Accountability and the rise of “play safe” pedagogical practices

Bailey, Gillian (2014) Accountability and the rise of “play safe” pedagogical practices. Education + Training, 56 (7). pp. 663-674. ISSN 0040-0912

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– The purpose of this paper is to examine how the culture of teacher accountability has been intensified in further education (FE) under neo-liberalist policy, with the result that the student-teacher relationship has shifted to one of supplier-consumer. The paper focuses on the impact which this shift has had on teachers’ pedagogical practice and employment prospects.

– The paper draws on data gathered during a three-year ethnographic study which focused on the experiences of trainee and newly qualified teachers working in the FE sector. The data were generated from naturally occurring evidence including reflective diaries, lesson observations and class discussions.

– The findings suggest that target-driven college cultures are creating conditions which encourage teachers to “play safe” in terms of pedagogical practice whilst students are becoming increasingly dependent on teacher-led direction in a bid to achieve targets. Not only are teachers being held increasingly accountable for their students’ results but their employment prospects are also dependent on them.

Research limitations/implications
– Although based on a small-scale study, the findings are of sufficient significance to stimulate debate and future research around the issue of how neo-liberalist policy impacts on practice in FE.

Practical implications
– The paper suggests that for both FE teachers and their students, creative thinking and experimentation may be at risk from the impact of such policy.

– This paper goes beyond existing critiques of accountability: it argues that as teachers’ employment prospects become increasingly dependent on student results, both teachers and their students are vulnerable to focusing on risk-free practices which jeopardise the potential for innovation and autonomy.

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