not helpful at all.
      I know we teachers can come across as a bit whiney, but I think we have good reason to whine. Any arguments to the contrary demonstrate a misunderstanding or an underestimation of how complex teaching is.
      Steve

  4. Everyone is very aware of the complexities involved in their own job and correspondingly inclined to underestimate the complexities of other people’s, dismissing them, for instance, as ‘non-professional’ or ‘manual.’ For example, I think many non-teachers would be inclined, not unreasonably, to offer as reductive an account of teaching as the one that you offer of refuse collection and hospital orderly work. Did you show them what to do? Did you check that they can do it?

    • Yes, and that’s exactly what performativity is – providing such a reductive account that it doesn’t reflect reality. That’s what they want us to do!
      I’m not trying to belittle the work of refuse collectors or hospital orderlies in any way; if they want to present a case for how complex and multifaceted their job is then that’s fine, they’re perfectly entitled to do this and they know better than me. Which is kind of the point – people who actually do a job know far better how to evaluate practice than people who don’t.
      As far as teaching goes, using over-simplistic criteria to measure quality is misleading because it doesn’t tell the full story, but it’s also damaging; it drives standards down, for reasons I have given in the post, and it makes teachers feel that the things that should matter don’t matter, creating a culture of insecurity and low self-worth. Teachers start to think that all that matters is getting the students through the assessments, rather than focusing on the wider educational opportunities that they should be exploiting. When teachers themselves start saying that teaching is “just” a job like cleaning, and can be measured and evaluated in the same way, then we really do have a problem.
      Is this what’s happened to you, Patrick?

  5. Using over-simplistic criteria to measure quality is indeed misleading, so we need to clearly define better criteria and procedures by which our meeting them or failing to do so will be measured. It’s difficult and frustrating, for sure, but the challenge lies in finding something better, rather than in identifying the obvious shortcomings of the present regime. At the same time, I want to insist that teaching is indeed ‘just’ a job. I have long been convinced that one of the main engines of inequality and injustice is the distinction made between so called ‘professional’ occupations, which command a lot of respect, and so called low-skilled work, which is widely despised.

  6. I used to be a primary teacher in the UK. Rather, I was an NQT, not supported adequately in my induction year, expected to produce detailed lesson plans with differentiated VARK activities for literacy, maths, science, PE, cross-curricular topic-based work, run an after-school club, cover lessons by having the teaching head’s class join my own, ensure nobody brought peanut butter sandwiches to school, mark all set work, set targets, write case studies about selected learners, and do it all over again the next day. And when I look at blogs by colleagues in UK ESOL settings it triggers memories and almost makes me feel the anxiety I used to have.

    Most NQTs quit within three years. Performativity, not pressures of this generation, is what causes it. The sheets of paper nobody will read. The bollocks you write in a lesson plan at half-past five so you can get to bed by six, sleep an hour or maybe a bit more before the drive to school. The NUT likes to bark but won’t bite without a watertight case. The government constantly shift goalposts. Parents/stakeholders are sent so many messages that they have no idea what is supposed to be the rationale for teaching and learning in the classroom. Add the SIP, ILPs, SEN considerations and I have no idea how anybody can work full time in the state sector.

    • Hi Marc,
      Yes, well you’ve been through it so you know what I’m talking about. From what I can make out the situation in England is worse than it is up here; Education Scotland (our equivalent of OFSTED) does take something of a qualitative approach to its inspections as well as relying merely on numbers and how many boxes have been ticked. But it’s the time taken up providing all this information that is so soul-destroying for teachers, as you have very articulately described.
      Thanks for that,
      Steve

  7. Surely, in order to decide on the best way of moving forward we need to clearly identify the shortcomings of the current situation. I would argue that part of the problem is the assumption that quality can be measured at all. The fact is that only certain aspects of teaching and learning are quantitatively measurable. Professional discussion and critical reflection are surely what’s needed.
    I have no problem accepting that teaching is “just” a job in the sense that a teacher is not in any way superior to a hospital orderly, or, for that matter, inferior to a commercial banker. Equality of status is not the point. The point is that learning and teaching cannot be assessed or evaluated using purely quantitative data, and to assume that it can is to do education a massive injustice.

