The moral economy of teacher training in England: a critical discourse analysis

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The argument of our paper is that behind a continuous transformative impetus in the delivery of the country’s school teaching workforce including its distinctive socialisation are neo-liberal philosophies that we choose to conceptualise through the lens of the moral economy. E.P. Thompson’s (1971) original historical work foregrounded the moral economy as the traditional way of life in England prior to its transition into the modern market system (Gotz, 2015). The paper explores this thesis empirically through critical discourse analysis of official documents. We argue a type of moral economy pervades the British Government’s school inspectorate’s linguistic enunciations. The paper interrogates the moral economy favoured by Ofsted, the UK’s Government’s inspectorate branch whose evaluations and ratings about ITE are published online.[1] Scholarship adopting a moral economy perspective on social phenomena is varied (Tomlinson, 2017). The moral economy we investigate facilitates transactions between educational values and market actors who are enabled to extract human capital through the value capture which inspectorate reports nurture. Gotz (2015,155) argues the essence of the concept ‘moral economy’ is to retrieve ‘the moral’ in an economic context which is favourable to a utility maximalisation “that has been detached from ethical reasoning”, but which nevertheless turns human resources into ‘moral capital’.

Provision of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in England has undergone dramatic changes since 2010, with a historical shift towards the incorporation of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) for the graduate training of schoolteachers. The shift away from a heavy reliance on HEIs (universities) has implications for the valorisation of theoretical traditions of knowledge and critique. Spendlove (2024,44) refers to a perceived ‘crises in ITE in England’ associated with how Britain’s Conservative government (2007-2024) understands the nature and role of education in the capitalist economy and the nature of effective pedagogy in student teacher professional socialisation within this wider nexus of performativity. That political New Right orientation has marginalised university-based teacher education as an intellectual milieux that its conservative political critics hold responsible for perceived systemic weaknesses in England’s social, economic and global industrial competitiveness. The putative shortcomings of ITE in England is laid unashamedly at the door of university academic education departments deemed ‘out of touch’. Agamben (2005) refers to this paradigm shift in the construction of ITE provision as a ‘state of exception’, where normal governing rules are strategically subverted or suspended. Thus, change to ITE provision in England was judged necessary in order to allow the Conservative government to assert the values deemed ‘traditional’ with the capacity to ensure ‘cultural restorationism’ (Ball, 2013,19).

Within the coalition government (2010-2015), radical action was undertaken to include other providers of ITE, whose positionality being outside universities indicated grounds for concluding that the ITE for the 35,000+ new teachers each year would reflect a ‘moral turn’ (DfE, 2022). Interestingly, an Ofsted report (2011; p75) stated that most of the diverse ITE provision inspected had been ‘good or outstanding’. However, the 2011 implementation plan Training our next 2 generation of outstanding teachers (Department for Education, 2011) introduced a new School Direct route into teaching and, along with this, the expectation that teachers trained through School Direct would go on to work in the schools where they had trained (Ellis and Child, 2024). Nick Gibb argued for the need to raise the professionalism of teachers and national educational standards through liberating teachers in England from an alleged dominance over the teaching profession by academics in the education faculties within universities (Gibb, 2014). What this genre of policies sought to create was a status quo that dislodged established relationships between universities and schools by replacing them with a conflictual set of relations which engineered competitive funding tensions between ‘school-led’ and ‘university led’ ITT. Consequently, there has been a shift in recognition and politicised power and resources away from the university sector into a skills-based model of teacher training which the pragmatism of schools-led teacher training is aiming to normatively embed into the world of state funded compulsory schooling, and revitalise it in the process (Ellis et al, 2020).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Mar 2024
EventBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2024 - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Sept 202412 Sept 2024


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2024
Abbreviated titleBERA 2024
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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