University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

New Faces and Changing Places: Discourse, identity and early career primary teachers in post-2010 Multi-Academy Trusts

Spicksley, Kathryn (2020) New Faces and Changing Places: Discourse, identity and early career primary teachers in post-2010 Multi-Academy Trusts. PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

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In 2010, the incoming UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat (Coalition) government passed the Academies Act, enabling primary schools in England to become academies for the first time. By July 2020, 36 per cent of state-funded primary schools in England had become academies, many managed by Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). Research into academisation has consistently recognised the close relationship between early career teachers (ECTs) and academy schools, however, there has been little research conducted on the attitudes of new teachers towards academies, or the impact of academisation on the developing identities of ECTs. This is despite a wealth of research conducted into teacher identity which emphasises the importance of school culture in developing a positive professional identity. The present research project intended to make a contribution to knowledge about the identity-positionings of ECTs working in primary academies, and also to broader literature about academisation in the primary phase.

In line with research in the tradition of critical policy sociology, the research was designed as a discourse study, focusing on the performative effects of language at both policy level and within situated school contexts. Drawing on speech act theory, the study presupposed the performative nature of language, arguing that language should be considered not simply as describing the world but as actioning social events. The language of government ministers was interpreted as constituting a set of serious speech acts which positioned ECTs; the language of ECTs was interpreted as constituting a set of everyday speech acts, through which professional identities were developed and sustained. As a piece of critical policy analysis, the study was informed by the theoretical work of Michel Foucault, understanding the policy positionings of ECTs as a project in governmentality.

The study was conducted in two phases. The first phase centred on a corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis (CDA) of ministerial speeches on education, delivered between May 2010 and March 2018. The second phase involved qualitative interviews with ECTs and senior leaders, conducted in two case-study MATs. Analysis, which was informed by CDA and conversation analysis, attempted to isolate the strategies used by ECTs to construct a positive professional identity.

The study found that academy status was not constructed as being an important factor for ECTs when considering where to work. ECTs foregrounded their personal biographies and pedagogical preferences when explaining why they had chosen to work in an academy school, and in doing so resisted being positioned as ‘academy teachers’. I suggest that the construction of academy status as unimportant by ECTs contributes to a wider acceptance of academisation within education, supporting attempts by government to normalise academy status.

The study also found that ECTs starting their professional careers in primary academies were subject to multiple and often conflicting discourses from both policymakers and senior leaders, which led them to develop dynamic and shifting identity-positionings. As much previous research on the ECT phase emphasises how drawing from a stable, core identity is important in ensuring that ECTs remain committed and resilient within the teaching profession, the findings presented in the present research study therefore contribute to discussions concerning the high rate of attrition amongst ECTs.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University of Worcester’s requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. University of Worcester, 2020.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Multi-Academy Trusts, MATS, early career teachers, academy status, primary academies, attitudes, teacher identity, developing identities, critical political sociology
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
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Depositing User: Kathryn Spicksley
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2021 12:58
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2021 12:58

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