  8. juergenkurtz permalink

    Great post! Back in 2008, I voiced similar concerns, focusing on ongoing developments in Germany; see, for instance: https://juergenkurtz.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/a-personal-view-of-foreign-language-education-in-germany-today/.

    This is one central finding of a brand-new German interview study: “After nearly a decade of [..] nationwide standards -based assessment in Germany, researchers and teachers alike are still struggling with the task of implementing educational standards and system-monitoring in schools. […] The majority of teachers neither consider the test results useful in improving classroom learning nor the potential impact on school development.”

    Skejic, M.; Neumann, D. & Mangal, H. (2015): Vergleichsarbeiten im Fach Englisch. Einschätzungen von hessischen Lehrkräften. Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung [in print]. [non-representative pilot study carried out in the German Federal State of Hesse; n = 697 EFL teachers]

    Thank you very much for drawing my attention to the works of Stephen Ball. In return, let me refer to what Dave Berliner has written about all this in the US; see, for instance:

    Berliner, D (2012) ‘Narrowing Curriculum, Assessments, and Conceptions of What It Means to
    Be Smart in the US Schools: Creaticide by Design’, in Ambrose D and Sternberg, RJ (eds) How Dogmatic Beliefs Harm Creativity and Higher-Level Thinking. New York: Routledge.

    In this context, I would like to mention a new international initiative, i.e. the C Group, see: http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/ as well as a new publication (edited by Alan Maley and Nic Peachey and published by the British Council this year). The download is free of charge:
    http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/sites/ec/files/F004_ELT_Creativity_FINAL_v2%20WEB.pdf

    Thanks for your critical stance on all this …

    • Hi Juergen,
      Thanks for giving us your perspective on this, and for sharing some other very interesting reading material. There seem to be a number of people now who are questioning the assumptions that are often made about using measurable criteria to evaluate education. Ball is one, Berliner is another, and then there’a also John Hattie, whose research has demonstrated that many of the things that we assume to be true are just not. His latest paper, entitled “What doesn’t work in education: the politics of distraction”, is here: here:https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/hattie/150602_DistractionWEB_V2.pdf
      Steve

  9. I do not belive that the quality of policing or of social work can readily be measured using available data either. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want the evaluation of the quality of policework to be left to, er … the police. The reason is obvious. Police officers all have certain interests in common. This makes them a vested interest group. Likewise social workers. Likewise further education lecturers. All of these groups, to minimise the risks of abuse, must be subject to external scrutiny. Professional discussion and critical reflection are powerful development tools but that is a different function. In any case, in my experience, professional discussion is something that simply spontaneoulsy happens while we have lunch and critical reflection is something that happens on the bus. Attempts to formalise these things, and in the college where I work there have been many, also, every bit as much as other means of measuring performance, acquire the kind of pantomimic quality that you refer to in your post. Sometimes I find myself in a lift with another member of staff. Occassionally we discuss our different jobs. It’s called conversation. At one stage, as part of a scheme to promote ‘critical reflection’ we all got a list of ‘critical refelction tasks’ which we were supposed to write up and log as ‘evidence’ that we had done ‘critical reflection.’ One of these tasks was to ‘find a member of staff who works in another department and interview them about their job.’ It’s beyond parody. Critical reflection is just something that people do. Some do it more than others. That’s it. Some people are sufficiently interested in their jobs to spend a lot of time thinking about them, others less so. You can’t say to someone, ‘right, now, for the next twenty minutes, I want you to critically reflect.’ Doing so is just asking them to do an impersonation of Rodin’s The Thinker.

  10. Thanks, Steve, I’ll read it, but I should say immediately that the whole ‘high-status’ thing is my main concern. ‘High’ and ‘low’ are relative. Some jobs can only be ‘high-status’ if other jobs are ‘low-status.’ Hence, ever-widening inequality. My own feeling is that the teaching profession in the UK is already ludicrously ‘high status.’ There should be no ‘high’ status jobs and no ‘low’ status jobs; just jobs. I remember many years ago someone indignantly responding to my suggestion that everyone should be paid the same by saying that it’s absurd to say that a surgeon should be paid the same as as a bin man because, after all, a surgeon ‘saves lives.’ He picked, of course, as I pointed out, in the ‘bin man’ a really bad example. The increase in life expectancy in western countries over the last century owes much more to the efforts of refuse collectors than it does to those of surgeons.

