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A study of the lived experiences of
teachers’ opposition and resistance
within a neoliberal hegemony


A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the
requirements of the University of
Northumbria for the degree of Doctor of

March 2016

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Schools in England have undergone huge change since neoliberal ideologies

introduced notions of choice and competition. This study seeks to understand how

teachers rationalised their roles alongside the demands of performativity associated

with managerialisation and marketisation. As such, this research explores the lived

experiences of teachers within a neoliberal hegemony.

Methodologically, I used a social constructionist paradigm and an interpretative

phenomenological analysis after Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2009). I conducted six

in-depth semi-structured interviews with teachers in primary, middle and secondary

school settings. My interpretative phenomenological analysis used Wenger’s (1989)

concept of a community of practice as well as concepts from social theorists such as

Habermas (1979, 1996), Giddens (1986, 1991) and Bourdieu (1984, 1994) to frame

my thinking.

The research found that the changes being experienced by teachers are not aligned

with their understandings and beliefs concerning education, either for themselves as a

professional body or for the pupils in their care. As such, the teachers express notions

such as the suppression of their voice and the oppression of their autonomy.

Furthermore, teachers’ descriptions include philosophical and practical resistance to

change. The descriptions of change and resistance show alignment towards notions of

welfare education not neoliberal managerialisation and marketisation.

The nature of the new knowledge concerns changed forms of organisational

experiences, from changed forms of organisational communication to changed forms

of learning. It is this change, brought about by managerialisation and marketisation,

that the teachers describe as resisting, both philosophically and practically. As such

the participants describe a clash of lifeworlds and a clash of doxa, such that they

experience ontological insecurity. Furthermore the managerialisation and

marketisation of schools is at odds with Wenger’s (1989) notion of a community of

practice and as such, is degrading organisational learning and practice.

Key words: Education, teachers, community of practice, managerialisation,

marketisation, change, resistance, neoliberal.

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5.2 Opposition towards assessment (pupils and teachers)

As Wendy develops her opposition to the organisation’s leadership, she segues into her

opposition to the nature of the tasks that she is given. Wendy expresses exasperation

with the requests as she perceives that the task will have been performed many times

before and the information required will exist somewhere within the organisation’s

systems. Here, Wendy implies that the person asking for the information is either too

lazy to look, does not realise it already exists, or does not know how to retrieve the

information. The example of what is asked for is interesting, because it concerns pupil

achievement data showing underperformance, which Wendy refers to as “hoop-

jumping”. This information is something which might be expected to be an important

part of a hierarchy’s knowledge about the school, but Wendy’s disdain for the request

suggests that she does not value the information and that this information is so regularly

asked for that it becomes meaningless. For me, this is where the difference lies between

formative and summative assessment, in that school hierarchies seek to assess how well

the pupil population is performing and this is done by requesting summative

assessments. However, I believe Wendy’s disdain for the request is driven by her

understanding of how unrepresentative a series of summative reports are for recording

pupils’ progress.

Wendy says “who is asking for information about… [pause] I don’t know; how many

kids from your class are going to not achieve whatever [emphasised to in a dismissive

tone, fast pace] and you’ve already filled that in six times; it went on their reports two

weeks ago and it’s gone on the spreadsheet that’s in the shared area, which everybody

can look at. Erm, [pause][usual tone] but those types of ridiculous [emphasised] things

to do… [pause] jumping through hoops things, really annoy me and that spoils your

day. [emphasised, with a sad tone]”

Theresa supports Wendy in this opposition despite Theresa not using language to

position herself as directly oppositional. She is defensive of her subject area and

suggests that the organisational assessment requirements are not what she would ideally

prefer, so, she describes those requests as a “nightmare”. Consequently, Theresa implies

that she has had to “compromise” because of the needs of the organisation.

She explains “Well now, [pause] it does not work for [subject area] at all. The current

assessment; it’s just a nightmare [emphasised] for the subject, but [pause] sometimes,

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you have to… In [type of] school, and this is what I’ve learned [pause] in [type of]

school, [slow pace] you sometimes have to compromise what you as a subject specialist

would like.”

For me, this articulates the notion of organisational measuring; what is easy to measure

and not what is important (Biesta, 2009). Both Wendy and Theresa consider this

information as unimportant, hence their dissatisfaction with the request. It is here that

they see through the misrecognition of the importance of data but the organisation and

its leadership do not. Again, this is a battlefield trench, marking a distinction between


Lewis also opposes the current systems of monitoring and evaluation found in schools,

not for pupils but for teachers. He suggests he can “play the game”, because he knows

the “formula” for Ofsted and has done this many times, so he can achieve the

judgements he perceives as being suitable for his performance (Broadfoot, 2001). For

me, Lewis is belittling the current school monitoring and evaluation agenda, suggesting

that it changes little in his own practice and perhaps because of his leadership position

within the school, this outside agenda has also had little impact on the school.

