Teacher professionalism as a barrier to school transformation: A case study in inclusive education and social relations

Year: 2012

Author: Gable, Alison

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Teacher professionalism has received considerable attention domestically, and internationally, over the last 12 years. The new millennium brought academic reflections and idealised models of professionalism for 'new times'. Given the challenges of a global, knowledge economy, policy makers viewed teacher professionalism as an instrument of change, placing it at the forefront of many reform initiatives. However, too little is known about the dynamics of teacher professionalism and the social relations required for it to be transformative. In light of this, it is timely to consider the effects of new teacher professionalism and whether or not it fulfils its hoped for potential.


This paper draws on the example of inclusive education as a site thought to benefit most from the new directions in teacher professionalism.  Inclusive education requires systemic change if schools are to build capacity and deliver meaningful and responsive educational environments. Importantly, responsibility for change lies with a range of stakeholders who work in school contexts that could either constrain or enable that change.  This is illustrated by a case study examining the social relations of teacher professionalism that limit the transformative potential of a school.


The study utilised a critical realist framework, employing a comparative case study methodology to examine the dynamics of change and issues of professional knowledge. A core focus of the research was to identify the contexts, mechanisms and outcomes of professionalism. 


Findings from the study revealed that while staff and parents replicated patterns of teacher professionalism, reflective of policy reform efforts, these patterns nonetheless compromised the idealised models proposed 12 ago. Significantly, the reproduction of traditional client-professional social relationships, tightly connected to issues of professional knowledge, served to constrain the development of teacher professionals able to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing school environment. This suggests that contemporary reform efforts, focused on pre-service education and professional development, may have unintended and surprising consequences for school capacity building.


In an era when teacher professionalism is perceived as a potentially powerful strategy for effecting change, these findings provide an explanation as to why transformation may not occur, and the social relations that may resolve this. In addition, the idealised models proposed in 2000 still hold considerable relevancy for usefully informing policy design.