    • Patrick, you seem to be conflating status and measurability. This is not about which jobs are “better” than others, or who is more important than whom because of the job that they do. It’s about the complexities of teaching, and the difficulty involved in measuring learning and teaching. The systems that are used to measure education are over-simplistic, and don’t take into account these complexities. It’s as simple as that.
      You seem to be inferring that, because I think education is a complex business and is not being measured properly, this means I think teachers should be given higher status. I’m all for teachers being given respect, but I am also in favour of respect for refuse collectors. Even if the two jobs were regarded as having the same level of “status”, this doesn’t mean they should be measured in the same way.

      • I was only responding to your observations about the situation of the teaching profession in Finland, observations that seemed to be all to do with ‘status,’ ‘prestige,’ and ‘respect.’

  11. Moreover, in your last post, you seemed to suggest that the teachers where you presently work are very resistant to giving up on the idea of using coursebooks, along with their associated pre-ordained syllabuses and aims and so on, an approach which, you and I are agreed, is unhelpful and which you once described in the title of one of your posts as ‘a waste of time.’ Just how much ‘trust’ should a society place in a profession some of whose members are fiercely attached to an approach which others are equally convinced is ‘a waste of time’? Wider society, I think, could be forgiven from concluding that, as a profession, we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing.

  12. Surely this only demonstrates the complexity of education. The disagreements you mention arise from the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to prove how learning happens, and what type of teaching works more effectively. The fact is that there are many different ways of learning, and therefore no single “best” way to teach – it’s all a lot more subtle than that. Which is why performativity is wrecking education (please read my post again).

    • Our understanding of how learning occurs is indeed very incomplete. I don’t think that this should give rise to disagreements amongst teachers, but rather to agreement that our understanding of how learning occurs is very incomplete. Similarly, that learning is various we should expect to find reflected in agreement amongst teachers that learning is various (i.e. the variety of the learning should not find itself realized in a variety of opinions held amongst teachers, but should be already taken account of in the individual opinions of each teacher, opinions that we would expect, therefore, to converge rather than diverge.)

      Do you really believe, for instance, that a teacher who advocates a lock-step, structurally sequenced, ‘one size-fits all,’ approach does so because as it happens her learners do indeed respond well to such an approach (such that, for them, it is not ‘a waste of time’)? if not, then I’d suggest that disagreement amongst teachers as regards their favoured approaches indicates self-centredness more than it does learner-centredness on the part of those teachers (since they are disagreeing about which approaches they, the teachers, prefer, rather than which approaches the learners prefer, which latter will of course be highly diverse and for just that reason couldn’t be appealed to in support of any one or other approach.)

      Actually, I’m not sure we really disagree here. Your assertion that “it’s incredibly difficult to prove how learning happens, and what type of teaching works more effectively,” seems to me to amount to saying substantially the same thing as the conclusion that I suggested that the wider public might be perfectly entitled to draw, that “we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing.”

      • OK, so let’s just say we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing. If that’s the case, then it’s a conclusion that is reached after vast amounts of research and study into how learning takes place. It’s certainly not a reason to reduce something so evidently complex to a few sets of statistics.
        You’re right that we don’t really disagree – I think. I just don’t think the question of whether we as teachers know or can agree on the best way to teach is connected to a need to measure teaching by setting over-simplistic criteria.
        Steve

