Performativity and primary teacher relations

Jeffrey, Bob (2002). Performativity and primary teacher relations. Journal of Education Policy, 17(5) pp. 531–546.



A performativity discourse currently pervades teachers' work. It is a discourse that relies on teachers and schools instituting self-disciplinary measures to satisfy newly transparent public accountability and it operates alongside a market discourse. The introduction of the performativity discourse has affected teacher relations at three levels of professional work: with students, colleagues and local advisor/inspectors. Ethnographic research with primary teachers - which focused on their experience of Ofsted inspections in six schools over periods of up to four years - is the source of this paper. The paper argues that a humanist discourse prevalent in teacher relations with students, colleagues and advisor/inspectors has been challenged by a performativity discourse that: distances teachers from students and creates a dependency culture in opposition to previous mutual and intimate relations; creates self disciplining teams that marginalize individuality and stratifies collegial relations in opposition to previous relations where primary teachers sought consensus; and creates subjugatory, contrived and de-personalized relations between local advisors/inspectors in preference to previous partnership relations. The paper concludes that the change in relations is an indicator of fundamental change to social relations but that primary teachers are in a good position to influence the performativity discourse, albeit it a struggle, by reconstituting it through the maintenance of humanist relations.

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