While the conflict between managers / leaders and lecturers in FE is interesting, it is not the focus I wish to explore just now. It is the conflict captured by Stephen Ball’s ‘struggle for the soul of the teacher’ that captivates me.
This is an internal conflict that has practical implication for how people conduct themselves in the workplace and how they feel about what they do.
As with so many research interests, it is best illustrated with an anecdote. In this post I consider an extended quote from a College Leader in response to the question of whether there was an issue over which she would resign from her post.
When framing the question, I had in mind a straightforward conflict between a government insistence that Colleges deliver a particular programme or implement a specific policy coming into conflict with College Leaders’ judgement about what it means to Do the Right Thing. I wanted to know if there was any programme or policy so badly conceived that College Leaders would feel there was no scope for compromise and resignation appeared the only acceptable option.
The recent imposition of GCSE English and maths retakes is an example. Teachers (and College Leaders) are compelled to act in ways that they know to be against the best interest of their students. Its an uncomfortable, debilitating compromise.
There are studies that have explored this conflict in teachers:
Dunn, A. H., Farver, S., Guenther, A., & Wexler, L. J. (2017). Activism through attrition?: An exploration of viral resignation letters and the teachers who wrote them. Teaching and Teacher Education, 64, 280-290.
but I am unaware of any who have explored this issue with College Leaders.
College leader C1N responds to my question: Is there an issue over which you would resign?
I think if it got to the stage where there were … no funding for anyone over the age 19 unless they were in work.
The issue than of austerity and cuts to funding is one that has a clear ethical impact on College Leaders. College Leader CIN goes on to elaborate on this particular issue and its implications for her college.
I’m thinking about all the work we do with young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, everything, because we are quite low performing county. So, students come out of their school with a very low base. Actually a lot of them are over 19 by the time we start to get them into sustainable employment. Lots of them miss a couple of years because they’ve just had enough and I think if it got to the stage where it was, well, actually you run academic programmes for two years post 16 and then everything else is in the workplace or higher education … start to think there’s probably not the kind of sector that I came to work in …
[… her voice trails off…]
This is a difficult question and some of our interviewees were so bright eyed with cheerful enthusiasm, I felt a deep guilt asking a question laced with such cynicism. But College Leader C1N has a clear response and a clear rationale for her response.
I’m focussing on conflict, contradiction and ethical compromise. After openly admitting that being in a position where the college was only able to help adult learners if they were in work, this is what College Leader C1N says only moments later – in an extended answer to the same question.
We (College Leader C1N and her Deputy) had (to stand there during open day and say, “We have nothing for you” over and over again). We lost a lot of the adult funding. And to see, particularly young men I think were affected, come in age, 20, 21, 22, who’d got themselves into a dead-end job after they left school because they hated it. And, they get to that stage that perhaps thinking about family and settling down and realising that they haven’t got the skills they need and coming back – we’ve just got nothing for them – is really difficult.
So, having said cuts to provision meaning she had nothing to offer 19+ learners is an issue over which she would resign, College Leader then describes having to tell 19+ learners over and over agin that the college has nothing to offer them. This sounds like a contradiction to me. She clearly did not resign. As she continues to talk of her non-resignation she does not acknowledge the contradiction but does seem to want to explain how she responds to the lack of funds for adult provision.
She talks about how she gets around, through project funding, the college’s inability to offer meaningful provision for the post 19 student.
But it is the apparent tension between these two apparently contradictory positions – one following almost immediately after the other, that I think needs to be explored and explained.