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Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, writes, Symposium: What’s the “new sociology of education”, then and now? Looking back to the 1970s and ahead to today
In 1971, Michael F.D. Young published the edited collection ‘Knowledge and control: new directions for the sociology of education’. This among other signature texts of the 1970s constituted work characterised as ‘the new sociology of education’, which saw the field shift from, as symposium convenor Julie McLeod put it, ‘taking problems’ to ‘making problems’. In this shift, aspects of schooling which had previously been taken for granted, such as what and whose ‘knowledge’ constitutes the curriculum, were opened up for scrutiny.
The symposium asked contributors to consider what this ‘new sociology of education’ did and did not notice; its legacies; and what might or should constitute a ‘new’ sociology of education for today.
The first response to this remit came from Bob Lingard, who pointed to large scale assessments, datafication and globalisation as examples of forces which have shifted studies in the sociology of education and which demand a move beyond methodological nationalism. Lingard’s talk resonated with points made by the third speaker in the session, Joel Windle, who argued for ‘rescaling’ in a ‘new’ sociology of education for today, in which thinking about knowledge and control is shifted to a global level.
Lingard and Windle’s arguments were given a useful counterweight by the fourth speaker in the session, Eve Mayes, who brought discussion of the new sociology of education to the level of classroom-based research and practice through the example of the ‘Teachers for a Fair Go’ project, highlighting the ongoing need to question ‘what schools can be’.
Yet questions of the future, and in particular a future for the sociology of education, were seen by some speakers to be under threat. Lingard noted that while in the 1970s, sociology of education would be taught in the first, second, third and fourth years of initial teacher education, this presence has since dwindled significantly. A similar point was made by the second speaker in the session, Parlo Singh, who noted an (over?) emphasis on Bourdieuian theory in the sociology of education today, despite Pierre Bourdieu having only a relatively fleeting engagement with education (unlike, for example, his contemporary Basil Bernstein). Singh argued that the lack of sociological training in today’s initial teacher education may explain this trend.
According to Jessica Gerrard and Helen Proctor, who presented the final paper in this session, “declarations of the new” always bring with them “whispers” of the old. For Gerrard and Proctor, this raises questions about just what is sought to be ‘conserved’ in ‘conservative’ views and politics.
Yet in the context of this symposium, where the future of the sociology of education itself appears to be in danger, perhaps an important question is what needs to be ‘conserved’ from the legacy of the developments of the 1970s. In particular, there may be a need to emphasise the central role of the sociology of education in supporting, as Mayes highlighted, the ‘fair go’ that classrooms can but often do not provide for students. As such, the sociology of education is not separate from but in fact central to initial teacher education. As the discussion that followed the papers highlighted, the sociology of education supports an understanding of teachers as navigators and negotiators of a curriculum which is not taken for granted, but instead, understood as culturally contingent and power-laden. This means we should be enhancing, rather than further marginalising and denigrating, the sociological education of the pre-service teachers we teach.
As convenor of a large, sociologically-informed undergraduate education course, I am sometimes questioned as to the ‘practicality’ of my course for students of teaching. It is too ‘theoretical’, some students (and sometimes colleagues) say. And while the theory is essential, it may be that the links between this theory and the actual work of teachers in classrooms needs to be made more explicit for the next generation of teachers. As such, and as session convenor Julie McLeod suggested as the symposium concluded, foregrounding the importance of the sociology of education in schools and initial teacher education classrooms may need to be a first priority of any ‘new’ sociology of education moving forward.
Photos below are just some of the images from the conference
Louisa Field, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes on Teachers’ Work and Lives
The University of Sydney
Primary Teachers as Classroom Curriculum-Makers: Emerging Findings From a Longitudinal Study Exploring Teachers’ Experiences in Curriculum-Making With a Standardised Curriculum
“I just have to make the thing with the outcomes, in the way that others want me to make, and then I have to teach the thing in the way it says” and “I think what guides the programming is really driven by our questioning of how we do we equip these students for a world that we can’t anticipate or envision yet?” These are two examples of the very different experiences of curriculum-making for teachers in Phillip Poulton’s doctoral study. In this longitudinal study, Phillip has followed preservice teachers from their final year of initial teacher education into their first year of classroom teaching, exploring the realities of early career teachers’ reported curriculum-making experiences. This study has found that whilst these teachers reported varied curriculum-making experiences, these were not always characteristic of more knowledge-led forms of curriculum-making. Rather, these were characterised more by instances of curriculum delivery.
During this presentation, Phillip drew on two individual teachers, both alike in terms of their valuing of education and conceptions of curriculum-making. However, in their first year of teaching, these two teachers found themselves in classroom fields with very different agendas and orientations towards curriculum. One teacher reported greater agency in working with curriculum in a flexible and collaborative environment, guided rather than restricted by the syllabus. The other teacher reporting a contrasting experience, finding herself in a non-collaborative environment and ticking off ‘outcomes’ prioritised above all else. Phillip’s study provides fascinating insight into the lived experiences of early career teachers who, while all aspiring to be knowledge-led curriculum-makers, were either enabled or constrained by the conditions of their individual classroom fields. Understanding more about these experiences is particularly pertinent today, especially with current discussions centred on ‘ending the lesson lottery’ and centralising lesson planning for teachers. Phillip’s doctoral study offer impetus for us to challenge such delivery agendas placed on classrooms which often narrow teachers’ curriculum-making practices. Rather, teachers’ curriculum-making needs to be reinforced as a key tenet of teacher professionalism – practices that are dependent on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, pedagogy, and content.
Dr Claire Golledge The University of Sydney
No Capacity, No Equity: Schools, Universities, and New Challenges for Teacher Professional Learning
Dr Claire Golledge’s paper focussed on how teacher professional learning (PL) mandates can exacerbate inequity across schools and systems. All Australian teachers are required to meet mandatory professional learning expectations in line with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Dr Golledge’s presentation drew on her own experience as a former leader of professional learning, and from her doctoral case study research to illustrate that not all teachers are positioned equally to meet these mandatory PL requirements. To highlight this point, Dr Golledge presented two case studies of teachers in vastly different learning contexts, one in an inner city, elite, independent school and another in a regional, government school where the bulk of students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite vastly different PL needs and differing capacities of these teachers to access professional learning opportunities, both of these teachers are subject to the same PL standards and requirements. While the teacher in the independent school was supported with their PL with a healthy budget, covered classes, and access to a range of accredited PL, the teacher in the regional school faced additional challenges of funding, finding casuals to cover classes, and access to accredited professional learning within her school. Dr Golledge’s study raises a key point that we often talk about educational inequity amongst students, but what about the impact on teachers? This is something which is all too often overlooked. This presentation sparked lively conversations about the ethics and equity of for-profit professional learning providers as well as asking what role universities should play in helping to support teacher professional learning and access to research in schools.