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Changing times, changing values: an exploration of the positionality and agency of teacher educators working in higher education

Palmer, Pauline Margaret (2017) Changing times, changing values: an exploration of the positionality and agency of teacher educators working in higher education. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Over recent decades, education in England has been subject to increasing government intervention, with a parallel impact on teacher education itself: the ‘quality assurance’, monitoring and surveillance that has become part of the culture of schooling is also present in teacher education. Moreover, government drives to increase the role of schools in initial teacher education and a turn to a more technical view of teaching, based on a series of identified competences and skills, has had an impact on teacher educators working in higher education institutions. Alongside addressing the impact of change on this aspect of their role, teacher educators based in higher education have also had to contend with recent pressures to engage with ‘research and knowledge exchange’, and move more towards traditional academic research roles. However, the majority of teacher educators working in universities in England enter this role on the basis of their ‘recent and relevant experience’ in schools, rather than any academic attributes. They have rarely had a research background or training. This thesis explores the impact of these developments on a small group of teacher educators based in one institution, focusing on their narratives of change and their response to managerial shifts and their repositioning in the institution. Viewing their accounts through the lens of Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner and Cain’s (1998) work on ‘Figured Worlds’, it explores the way they talk about their changing roles, their perceptions of the extent of their professional agency, and their narratives of self in the context of change. The analysis suggests that, within the context of the wider political, economic and managerial changes that have an impact on their environment, teacher educators are subject to powerful neoliberal discourses that require them to re-position themselves, individually and as a group; they achieve this with varying degrees of success, albeit at some cost. Underpinning their stories is a deep sense of loss of professional agency and identity. The thesis argues that fundamental changes in values of the meaning of teaching and teacher education undermine teacher educators’ agency, despite their attempts to resist and adapt to change.

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