Tag Archives: Professor James Avis

“Precarious forms of employment”

I have found time to reply to a comment on my post about Stephen Ball’s work. Theresa raised the problems that sessional tutors sometimes find when attempting to collaborate and connect with professional development. It brought me back to my research into the participation of student teachers in the lifelong learning sector in England. The most recent campaigns by UCU concerning zero hours contracts don’t seem to be making much impact on HR processes, certainly in colleges. What follows is a review of some of the literature concerning the lifelong learning landscape, post fordism, and managerialism. I hope it helps with some of the background and context.

The landscape

Professor James Avis argued that under performance-led regimes prevalent in the FE sector (following the incorporation of FE colleges in 1993), contradictory phenomena emerge that on the one hand deny the legitimacy of some forms of professional practice, while on the other hand providing a context for new forms of ‘active ‘ professionalism (Avis 2005:212). Under the conditions faced by FE teachers characterised by accountability, ‘blame cultures’ (2005:250) and strategic compliance, both pragmatist and progressive practices can operate together. We may acknowledge here, too, the benefits of shared spaces for teachers, including social media.The resources marshalled for teachers include the development of a repertoire of professional knowledge and practice derived from repeated classroom experiences, increased confidence and frameworks by which to reflect on experience. What is often lacking however, particularly for sessional tutors is space within the institution to develop their expertise, pedagogy, and intellectual enquiry.

Allen and Henry (1997) discuss how perceived flexibility in the labour market translates into risk for those employees faced with a relationship based on contractualisation. While their research is about the contract service industry, it is their assessment of Beck’s characterisation of employment risk that might resonate with those who face ‘precarious forms of employment’ (Allen and Henry 1997:181). Both employer and employee can view their contracted labour as flexible on the one hand, and as risky and uncertain on the other, but when people work in what Beck calls ‘a risk-fraught system of employment’ (Beck 1992:143), the very constraints caused by insecurity can lead to a resourcefulness derived from individual biographies rather than collective identities.

Conversely, Avis suggests that resourcefulness can emerge from performative cultures (Lyotard 1984) that are based on Fordist industrial relations and low trust. Avis et al. (2009) invoke Giddens (1998), framing the teaching workplace as a process of reflexive modernisation ‘where restructuring has become commonplace’ and, more alarmingly still, where professionalism based on the legitimacy of pedagogical and curricular expertise has been rendered untenable and replaced with a conditional trust (Avis et al. 2009:245).

Post-Fordism

According to Brehony and Deem (2005:398), Post-Fordism is defined as the ‘decentralization, flexibility and the widespread use of [computer] technology in organisations’. Flexibility and willingness to undergo CPD are features of a post-Fordist interpretation of recent developments in the LLS since incorporation, as are customization, autonomy and accountability. Its use has become subsumed with ‘the knowledge economy’ and the ‘learning organisation’, yet aspects of the definition sit less well with current practices, one being the assumption of the worker having a sense of autonomy and being able to shape the identity of their organisation. This may be because of the confluence of post-Fordist principles with those of managerialism in the LLS.

Managerialism

Randle and Brady (1997) provide a list of characteristics of what they term new managerialism, such as strict financial management, devolved budgetary controls, efficiency, productivity, performance indicators, consumerism, accountability, flexibility of the workforce and the ‘right to manage’. For them, these characteristics set post-incorporated FE colleges in the mid 1990s in direct opposition to lecturers and academics who predicted a loss of professionalism as a result of the changes to the command and control of their duties and responsibilities (Hayes 2003). They argued that managerialism, as a paradigm, was incompatible with professionalism (1997), and that the limitations of professional control needed to be addressed through collective action. O’Leary (2013) argues that it represents a range of private sector inspired management techniques used as a template to improve productivity, performance and accountability. Ball (1990) and Enteman (1993) provide reductionist definitions where bureaucratic society is replaced and becomes a function of the sum of the application of organisational practices. In particular, Enteman argues that
The relationship between managerialism and the LLS is illustrated well by Pusey (1991:22), albeit from an Australian perspective, arguing that:

There can be no quarrel with the notion of efficiency as such. The inherent problem lies instead at another level – with the criteria that define what count as costs and benefits; with the loss of social intelligence; and with the number and range of potentially constructive discourses that have been suppressed.

If we accept this portrayal of the landscape for the lifelong learning workforce then we could ask 3 questions:
Who benefits?
So what?
What next?

I would be grateful for your thoughts.

References

Allen, J. and Henry, N. (1997) ‘Ulrich Beck’s Risk society at work: labour and employment in the contract service industries’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2 (2), pp.180-196.

Avis, J. (2005) Beyond Performativity: reflections on activist professionalism and the labour process in further education. Journal of Educational Policy. 20(2), pp.209-222.

Avis, J., Fisher, R., and Simmons, R. (eds.) (2009) Issues in Post-Compulsory Education and Training: Critical Perspectives. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Press.

Ball, S. (1990) Politics and policy making in education: explorations in policy sociology. Oxon: Routledge.

Ball, S.J. (2008) The Education Debate. Bristol: Policy Press.

Brehony, K.J. and Deem, R. (2005) Challenging the post-fordist/flexible organization thesis: The case of reformed educational organizations. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 26 (3), pp.395-414.

Enteman, W.F. (1993) Managerialism: The Emergence of a New Ideology. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hayes, D. (2003) New labour, New Professionalism. In: Satterthwaite, J., Atkinson, E., and Gale, K. (eds.) Discourse, Power, Resistance: Challenging the rhetoric of contemporary education. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books, pp.28-42.

Lyotard, J.F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

O’Leary, M. (2013) Surveillance, performativity and normalised practice: the use and impact of graded lesson observations in Further Education Colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 37(5), pp.694-714.

Pusey, M., (1991) Economic Rationalism in Canberra: A Nation-Building State Changes its Mind. Cambridge University Press: Melbourne.

Randle, K. & Brady, N. (1997) Managerialism and Professionalism in the Cinderella Service. Journal of Vocational Education and Training. 49 (1), pp.121-139.