The Primary School in Testing Times: A classic ethnography of a creative, community engaged, entrepreneurial and performative school – Bob Jeffrey – 2014
Schools and teachers in English primary schools are living with a productive stable tension and living in tension as they grapple with two contrasting policies, that of performativity and creativity. It is a tension negotiated by schools, teachers and children as they become familiar with the policies and they manipulate them to suit their situation as they exploit the spaces generated by government support of two, apparently, contrasting policies. We chart some of these tensions, with this ethnography of a primary school, which includes children’s experiences and perspectives, as well as teachers. We suggest that we are in the era of the postmodern teacher where each of the professional identities – the managerial teacher, the creative teacher and the performing teacher – is a challenge to the self, to maintain and develop the former and to meet the challenges faced by external demands and the progression of their learners. We also chart the coping strategies of children to manage performative practices and the effects on their learner identities.
Teachers, we found, are both embraced by the institution, and they return this warmth by embracing the institution’s values and imperatives while, to some extent, depleting the self, just as the teachers of the pre 1990s depleted the self through their personal commitment. There are professional debilitating tensions and mixed emotions about their role of teaching, their passion for creative pedagogy and their commitment to improve the lot of their learners in a performative culture.