Values, understanding and power: Mapping the impact of assessment policy changes on teachers’ practice through the PACE ...

Mapping the impact of assessment policy changes on teachers’ practice through the PACE project

Pollard, A., Broadfoot, R, Croll, P., Osborn, M. and Abbott, D. (1994) Changing English Primary Schools? The Impact of the Education Reform Act at Key Stage One. London: Cassell. Chapter 13, pp. 227-244.


This book is wide-ranging and complex, reflecting the phenomena and period of change we have studied in this first phase of the PACE project. In this chapter we therefore attempt to trace the major themes of the book and to highlight some of their implications. To do this we first, in section 6.2, review salient findings from each chapter in relatively simple and descriptive terms. In section 6.3 we consider the broad impact of change in terms of our themes of values, understanding and power, and the analytical framework concerning ‘dimensions of change’ that was first introduced in Chapter 3.*' Finally, in section 6.4, we address the implications of this study for the future of educational policies and primary school practices.

The salient findings and arguments of the book

Echoes of the past

The Education Reform Act (ERA) was not a one-off piece of legislation and should be understood historically. We traced the history of the elementary school tradition and the developmental tradition, each with its own values and assumptions about knowledge and learning. Both also influenced recent changes and struggles between teachers and the Government. Similarly, we need to understand the origins of teacher professionalism and to note that a new form of professionalism had been emerging in the 1980s based on ‘practical theorizing’. This contributed to, was threatened by and provided a source of mediation and resistance to recent educational changes.

The Educational Reform Act followed a long-running critique of primary education and among other influences reflected the implications of New Right thinking on the role of markets in improving educational standards.

Please note that cross-references refer to chapters in the original publication, not this volume.

148 Comparing national education systems School change

The introduction of the National Curriculum was only one of many changes that affected schools and headteachers. There were direct effects on curriculum provision and assessment procedures, but there were also indirect effects on staffing, organization, teaching methods and management.

As the immediate pressures and concerns on headteachers and classroom teachers grew and began to diverge, there was a growth of managerialism and a movement towards more directive change, although many schools still tried to retain collegial participation. There has been a growth of collegiality.

A large number of schools adopted strategies to mediate and incorporate the National Curriculum and assessment into their previous practices, but there were also some shifts to compliance at the expense of previous practices. There was a strong association between directive management and the extent of change from previous practices.

Teachers’ perspectives on their professional role

There were fears that the ERA would deskill teachers and that they would be reduced from being professionals exercising judgement to become classroom technicians. However, teachers, in both 1990 and 1992, held strong personal value commitments and felt morally accountable to their pupils and colleagues. Their sense of external accountability had increased considerably since Broadfoot and Osborn’s 1985 research, so that, overall, they felt accountable in many, often conflicting, directions.

Many teachers felt that their role had changed since the ERA through increased bureaucracy and central direction. The job was felt to be more stressful and spontaneity in work with children decreased. Teachers’ sense of fulfilment from their work reduced but they increasingly developed, and valued, collaborative relationships with other colleagues. Relationships with parents continued much as before, though there was concern about the effects of publication of assessment data.

In 1990, half the teachers in our study were pessimistic about the future of primary education and felt that work and stress levels were unsustainable. In 1992, most teachers felt that constraint would increase and professional autonomy be reduced. Many expected fulfilment to continue to decline. Older teachers were more depressed than younger ones. Teachers in inner-city schools felt the National Curriculum to be particularly inappropriate for their pupils’ needs.

Overall, teachers’ work intensified, but many teachers were unwilling to give up their expressive commitment to pupils and their ‘extended’ view of their professional role. New, external models of accountability were accepted but teachers retained their previous, internalized sense of commitment. There were diverse strategic responses. These ranged from compliance, through incorporation, active mediation and resistance, to retreatism. During our study, most teachers seemed to favour incorporation, but the 1993 action against assessment was one of resistance.

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