Perryman, J. (2022) Teacher Retention in an Age of Performative Accountability. London: Routledge.
I’ve followed Jane Perryman’s work on and off since the early 2000s, as I guess many in education research have. She has laid bare the processes of how teachers have been impacted by an ever-developing machinery of surveillance/dataveillance and has offered a clear theoretical lens through which to understand this trajectory. It was therefore great to see the publication of this volume as it brings together the results from the projects Jane Perryman has been involved in over the past 20 years or so and sets them in a wider context of the changing landscape of teacher accountability, the role of Ofsted, and the shifting policy environment.
The book begins with an introduction which in large part sets out the nature and approaches used in the projects which are the backbone of later discussions. In a period when there are regular attacks by non-researchers about qualitative approaches to research, this chapter gives a clear and positive insight into how qualitative research designs can offer deep and critical ways of understanding the complex dynamics and contexts which exist in education. For me, this chapter adds both context and weight to the later chapters, whilst also giving a clear understanding of the rigour and validity of the data collected.
The second and third chapters are an extremely interesting synthesis of the changing nature of performativity and accountability in the English education system using a Foucauldian perspective to understand how these processes exist and develop within the education system. These chapters should be basic, core reading for any students taking modules relating to school management and improvement, or policy studies at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Indeed, any teacher wanting to gain a genealogical insight into why they experience the system as it currently exists would find these chapters very enlightening. And throughout, not only is there the macro-level pattern of change in policy and reactions in school leadership, but the analysis is illustrated throughout at the micro-level with the individual experiences of those who took part in the projects outlined in the introduction. As such, there is not only analysis here, but a feeling to a degree of testaments of those who have lived through the changes which have occurred since the turn of the millennium.
Chapters four and five to some degree begin to emphasise the personal more, looking as they do at the emotions of teaching and the retention crisis which continues to dog the English school system. As with chapters two and three, there is the use of a wide literature to contextualise and support the analysis and discussion, through considerations of stress, identity, and the aspects of the system which play a role in their shifts, particularly workload, examination pressures and inspection. Once again, these themes then flow into the subsequent chapter which draws on the various strands of the book to explore how they help throw light on the reasons for the teacher retention crisis in England.
Throughout the book, the inspection regime which has developed over the past 25 years is central to all aspects of the book. There is a withering attack on the inspectorate which shows in detail how it has perverted and distorted the work of schools, leading to a system under pressure. There are no doubt supporters of Ofsted still, but the evidence of their pernicious impact on the English school systems would be hard to argue against having read this book; no doubt some will continue to try!
The final chapter brings the book up to the present, reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on both the exams system and the role of the inspectorate. Sadly, there is also the admission that radical change will not be likely to come anytime soon.
This book is a fantastic analysis and critique of the last 25 years of education policy, and as such does not point the finger only at one side of the political divide, it is not a political book in this sense, merely following the shifts which have occurred over time and describing and discussing the human experiences which result. As someone who is interested in the dynamics and impacts of change, I found this a fascinating read. Unfortunately, with the current madness of the ideologically driven accreditation process unleashed on initial teacher education, yet another example of the need by those in power to centralise power and create a world in their own narrow vision, this book is unlikely to gain traction in the halls of power. However, perhaps once the Department of Education has crashed teacher supply in England and is clutching at life rafts in an attempt to retina a shred of credibility, it is books such as this that they’ll turn to as a way of charting a new course. We can live in hope.
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Some reflections on things I'm reading