Democratic Professionalism

“It is worth reflecting on the founding traditions of the labour movement – the traditions of self-help, mutualism, co-operatives, friendly societies and trade unions, before the advent of statism.”

Spours, Ken. “Democratic Localism.” Soundings Winter 2011: 32+. Questia. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.


I think it unlikely that the Coalition will do one of their double-right footed u-turns on the revocation of the requirement for Post 16 teachers to be qualified. Having identified the centralising tendencies of New Labour as unpopular, they are keen to offer quick, easy and popular alternatives.  With deregulation New Labour’s policy levers  (targets, funding, inspection and performance criteria) the defining features of top-down governance have been derided, denounced and partially dismantled.   

The Coalition have different priorities. Localism allows them to frame their preferred laissez-faireism as consistent with a commitment to localities setting their own agendas. Yet, these moves take place alongside the shock and awe politics of swathing cuts and privatisation.  Deregulation, small state and big society – actually amount to an accumulative re-branding of neo-liberalism.

This difference between New Labour and the Coalition  should not be overstated. It is one of tone and texture. Both neo-liberal strands share a commitment to centralization and the market.  Under the Coalition, for examples, schools have escaped local authority control only through submission to the greater powers awarded the Secretary of State for Education who, with the effective dismantling of the 1944 Butler Education Act enjoys an untrammelled concentration of power (Hodgson, Spours, Waring, & Gallacher, 2011). Moreover, the opaque management structures and impenetrable accountabilities associated with mega edu-business seriously compromises any declarations of either localism or democracy.

Miler and Rose’s central premise that governance is a congentially failing prpoject is worth reiterating at this point. That the will to govern is an important focus for analysis. More so than the act of governing which if overemphasized may misleadingly imply a degree of success. Unintended outcomes and unanticipated consequences ensure that policy is inherently fraught with tension. There are always numerous possibilities for misinterpretation, subversion and reappropriation.

The revocation of the requirement for teachers to be qualified may well be one of those moments.  In creating a policy vacuum, the Coalition creates a space for practitioners to redefine their professionalism. Spours develops the notion of New Democratic Localism. And in doing so refers to the the founding traditions of the labour movement. Hamilton and Hillier’s Changing Faces History of Adult Basic Skills provides a detailed analysis of the ways in which prior to Skills for Life professionalism flourished without state sponsorship.

There is a danger here of giving in to a nostalgic yearning for a world in which Thatcherism and Blairism did not happen. This is not my intention. Instead, many of the features associated with professionalisation – that is the techniques that enable the formulation and justification of representing, analysing and rectifying reality – a moral frame, an associated epistemology and a distinctive idiom – are available to Post 16 teachers and practitioners. If placed beyond the centralising tendency of the centre-left and below the profitization interests of the right – a more strident form of labour mobilisation is at least possible.


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