    • Hi Steve

      Of course I share your frustration at the use of over-simplistic criteria. As a teacher I would, wouldn’t I? I am anxious, though, that we avoid concluding from the fact that the present criteria are often unsatisfactory that we should have no criteria of accountability at all. Teachers, after all, are no more immune to narrow self-interest than are other professional groups. I know we like to tell ourselves that we are but we are not. To give an example, for several years I taught philosophy as part of the social sciences faculty. We delivered highers and HNC units. Highers are externally assessed, HNC units are not. One year we had a self-evaluation meeting for the highers programme in the morning and a similar meeting for the HNC programme in the afternoon. At these meetings we were required to compare our pass rates with college averages. The pass rates for the highers programme were rather below the college average. Everyone present at the meeting had no difficulty in explaining why; it’s because highers are externally assessed, whilst many other programmes are not. The pass rates for the HNC units (same subjects, same teachers, indeed in many cases the same students a year on) were rather better than the college average. No one, not a soul, said, well, they would be, wouldn’t they, after all there’s no external assessment. Instead, we all patted oursleves on the back for surpassing the college average. Can you see where I’m going with this?

      Patrick

      • I should also remark that my suggestion that we don’t have a clue what we’re doing was intended rhetorically, as the conclusion that would follow if we believe that, because learning is unpredictable and various and contingent upon social circumstances all teaching approaches are ‘equally valid.’ Not all teaching approaches are equally valid. Some teaching approaches seek to take into account the fact that learning is unpredictable and various and contingent upon social circumstances (as you have said, TBLT and dogme are among the best examples of this) whilst others do not. We need to embrace the teaching approaches that seek to address these and other related concerns and we need to reject those that do not.

      • Yes, I can see where you’re going. But before you go any further, you say “we were required to compare our pass rates with college averages.” Why? What was the purpose of this comparison? Presumably your college managers had decided (or it had been suggested to them) that comparing Philosophy exam results with, I don’t know, ESOL exam results, is a valid means of evaluating the performance of these departments. They must also have decided that, rather than create a culture of cooperation and support within your college, they would encourage departments to compete against each other.
        OK, so for a start they are using exam results as a means of evaluating teaching performance, which in itself is rather dodgy. As you know, teaching to the test may get good results but may mean students finish the course with a very narrow range of knowledge, skills and competence. Secondly, deciding that one department is better than another because it has better results doesn’t account for the fact that the students, the assessments, the course content, the teaching methods, the number of students involved, and many other things were completely different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Thirdly, creating a culture of competition between departments in the same college instils a sense of insecurity, mistrust and fear among staff.
        And yet, your college decided that this was a valid means of evaluating performance. To me this is a very good example of performativity in action – a single set of numbers was used, oversimplifying the whole education process and encouraging you to jump to some inaccurate or false conclusions.
        In your example you feel that you and your colleagues, when asked to “self-evaluate”, didn’t do a very good job of it. But I would argue that this was because you were asked to self-evaluate using performative criteria which encouraged you to over-simplify what you actually do.

        I agree completely with your comment above that, assuming we don’t have a clue what we’re doing because we don’t know how our students learn languages, this doesn’t mean that it’s OK to do anything. Rather, we need to adopt methods that allow for the chaotic, various and unpredictable processes of language acquisition to take place. But I don’t see how this relates to my criticisms of performativity, other than to support my point that if performativity stifles real critical reflection and engagement with the key issues (as opposed to only the measurable ones) then language teachers are less likely to ever reach the conclusion that you have reached above.
        Steve

      • No, you’re right. My postscript has nothing to do with my argument about the need for accountability. I was concerned only that I might have said things that implied that I thought that it really doesn’t matter what teaching approaches we adopt since we don’t really inderstand how learning happens anyway. I only wanted to clarify that that is not what I meant. As with so many disputes, our disagreement in this thread amounts,I think, only to a difference of emphasis. You are very concerned about the damaging effects of excessive measurement and monitoring. I am terrified at the prospect of placing a professional group beyond public accountability. I think, though, that each of shares the other’s anxieties.

      • ‘Presumably your college managers had decided (or it had been suggested to them) that comparing Philosophy exam results with, I don’t know, ESOL exam results, is a valid means of evaluating the performance of these departments. They must also have decided that, rather than create a culture of cooperation and support within your college, they would encourage departments to compete against each other.’

        Or, more sunnily, that they decided that for a department to compare its results with a college average might be a good starting point for a professional discussion. I don’t understamd why you use the expression ‘compete against’ instead ‘compare with’ in the second of your sentences here. There were no prizes or punishments. Teachers with low pass rates are paid the same as teachers with high pass rates.

