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Managing performative imperatives and creative teaching and learning and the implications for professional identity

Open session organised by the CREATE research group, led by Bob Jeffrey (Honorary Research Fellow)

For the last 24 years teachers have been managing new performativity reforms focused on more accountability, testing, target setting and inspections alongside attempts to maintain their creative teaching, particularly in primary schools. As the performative agenda and practices became embedded in the late 1990s and the early 2000s a major government programme worth over 130m developed and encouraged a creativity discourse and related programmes across the whole of the education sector. The first part of this open session will review some of the ways primary teachers managed these two practices and the effects upon their professional work and identity based on ESRC research carried out between 2005-8. The second part of the session will provide an opportunity for those attending to discuss these findings in the light of their own current experiences in schools or in teacher education.

Event details


Briefly, the research found that performativity and creativity policies were mainly being developed in primary schools in parallel, although we also found some examples of integration of them in what one teacher described as ‘smart teaching’, a merging of the two practices. The major finding was that teachers sought to ensure pedagogic and professional
Success, for both these fields, to the best of their ability and to maintain their professional wellbeing.

In this climate of accountability schools appeared to embrace performativity and also acted innovatively and creatively. Our schools were littered with cultural and educational homilies exhorting its members to think and act positively, to see learning as a comfortable but challenging journey made easier through self-assessment and through co-operation with others, identifying mistakes as learning points and generally celebrating the joy of learning and education and downplaying authoritative power relations.

Our professional primary school teachers were team players who contributed to the presentation of the school as a unified, creative, inclusive and effective managerial organisation. Teachers and schools relished the greater flexibility introduced into primary schools in recent years and in particular the support for creative pedagogies. They felt that they had gained a professional competence with the current National Curriculum and its integrated assessment criteria as well as implementing a progression strategy for learning.

Teachers, adopted a new assigned social identity of raising achievement through target setting together with a progression narrative, at the same time as welcoming creativity policies as part of a revitalised personal identity. Teachers had reconstructed their self-concept or substantial self (Nias 1991) through fashioning a compromise between their personal identity – made up of values concerning the self – and their assigned social identity involving the delivering of objectives. The team culture supported this realignment of values positively, incorporating the progression narrative fully, with some teachers finding beneficial aspects to performative pedagogies such as those used to revise for SATs. This realignment appeared to have reduced the anger felt during the reform years of the 1990s.

Teachers used their creativity alongside their managerial role and to find more satisfiers from their corporate identity than dissatisfiers. They developed a form of pedagogic leadership, welcoming initiatives and engaging in managerial and performative professional development. In doing so, they showed the qualities of their post modern adaptable, flexible, creative, complex identities each ‘sustained and regulated by reference to ‘generalised others’.

Currently the creativity discourse has revitalised an interest in pedagogic dilemmas, but brought a new tension of having to manage performative policies as well. Constraint continues to be part of a teacher’s life due to initiative overload and central imperatives, ‘Professionalism needs to be rethought in terms of juggling different priorities that makes teaching a motivating and challenging job’.


Baring Court 201