Changing Professional Discourses in Teacher Education Policy Back towards a Training Paradigm: A Comparative Study

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, No. 4, 379–392, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article is based on a comparative teacher education policy analysis in two countries: Sweden and England. The authors were interested to compare recent changes in two particular systems. In particular the authors are concerned with what may be termed education theory and professional scientific knowledge, which they define as content from the scientific study of the field of education practice in the education disciplinary core or in supporting disciplines within this policy development.
Data were collected through ministerial surveys and journal articles.

Teacher education in Sweden
The value of scientific studies of the education field to teacher education was recognized in Sweden through a series of teacher education inquiries starting with the 1946 National School Commission’s Teacher’s College Delegation (TCD), which officially recognised the role of the school in transforming society and how this places demands on teacher knowledge from deeper studies in pedagogy and psychology for work in a more progressive and comprehensive school.

Subsequent reforms built onto this early recognition, starting with the Teacher Education Expert Committee (TEEC 60), which submitted its recommendations in 1965 (SOU 1965, 29). As with the TCD, the TEEC report argued strongly for the need of scientific pedagogical research in the pedagogy discipline and its value for professional knowledge and teaching.
In 1999, Sweden conducted a series of reforms in the school sector, which included a decentralization reform, an independent-schools act and curriculum reforms for both the common-comprehensive and upper-secondary school sectors, along with the introduction of new forms of governance and criterion-referenced national grading. These changes were felt to place new requirements on teacher competence and teacher education. These developments have been heavily critiqued for undermining content about education as a political and sociological object of knowledge as a ‘know-why knowledge’ component of a professions education, which has been removed from the teacher education curriculum in favour of performativity content. In effect, a marginalisation of abstract and theoretical disciplinary-based thinking has been established. This has occurred not through prohibition, but by filling the course time available with audited, concrete, practice-related, performative and behavioural content. There seems to be a policy convergence at this point between the two countries, despite the differences that may have characterised their earlier policy periods.

Teacher education in England
In mapping the last 50 years of ITT in England, the 1950s–1970s may be described as the ‘golden-age’ of higher education control. Teacher education was dominated by university providers who had a relatively large degree of autonomy over pro- European Journal of Teacher Education 383 gramme design and delivery. This dated back to the 1963 Robbins Report, which supported the development of an all-graduate teaching profession throughout the UK. As in Sweden at this time, the first education studies content of University ITT courses in England largely developed out of the research interests of professors of education. For students on teacher training courses in universities, this emphasis was signalled through the assessment procedures adopted, which were concentrated on examination in these areas.

Despite its ‘golden-age’ ascription even during this period, the content of courses and the balance between school-based teaching practice and time spent in university was an issue of debate that operated as a proxy between balancing the need for theorised knowledge as provided by universities with the practical classroom knowledge provided by the schools. In 1983 the UK conservative government established the Council for Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CATE), with the role of monitoring the provision of teacher training. In the 1990s, the UK Government specified that schools should take on increased responsibility for the training of teachers. The 1990s in England witnessed a growing number of policy interventions such as a National Curriculum for trainee teachers in English, mathematics, science, and information and communications technology, with courses heavily regulated in terms of content and length.
The most recent reform in Sweden seems to also be moving in these directions. Like teacher training in England, teacher education policy in Sweden has become overwhelmingly focused on practical, rather than theoretical, preparation, except in respect of academic subject knowledge, particularly when compared to Sweden in the past.


In this article, the authors discuss the changes in the teacher education policy in England and Sweden by using two concepts developed by Basil Bernstein (1999, 2000). These concepts distinguish between two different forms of discourse in relation to university content that reflect a dichotomy between academic and everyday knowledge (Bernstein 1999).
The first concept is horizontal discourse. It refers to a knowledge discourse that is embedded in everyday language and expresses common-sense knowledge related to practical goals. The second concept refers to what is called a vertical discourse. It is theoretical and abstract, and has been presented as aimed for the professional knowledge base of teacher education.

The authors argue that both Sweden and England have had periods when this form of knowledge was argued for at a policy level, but this is no longer apparent. Horizontal (tacit) knowledge is now emphasised – recently in Sweden through HUT 07, and much earlier in England from the 1970s James Report onwards. Through these reforms, specialised content concerning the sociological, political, philosophical, economic and ideological dimensions of professional knowledge has been marginalised.
In essence, from having become increasingly specialised toward a vertical discourse in relation to education and learning in the first part of the reform period – up to the 1970s in England and 2000s in Sweden – the professional knowledge about teaching, learning and education conditions communicated in teacher education has by means of policy decisions lost its direct connection to established pedagogical discipline (in Sweden) and specialised disciplinary fields like the sociology, history, philosophy and history of education (in England) and their established scientific practices and language.
This kind of horizontal discourse now dominates teacher education policy in both England and Sweden to suggest that although the neo-conservative educational values and neo-liberal policy paradigms are anticipated to refract differently in different contexts, this has not happened in relation to recent teacher education policy.

In conclusion, the authors claim that teachers today will be equipped only with a predominantly horizontal professional knowledge discourse and will be arguably less prepared for defining, assessing and, if necessary, responsibly adjusting their teaching.  They suggest that higher education teacher educators would have become trainers and mediators of Government policy, who understand their role as supporting professional work by offering principled guidance on classroom practice that is, at best, pre-digested theory.

Updated: Apr. 20, 2016