        My point is not that my colleages and I didn’t do a good job of self-evaluation. My point is that we were systematically biased in our own favour. People, when given the chance, are. That’s why you can’t give them the chance.

  13. geoffjordan permalink

    Good to see some important issues being critically discussed here. I’ll come back to give my “2 cents worth”, but meanwhile, please note that scientific method is not concerned with “gathering evidence to prove the truth/existence/validity of something”, since the truth/existence/validity of something can’t be proved. Reading the first 3 lines of your hot link to Wikipedia’s definition of scientific method makes this clear.

    • Thanks for popping in Geoff, and correcting my definition of the scientific method. I was a bit careless there. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this issue – I imagine you have a few.
      Steve

  14. You are of course right, Steve, that the social status of the teaching profession and the complexity and subtlety of the teaching and learning process are different things. My worry, though, is that we tend to talk up the latter of these in order to bid up the former.

  15. Sorry. I posted that last by mistake. What I meant was this.

    You are of course right, Steve, that the social status of the teaching profession on the one hand and the complexity and subtlety of the teaching and learning process on the other are different things. My worry, though, is that we tend to talk up the latter of these in order to bid up the former. The business of acquiring a second language is indeed, as you say, complex and subtle. It is also, as you seem to acknowledge, little understood. Given that it is little understood it is far from clear that the complexity and subtlety of the process make much difference to actual classroom practice. The following, I think, will be recognised as fairly typical classroom activities.

    A game of snap in which students match words according to the vowel sounds represented by underlined letters
    A spot the difference activity in which learners sit back to back and describe to one another similar but slightly different pictures.
    Peer error correction in which learners look at each others homework and offer one another constructive criticism.
    Dictionary training work on which learners set exercises for one another involving, say, phrasal verbs beginning with the verb ‘to put.’

    The list could go on, of course, for a few pages, and there is much that can be said for the merits or otherwise of each of these activities. Subtle, though? Complex? Really? Are you having a laugh?

    • So Patrick, are you saying that teaching is just a matter of following a few set procedures and implementing a few low-level, easily-acquired techniques? Are you saying that exam results are a good way of evaluating whether or not teachers are doing a good job? Are you saying that the time teachers spend preparing for inspections from external bodies is time well spent? Are you saying that you think departments comparing their pass rates with other departments is a legitimate means of instigating professional discussion, which leads to worthwhile reflection?

      Or are you just saying that teachers are a bunch of untrustworthy moaners who are quick to deflect blame elsewhere and who think they’re more important than they actually are?
      Is that what you’re saying?

  16. Well, I’m tempted to reply in one word only. I intensely disliked teachers when I was a kid and since becoming one I have seen little to convince me that I was wrong. I’ll try and be a bit more nuanced, however. I think that bias is a pervasive feature of human psychology. I think that self-serving bias is a particularly insidious feature of our social lives. I think that when people of similar backgrounds or professions or who otherwise are likely to have similar biases get together they tend to confirm those biases in each other. Interestingly, I think that everyone agrees with me on this when it comes to groups of which they are not members. Think bankers, think Tory MPs. We apply different standards to groups of which we are members, are much more reluctant to accept that those groups, too, will be riddled with bias. Our reluctance to accept this, of course, is itself an example of in-group bias.

    I also think that professional groups wrap themselves in a certain mystique, by using gratuitously technical language, for instance, or insisting that our jobs are, oh, subtle and complex in ways which are, ooh, too subtle and complex to explain. I think there are plenty of teachers who just follow a few set procedures fairly unreflectively. I think there are others who probably do a better job because they care more and so try harder and think more. I think the same can be said for any job. Certainly, I think the widespread and very long-standing popularity in the teaching profession of manifest bollocks like NLP indicates a paucity of critical reflection in the profession. I was doing a supposedly post-graduate teaching qualification at Dundee University and they were dishing out this pish.

    I don’t think anyone will have any difficulty in recognising the traits I have described. The difficulty only arises when it comes to recognising them in ourselves.

