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Taking Risks in Education – reflections on English Schools

Linda Hammersley-Fletcher

Current educational change in England is based on the rationale that schools may be continually improved in ways that facilitate competitive advantage on a world stage. This rationale enables elites to set the agendas for educational policy shifts where, as accountability stakes rise the constraints on practice rise also (Samoff, 2013). As Friere (1985) argued, critical consciousness is an essential element of a teachers’ professionalism as this allows them to step-back and critically examine policy, practice and position this in relation to their educational beliefs and values. In other words it is essential that teachers are engaged in critically thinking through the policies that they are involved in both creating and delivering with the potential that they may choose to resist some initiatives or take risks to discover greater innovative and creative approaches to teaching and learning. However, increasing accountability for performance compromises professional autonomy through the threat of severe consequences for failure (Helgoy et al., 2007). Yet both pupils and their teachers learn through experience, some of which involves making mistakes.

the scope for creative responses to overcome unforeseen obstacles reduces

Workplaces are places where satisfaction comes from the civic values of democracy, solidarity and co-operation (Dejours and Deranty, 2010). In this way we build trust, confidence and enjoyment and develop our practices. It could be argued that schools should be an environment where such approaches were celebrated. Where civic values break down however, the manipulation of others can occur, particularly at times where marketisation encourages people to think first in terms of ‘themselves’. Rule following and accountability arise from such marketised agendas and the abuse of authority and a need for control become the manner in which insecure people attempt to dominate others through the use of regulation, standards and procedures (Samier and Lumby, 2010). As a consequence, freedoms to innovate in order to arrive at solutions for implementing and interpreting policy decline. Thus the scope for creative responses to overcome unforeseen obstacles reduces. As such flexibility is lost individuals start to feel disenfranchised from the workplace.

My questions then are have (and if so to what extent) educators become disenfranchised? Further, are educators able to hold on to their educational values? Research that I have undertaken (see for example Hammersley-Fletcher, 2015; 2014) suggests that some school leaders struggle with workloads, with the space to critically reflect and with the feeling that all they can do is mediate the worst effects of poorly conceived policy. This takes an emotional toll which has significant impact on their quality of life. Others act to focus on their personal educational values but are reporting the ever present threat that if they take the wrong path, the consequences will be severe not only for themselves but for the whole school. I argue that we need to consider what this says about educational creativity and innovation which is less likely to thrive under the kinds of pressures that we are placing on schools. In order to create, we need to take risks and taking risks means facilitating and enabling people to be flexible and to work together, pooling their strengths for imagining something new and exciting.


Dejours, C. and Derante, J-P. (2010) “The Centrality of Work” Critical Horizons 11 (2) p 167-180

Freire, P. (1985) The Politics of education: culture, power and liberation London: Bergin & Garvey.

Hammersley-Fletcher, L. (2015) “Value(s)-driven decision-making: the ethics work of English headteachers within discourses of constraint” accepted for Educational Management, Administration and Leadership 43(2) pp 198-213 (first published online 2013 September 24th doi: 10.1177/1741143213494887)

Hammersley-Fletcher, L. (2014) “Educational Austerity and Critical Consciousness: English Primary School Leaders wrestling with Educational Policy shifts” in Éducation comparée 12 pp 99-124

Helgøy, I., Homme, A. and Gewirtz, S. (2007) Introduction to Special Issue Local Autonomy or State Control? Exploring the Effects of New Forms of Regulation in Education, European Educational Research Journal, 6(3), 198-202.

Samier, E. and Lumby, J. (2010) “Alienation, Servility and Amorality: Gogol’ portrayal of bureaupathology to an accountability era” Educational Management, Administration and Leadership 38 (3) p.360-373

Samoff, J. (2013) “Institutionalizing international influence” in Arnove, R.F., Torres, C. A. and Franz, S. (2013) Comparative Education: the Dialectic of the Global and the Local. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield pp 55-88