He says “I’ve looked at the formula of what Ofsted want [pause] and played the game

got around it and erm, [pause] I can produce an Ofsted lesson that… [pause] I must

have done; I’ve done it five times… [pause]”

A thread which links oppositional positioning to some forms of leadership and the

monitoring and evaluation of both pupils and teachers is found in the current assessment

and accountability regimes of our schools. Here, participants are expressing critical

orientations towards the demands of explicit content required by a centralised

curriculum dictated by government. They describe a resistance to the methodology of

pupil evaluation as a response to their understanding of how institutions, in response to

governmental interference, measure what can be easily measured, and those easily

measured criteria have little value (Biesta, 2009). Lewis adds to this by including how

teachers are measured, highlighting how he sees little value in this evaluation, because it

can be easily manipulated.

Kelvin, throughout the interview, attempts to present himself as balanced and thoughtful

when positioning himself within the organisational hierarchy. He is rarely critical of

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Appendix 15

Post Script:

Capitalism should also be part of an emerging debate about the future, as its

current success has been brought about by the creation and formation of new

markets, either in the form of new technologies or in the form of states

developing it’s populous into consumers. The new technologies have

revolutionised communication and consumerism. For me, the development of

states into consuming, developed nations has been a joy to see, as formerly

poverty stricken nations have utilised the power of cheap labour to develop

nations without hunger, with clean water and with vastly improved health

provision. Whilst these emerging nations have further to travel I find myself

once again considering the future. I have witnessed the development of Asia

over the past 40 years and marvelled at the progress made, likewise in South

America. Now I am witnessing the soon to be powerhouse of Africa begin to

stretch its wings. The Republic of South Africa, Nigeria, and even the stately

progress of Kenya, are transforming their populations into healthy and wealthy

people. Don’t get me wrong I know it is not all a rosy picture; there are

undoubtedly huge obstacles to overcome, but my point is that soon the whole

world will be capitalised and so there will be no new markets, no emerging

economies, no cheap labour. Also capitalism is fundamentally divisive. In 100

years’ time the only benefits capitalism will bring will be in the form of new

technologies, agriculture and service industries. Will this be enough to sustain

the wealth we have in countries such as the UK? Do we want to continue to

consume in ways we currently do? In June 2015, worldwide, there were more

people with health problems related to being overweight than there are health

problems related to malnourishment. So I don’t think we can afford

economically or morally to continue in the same ways as we are. So in readiness

for the development of the globe, true globalisation, shouldn’t we begin the

discussion about a better way for our great, great grandchildren to live?

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If so, let me start. Capitalism is, for me, based on underlying notions of strength

and survival, in that the best will win, the strongest, the wealthiest will survive.

Thus, capitalism is a theory parallel to evolutionary theory in that the weak will

wither and die, the strong will grow and flourish, only the most able can

compete and if you cannot compete then you perish. As such, capitalism is akin

to Herbert’s (1820-1903) survival of the fittest. Darwin did not suggest this he

was concerned with the natural adaptations of nature which allowed specialism

and the habitation of niche environments. However, as Darwin noted this

specialisation created vulnerability in certain highly adapted species such that

they were vulnerable to environment change. I see similarities with this and

Stglitz ‘bubble economics’ (2010) whereby companies rise quickly within

certain economic circumstances but once those circumstances change then the

companies come crashing down. Likewise when the dinosaurs had specialised

and adapted but their environment changed, either by meteorite or volcanic

eruption, they could not cope and became extinct, their dominance then taken

over by mammals, the former underdogs. As such, capitalism is flawed as it is

not the strongest, the most successful companies that survive but those that, with

a better education, which are creative, can change and can adapt the quickest.

Therefore, evolutionary theory is not about the survival of the fittest but is about

the survival of the ‘also rans’, the underdogs waiting in the shadows ready for

their moment to shine, until things change and they too come crashing down.

My point is that there are other ways of thinking, other standpoints, other

theories, and now is the time to start exploring these others ways, just read Paul

Mason’s new book Post Capitalism; A guide to our Future (2015) and a new

way of seeing our future as humans will unfold.

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