Hyper-accountability, super-performativity and the emotions of teaching.

Year: 2019

Author: Perryman, Jane

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The stability and well-being of its workforce is crucial to a socially just education system, yet there is an unprecedented international crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers. Using data collected in the English context, this paper will argue that teachers’ working lives are being negatively affected by the rise in the neo-liberal performativity / accountability culture in schools. Teacher’s work is increasingly directed towards assessment, exams and tests, progress measures and preparation for review and inspection, and away from the more individualistic and creative aspects of the job. This paper will explore this culture of ‘hyper-accountability’ and ‘super-performativity’, focussing specifically on the emotional impact of accountability on teachers and its effect on teacher retention, using original empirical data from two research projects. This will provide a unique and timely insight into the effects that the performativity and accountability culture have on teachers and their working lives and provide insight into why so many teachers leave. The significance of teacher well-being to schools, students and a socially just society means that a nuanced investigation into the links between teacher stress and retention in the accountability culture is timely and important.

The first set of data was collected from a survey to the last five years of teacher education graduates of UCL Institute of Education (IOE) in London, England, for a project on teacher retention, asking teachers who had stayed and who had left, and why. It was sent out to the IOE ITE alumni database of 3596, and 1200 responded. The second was a survey on teacher stress designed with the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The volunteer sampling strategy produced 127 completed questionnaires, 54 of whom self-identified as having taken time off work due to stress or depression. Both surveys included open questions to enable statistical analysis and a more fine-grained thematic analysis of the qualitative data. The data spoke to a discourse of disappointment, the reality of teaching being worse than expected, and the nature of the workload, linked to notions of performativity and accountability, being a crucial factor. Many of our sample experienced a ‘loss of self’, causing physical and mental illness, and some to leave the profession. This research concludes that socially just schools and education systems need to pay more attention to the discourses around teacher emotion and retention, and the support mechanisms needed.