    Finally, if what I’ve said here is true then I think it is obvious that any professional body must be subject to external audit. If the present auditing means are inadequate we must endeavour to develop better ones. In the meantime, though, we should keep the existing ones, unsatisfactory as they are, because simply abandoning them would be disastrous.

    • You really don’t seem to like teachers much, Patrick, in which case it’s a shame that you are one.
      I understand your concern that, left to their own devices, there is scope for teachers to do all kinds of terrible things, so I agree that some kind of regulation needs to exist to ensure that this doesn’t happen. But if you are arguing that teachers need to be regulated because, generally speaking, they are nasty people with an over-inflated sense of their own self-worth, I would have to disagree.
      I would also suggest that if teachers display paranoia or defensiveness about being regulated, or if they feel the need to justify what they do by trying to explain the complexities of their profession, this is a direct result of them being subjected to a form of evaluation and regulation that oversimplifies what they do and gives (in their eyes) an inaccurate portrayal of their performance. Teachers these days are also encouraged to use all sorts of complex terminology as part of the evaluation process. This is what Stephen Ball calls “gamesmanship” – playing the performativity game by using language that makes you SOUND good, rather than actually BEING good.
      In fact, I think that a lot of the things that you don’t like about teachers exist as a direct result of the performative measures that we currently have to work to. Or at least we could say that these measures exacerbate certain teacher behaviours that you are critical of, rather than minimise them or promote a culture of genuine critical reflection which, I think we both agree, could actually drive up standards.

      • I am not being entirely serious when I have a go at teachers in particular. I hope it’s clear that my worries about the pernicious effects of in-group bias do not apply only to the teaching profession. Rather, they are a pervasive feature of our social lives. Whether they can be effectively countered by critical reflection is surely a crucial question. Are we capable of transcending our self-interest, vanity, acquisitiveness etc by means of critical reflection? Democracy, justice and so on seem to require that we are, that, in the end, critical reflection becomes indistinguishable from universal love. The problem is older than Plato. He worried about whether we want to be good or merely to appear to be good (sounding good as opposed to being good). Wrestling with this problem seems to be essential to being human. Many, including Derrida, I think, doubt whether the distinction between the real and the apparent can be sustained. What would it mean, after all, for something to be real but not apparently so?

  17. I think that’s the nub of the whole issue, Patrick. We are encouraged to focus only on what is observable and measurable i.e. that which is both real and apparent. There may well be other important factors that are equally real but less apparently so, and less value is placed on these factors because they can’t be so easily measured and presented in the form of data. By only focusing on the measurable, the version of reality being presented is distorted. Nonetheless, we are encouraged to engage with this distorted reality by defining our own practice on these terms and by being judged using limited criteria. Ball uses the term “values schizophrenia” to describe the position that this puts teachers in – they are aware of the reality of what goes on their classrooms and the values that they need to adopt to ensure their students learn, but the values upon which they are judged come from the distorted version of reality that is ‘projected’ through a performative lens.
    I’m not sure what Derrida would have to say about it, or Plato for that matter. The idea that there are different types of reality, or that a particular version of reality (however inaccurate) takes precedence and dominates proceedings as a consequence of discourses introduced by those in power, sounds a bit Foucauldian I think.

  18. Patrick, this article addresses some of your concerns about accountability, and argues that teachers need to be actively involved in the process: http://www.ppta.org.nz/membershipforms/doc_view/1106-accountability-standards-and-teacher-activism-an-unholy-trinity-or-judyth-sachs
    The idea that open debate and discussion can help with transparency is interesting.

