Performativity and professional development: the gap between policy and practice in the English further education sector

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Orr, Kevin (2009)

The New Labour government identified the further education (FE) sector as a vehicle to deliver its central policies on social justice and economic competitiveness in England, which has led to a torrent of initiatives that have increased central scrutiny and control over FE. Although the connections between social justice, economic competitiveness and education are hegemonic in mainstream British politics, they are unfounded. Therefore, FE can only fail to deliver fully the government's central programme. Thus, a gap exists between policy initiatives and practice in colleges even, paradoxically, where reforms are ostensibly successful. In order to illustrate this gap and how it is maintained this paper considers one specific reform: the statutory obligation for teachers in English FE colleges to undertake 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) annually. Evidence from small-scale exploratory research suggests that this initiative has had little impact on patterns of CPD, though the government's quantifiable targets are being systematically met. This paper argues that a symbiosis of performativity has evolved where the government produces targets and colleges produce mechanisms to 'evidence' their achievement, separate to any change in practice and thus maintaining the gap between policy and practice.
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