No More Superheroes … Only Avatars? Survival Role Play in English Post Compulsory Education

Peter Wolstencroft, Carol Thompson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Developments such as the incorporation of colleges in England and Wales in 19931 had a fundamental influence on the post-compulsory education (PCE) sector by creating a dramatic transformation in culture, ethos and style of management. Prior to this, both managers and tutors had a high degree of autonomy and were given significant freedom in the way they organised their working lives. However, the introduction of data driven efficiency measures and the increased surveillance of professional activity triggered a significant change in both professional role and professional identity and has been referred to as the terrors of performativity (Ball, 2003).Within the whirlwind of change, many organisations were in a state of flux. They had to contend with new funding mechanisms and subsequent cuts to their budget, as well as prepare for influential judgements on their performance by organisations such as the government’s inspectorate of education, commonly known as Ofsted. This presented a range of new challenges which were ‘supported’ by a plethora of new guidelines, systems and processes and the result was described by Coffield as:A sector where the government had to establish a Bureaucracy Reduction Group to deal with the effects of its own hyperactivity in spawning so many new policies, initiatives, qualifications, institutions, partnerships, targets, priorities, ambitions and aspirations that those trying to enact their proposals became overwhelmed with the paperwork. (Coffield, 2008, p. 43)For a new tutor entering the profession, this presented a somewhat muddled picture of the professional role and identity; on the one hand, there were clear guidelines relating to processes and the ‘technical’ aspects of the role on the other, somewhat conflicting information from experienced colleagues who contested the imposed changes.For teachers, one significant outcome of the changes was the value placed on the skill or craft of teaching above other aspects of the role. This focus created a much narrower professional identity and neglected the wider aspects of the role, potentially leading to a more defined perception of the types of professional development which were considered relevant.According to the European Commission (2013), a teacher’s role should include both teaching and teacher competencies. The former being those things associated with the craft of teaching and the latter encompassing the need to reflect, evaluate and work collaboratively in the wider professional community, recognising this as a body of knowledge which exists beyond the place of work. This view acknowledged teaching as a multifaceted career and provided a systemic view of teacher professionalism which could be likened to the notion of democratic professionalism (Sachs, 2001).Despite the most significant of these changes having taken place over 20 years ago, there still remains some confusion around the purpose and extent of the PCE tutor’s role and this is mirrored in the roles undertaken by middle managers (Thompson & Wolstencroft, 2013). Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that such confusion has led to a sense of conflict between initial perceptions of a particular role and actual practice and has resulted in both tutors and managers leaving the sector or even the profession itself (Chambers & Roper, 2000; Thompson & Wolstencroft, 2013). This illuminates what has been described as the ‘disjuncture between official rhetoric of lifelong learning and the experiences of those working and studying in English Further Education’ (Avis & Bathmaker, 2005, p. 61).Although a number of the problems associated with entering the PCE teaching profession and undertaking management roles within it have been documented (Thompson & Wolstencroft, 2012, 2013; Spenceley, 1997; Avis & Bathmaker, 2007), this is not the complete picture. There are many new tutors and managers who had not only survived the process of change but enjoyed the challenge and found specific strategies to overcome the difficulties they were presented with (Thompson & Wolstencroft, 2012, 2013).Within this chapter, we will explore the challenges and professional identities of new tutors and managers within PCE as well as the strategies they employ to cope with the individual demands of their jobs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContinuity and Discontinuity in Learning Careers
Subtitle of host publicationPotentials for a Learning Space in a Changing World
EditorsBarbara Merrill, Andrea Galimberti, Adrianna Nizinska, Jose Gonzales-Monteagudo
Place of PublicationGothenberg
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-37547-5
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2018

Publication series

NameResearch on the Education and Learning of Adults,


  • Education
  • Management
  • Discontinuity


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