  19. Hi Steve

    Sorry to come back to this, but a good example of the sort of thing I mean occurred recently where I work. The canteen was finding itself overwhelmed at certain times because classes were all having breaks at the same time. This was leading to enormous queues. There were meetings. There was much renting of hair. Eventually it was agreed by faculty heads and canteen managers that lecturers would be instructed to stagger their class breaks. Certain faculties would have breaks at 10.15, for example, others at 10.30, others at 10.45. An email was sent to all lecturing staff to this effect. The reaction amongst lecturing staff was utterly amazing and consisted entirely of indignant expostulations to the effect that teaching and learning are self-evidently the most important function of a college and how dare canteen managers interfere with the judgement of lecturers concerning the most appropriate time to take a break. No one suggested that since teaching and learning are so much more important than everything else maybe we don’t need breaks. Everyone thought that breaks were important, presumably because they think that breaks enhance teaching and learning. I wondered aloud whether my colleagues thought that standing in a queue for twenty minutes enhanced teaching and learning. No, it was agreed, doing that did not. Some, apparently supposing themselves ‘left wing’ said that the canteen should simply employ more people to cope with the increased workload. I asked whether employing someone for twenty minutes in the morning and then another twenty minutes in the afternoon was really a good idea. My colleagues had to grant that it was not since they vaguely intuited that such an arrangement amounts to the much derided zero-hours contracts on steroids. No, no, they said. The new staff should be employed all day. I asked them whether they seriously believed that the profits made by the canteen were so gargantuan that the canteen could employ several new staff all day without those profits turning into considerable losses (and therefore, surely, the closure of the canteen.) At this, they began to make wild, airy gestures. What I find interesting is the difference between the reaction of lecturers and the reaction of those non-lecturers to whom I have related these events. The non-lecturers almost always regard the solution proposed by the canteen managers as eminently sensible. One might imagine that the nature of a teacher’s job is such that a teacher, in the course of doing her job, would become unusually good at seeing things from someone else’s point of view. In actual fact, though, in my experience, teachers, in general, are spectacularly bad at this, much worse at it than any other group of workers that I have had the privilege of working amongst. Personally I blame the self-important discourse of our profession, in which, for instance, a lot of pompous talk about ‘critical reflection,’ rather that promoting actual critical reflection (something that I think it is clear was signally absent on the part of those lecturers who immediately chose to make the issue one about the relative importance of lecturers and catering staff), serves to substitute for it.

    • Hi Patrick,
      The situation you describe certainly suggests some kind of snobbery and an over-inflated sense of self-importance on the part of your lecturer colleagues. It does seem like a rather odd (perhaps even irrational) reaction to a situation that clearly needed a solution. I don’t think this is anything to do with performativity though; no superior or external body was judging the teaching staff based on reductive or over-simplistic criteria.
      Having said that, the reaction of your colleagues suggests a resistance to change that could result from a number of other major transformations in the workplace that they have had to cope with recently. Organisational restructure, the introduction of new qualifications, the implementation of new performance measurement/evaluation procedures, and whatever other changes have impacted on your college as a result of the merger and regionalisation process in Scottish FE, are bound to have had an impact on lecturers’ ability to accept more changes to their everyday lecturing routine. Maybe the canteen issue was just the last straw?
      I say this because my college has undergone similar changes to yours in recent years, and some colleagues are expressing strong feelings of insecurity and defensiveness. I’m not saying the lecturing staff in your college were right to react the way they did. But maybe their jobs have changed so much recently, and they have been pushed so far in other directions by other forces (including the soul-destroying impact of performativity) that the idea of losing the freedom to decide when to have their breaks was just a step too far for them. I can see how that could happen.
      Steve

      • Hi Steve

        Well, perhaps that’s the reason for their reaction. A simpler explanation, though, surely, is that, er, people whinge and tend to be quite self-centred. I’m certainly not above a bit of whingeing when under stress myself. Generally, though, surely, I think we have to admit that a further-education lecturer in the UK is in an extremely privileged position. I can think of few jobs that are more satisfying. We get to spend our days engaging with adult learners (so not nearly the discipline problems faced by teachers in the school sector) on subjects we find deeply interesting. We are also paid far more than typical workers and enjoy far longer holidays. Meanwhile, our bins are emptied, our roads repaired, our food farmed and, when we are older, our bums wiped by people most of whom earn far less than we do and almost all of whom get far less time off. I really don’t think we have anything to complain about. What struck me about my colleagues’ reaction is not that they were resistant to change per se (people are not resistant to change per se; we are resistant to changes that we think will affect us adversely but are typically enthusiastic about changes we think will benefit us) but that, faced with a real problem their default position was that the cost of dealing with the problem should be borne by someone else (along with the sanctimonious appeal to the importance of ‘teaching and learning’, as though lecturers had some kind of monopoly on teaching and learning and operations of the canteen and its staff had nothing to do with teaching and learning.) You’re right that the situation I described didn’t have anything to do with performativity as such. I wanted to give an example of how teachers, like everyone else (though, I do think that members of professions that enjoy high social status are particularly prone to this, exactly because that very status encourages it; I’ve never met a self-important cleaner), are susceptible to narrow self-interest and that this is why, disagreeable as it is, we must be subject to external audit. I strongly suspect that you agree with me that police officers and MPs should be held to external account. Why would teachers be any different? I particularly enjoy references to something called ‘the teacher’s soul.’ I wonder what we would make of appeals to ‘the police officer’s soul’ or ‘the Member of Parliament’s soul.’ Both sound fairly sinister to me.

