A principled approach to teacher accreditation?

I’ve been thinking about how to square my concerns about neoliberalism and performativity with the aspect of my role that measures teaching capability through the Professional Standards Framework.

One train of thought is about the value to teachers of having the accreditation. The other is focused on the value of the framework itself.

In Hogan’s (2010) penultimate chapter he argues against performativity, but points out how academics often set themselves apart from the makers of educational policy and strategy (assuming we will never find common ground and there is no hope) rather than truly understanding and getting inside the system in order to change it. I also recently finished Caroline Lucas’ book Honourable Friends, and was moved not only by her determination to get to grips quickly with the vagaries of Parliament and make it work for her – but also her commitment to making this knowledge public. This type of action, I believe, is what Paulo Freire refers to when he speaks of ‘liberating our oppressors’. Not attacking them from the outside; not even attacking them from inside; but entering the existing systems of power in order to effect change.

So – we could argue that, whether or not the PSF has intrinsic value, if those who set strategy and policy value this kind of accreditation, if it will open doors for those who hold it, and enable them to be listened to, then perhaps it is a good thing for teachers to be doing.

There is a caveat here, because – as Apple (2006) points out – individuals may support a system of power for one of four reasons; either they run the system (and therefore want it to succeed, lest they look silly), have benefited from the system, are happy to work the system for their own ends, or are in denial (because of fear). As FHEA accreditation carries more than a whiff of top-down enhancement, I think it is important that teachers consider where they might sit on this picture.

This is a very cynical standpoint, however, and I’m actually not that cynical about the PSF, because I think it’s relatively harmless as a framework. Like the old PGCE competencies (all 92 of them), the Dimensions are mostly ambiguous, and because accreditation against the PSF is primarily self-assessed, it is the teacher who decides how they are to be interpreted. It becomes, therefore, merely a series of headings or categories under which they are to write about their practice. Some may find this a useful tool to structure their application. Others may find it restrictive. Some Dimensions do carry certain assumptions. Dimension K4, for example – the use and value of appropriate learning technologies – assumes that learning technologies are appropriate. What if – after a solid cycle of trial and evaluation – and a lot of secondary research – you don’t agree? Of course, if we take the PSF as merely a structure, one is entirely free to explain this in the application, and I want to encourage my students not to try to second-guess the Dimensions – particularly K1-K6 – but to use them as a prompt to set out what they think and believe at this point, given their experience, their reading and the numerous discussions they have had with peers. I also want to encourage them to highlight the tensions and questions they have, rather than presenting themselves as a fait accompli. These are to be explicitly drawn out in a development plan – which is less prescriptive/performative than it sounds… I just couldn’t think of a better name for it.

Dimensions V1-4 (the professional values) are less ambiguous and I plan to run an activity on Monday to open these up to critique. It may be that no-one has any issues with or questions about them, but if there are any points of contention we can explore those. For example, Apple (2006) asserts that transient HE goals – e.g. ‘equality of opportunity’ (V2) lack meaning. Equality of opportunity sounds all well and good until we ask the question… opportunity for what, exactly? And then things start to unravel and we are reminded that assumptions are made about what individuals in society want and need by a small subset; a thin democracy. Apple argues for a thicker, true democracy, focused on participation and the identification and realisation of individual educational potential. We might end up exploring these ideas on Monday, and discussing whether and how they might fit into their commentaries. I would love to see some of the participants really getting stuck in to these value statements, rather than glibly playing the game.

Equally, I don’t want them all to strategically construct some pseudo-anarchist manifesto because that’s what they think I want to see… Hmm. I will raise my concerns with them about this too and see what they have to say 🙂

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