Open Access

Styrning och mening : - anspråk på professionellt handlande i lärarutbildning och skola ; Steering and meaning : - claims for professional actions in teacher education and schools (2009)


This study addresses how political and professional claims directed at teachers change, and in many ways challenge teachers’ professional autonomy, as well as affect preconditions for meaning-making in pedagogic practices. Focus is placed on political steering and its implications for teacher education and teachers’ work in schools. Professional tensions between claims for system-oriented success de-fined as goal achievement versus a communicative understanding are analysed within a conceptual framework of steering and meaning. Based on official educational policy documents as well as teachers’ development projects the analysis revolves around issues concerning core competencies in teacher education and professionalisation processes. The empirical material comprises the Swedish 2001-teacher education reform and the Swedish National Higher Education Agency’s criticism of that part of teacher education which is obligatory for all teacher students (AUO). Moreover, grounds for educational policy that lead to the introduction of individual development plans (IUP) in school are analysed. Additionally, comments on circulated proposals submitted by universities and teacher organisations in connection with Bologna and the IUP-reforms are subject to analysis. In terms of methodology, the study primarily draws upon theories of communicative action, critical discourse analysis and theories of the professions. The results indicate that emphasis in educational policy is placed on the clarification of goals, progression and assessment practices in schools and teacher edu-cation. Thus teachers and teacher educators need to address functional steering claims which demand commitment and loyalty for political reforms. This entails that teachers’ professional autonomy is restricted. Teachers are encouraged to take difficult decisions and act strategically in order to maximise the pedagogic outcome based on economic and political claims for excellence, collaboration, and a clear-cut steering direction. Professionalism now appears to connote quality control by way of more specified formulations and assessments towards learning outcomes. Political rhetoric stipulates as essential that teachers determine knowledge progression and boundaries between the various exam and knowledge levels. Teachers are also to expound internal documentation in order to fulfil system-related claims. The study illustrates how conditions and preconditions emanate from shared profes-sional considerations, competencies and convictions, and that teachers need to be able to discuss these. However, this is challenged by a continuously increasing management by documents. In light of recentralised steering, claims are directed at teachers who are now to create transparency, quantifiable criteria for assessment and employability. Based on the teachers’ development projects, the results indicate that teachers are critical of how the education system is subjected to increasing pressure due to a stream of reforms and evaluations. Politicisation and economisation of education underscore a need for pragmatic and strategic actions within the profession. In contrast to experiences of political lack of vision, impellent user orientation and marketisation, universities and teachers claim that critical communicative-oriented pedagogy boost professional autonomy. Moreover, the study indicates that teachers’ positions and professional identities vary depending on the perceived validity of the political claims. Claims for objectivity, simplification, clarity and functional criteria for assessment are countered by claims for in-depth meaning-making and consideration of the complexity and knowledge instability that is constitutive of pedagogic practices. Ultimately, this study illustrates a professional shift within the teacher body towards notions of objectivity and individualisation, thereby threatening teachers’ critical discussions of their organisation and work.