  20. Hi again, Steve

    If I may give another example. Recently, at Clyde College, in order to cut costs, restrictions have been introduced on lecturers making colour copies of materials. You can imagine the indignation that this occasioned. Amongst the arguments made in favour of lecturers continuing to be allowed to make colour copies was the claim that beginners, in particular, need colour copies of materials. I confess I am mystified by this claim. Just why would beginners need colour copies more than other learners do? I asked this and the reply, after a certain amount of vague, exasperated gesturing, was that you need colour copies of materials, at least, to teach the names of colours. This would of course be true if everything else in the college was grey. As it is, though, I find the argument difficult to support. I have also heard, at meetings, starter students referred to as ‘babies.’ I suspect that the claim that beginners require colour copies comes from the same source as this, from the implicit assumption that because certain learners find it difficult to communicate in a language that we understand that they are, in effect, infants. That such an assumption is, at best, staggering unreflective, and, at worst, really rather racist, is, I take it, obvious. This is the sort of thing that makes me extremely skeptical of the idea that ESOL lecturers in Scotland, as a group, are remotely ready to be entrusted with maintaining professional standards by means of critical reflection or professional discussion.

    • OK, well I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why some of your colleagues might make such comments. Maybe we can generalise this a bit and agree that there are a number of lecturers who work in the Scottish FE sector who hold attitudes to education,teaching, learning and learners which suggest a lack of critical thinking and reflective practice.
      Your inference from this is:
      “This is the sort of thing that makes me extremely skeptical of the idea that ESOL lecturers in Scotland, as a group, are remotely ready to be entrusted with maintaining professional standards by means of critical reflection or professional discussion.”
      The conclusion I draw is that this “sort of thing” demonstrates that the current procedures we follow to reflect on, review and evaluate our practice are ineffective. We both agree that the current situation is wrong, but where we differ is that I’m criticising the system while you’re criticising the lecturers.
      One of the key criticisms of the Performativity agenda is that it focuses teachers’ attention on what they say about what they do, rather than what they actually do. This includes the degree to which they reflect critically on their own practice or engage with other ideas out there. So, a college might have a programme review/evaluation procedure in which staff meet with their manager to discuss the successes/limitations/concerns surrounding one of their courses. During these meetings, some critical reflection and resultant productive discussion may take place, but ultimately that’s not the point of the meeting. The point of the meeting is to allow the line manager to write a report in which he/she says that a meeting took place in which he/she and his/her staff reflected critically on various issues and drew various conclusions. A divergence is created between what actually happens and what is reported as actually happening.
      Yes, I agree that there’s a lack of “proper” critical reflection going on in our sector, and many lecturers are clearly not good at doing it. But what I would argue is that we are working within a system that doesn’t actually prioritise, facilitate or develop real critically reflective practice in lecturers. Rather than concluding that lecturers can’t reflect and therefore need to be held to account even more (which is what you seem to be saying), I suggest that the reason why (some) lecturers can’t reflect is that they are not encouraged to. And they are not encouraged to reflect precisely because they are operating within paradigms of accountability that skew the focus away from what they are capable of doing, towards what they are capable of saying what they are doing. A lack of ability to employ critical reflection surely suggests a need to explore ways of improving critical reflection, not a need to increase teacher accountability (which, it seems, is part of the problem rather than the solution).
      Steve

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