Education International
Education International

EI Research Network: Improving teacher status and rights

published 15 April 2013 updated 17 April 2013

The status of teachers as well as trends in freedom of association and collective bargaining since the financial and economic crisis were among the topics debated by participants at the 9th EI annual Research Network (ResNet) meeting held in Brussels, Belgium, on 10-11 April, 2013.

On the first day of the meeting, Dr. Linda Hargreaves from the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education, presented the framework for a survey: The status of teachers and how might we measure it? on the basis of a literature review on teacher status prepared for EI.

Measuring the status of teachers

Hargreaves outlined three components of status as set out by Hoyle (2001):

  • Occupational prestige: public perception of the relative position of an occupation in a hierarchy of occupations
  • Occupational status: a category to an occupation is allocated; i.e. is teaching a profession or not?
  • Occupational esteem: the regard in which an occupation is held by the public opinion.

In everyday terms, the status of teachers usually refers to occupational prestige.

Hargreaves cited a number of contemporary factors that are likely to affect teacher status, including:

  • The economic downturn and its impact on teachers’ job satisfaction and pay;
  • Prescriptive teaching methods (teachers as generalists);
  • The emphasis on accountability through tests, inspections, league tables;
  • The rise of private tutoring; and,
  • The increasing phenomenon of teacher mobility and migration.

“Hoyle’s determinants of teacher status remain valid over time and place although they vary in impact from place to place,” Hargreaves concluded. “The achievement of universal primary education should raise, not lower, teacher status, if teachers are trained well. Training and professional development, as well as greater competition to train as a teacher, will promote teacher status.”

Teacher unions: A strong voice for professionals

Hargreaves underlined that teachers need a voice to underline their professionalism and basic needs, as well as to make the public aware of the crucial responsibilities and expertise of teachers.

She argued that teacher organisations are uniquely placed to promote teachers’ voice, collaborate with governments on reforms, increase public awareness of teachers’ work and expertise, and to consult on the determinants of teacher status, i.e. how they may vary within national and local contexts.

EI study: Trends in freedom of association and collective bargaining

Research Network participants also heard about the EI Study on Trends in Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining since the Financial Crisis, written by Nora Wintour, an independent researcher, commissioned to examine trends in freedom of association and collective bargaining in selected countries, both those affected by the economic crisis and those still enjoying stable growth.

The study provides a general overview of the extent to which teachers are allowed to form and join trade unions, examines the framework and scope of collective bargaining, and seeks to identify and explain changes in collective bargaining and social dialogue since 2008. It also identifies cases of good practices in relation to strengthened social dialogue, as well as strategies used by unions to defend and promote collective bargaining.

Fundamental labour rights under attack

EI and its affiliates defend the view that the exercise of fundamental rights at work is integral to the achievement of quality education for all. However, Wintour’s report reveals wide variations that exist in practice with regard to the employment status of teachers, the right to associate and bargain collectively, and the right to strike.

The study also refers to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) General Survey Report, to be discussed at the 2013 International Labour Conference, which states that there is a “global tendency towards widespread bipartite consultation and marked expansion in the right to bargain collectively in public administration in Europe and Latin America, a large number of African countries and a number of countries in Asia and Oceania”.

Adopting a human rights approach

Wintour’s study recommends that trade unions adopt a human rights approach, i.e. situate freedom of association and collective bargaining within a human rights framework and clearly integrate collective bargaining rights in campaigns for quality education for all.

At the international level, it was recommended that education unions should:

  • Create an information exchange facility on EI’s website;
  • Organise consultation prior to International Labour Conference on the General Survey on Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector;
  • Anchor the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining for teachers and the public sector generally within the post-2015 development agenda, as integral to attaining quality education and public services for all.

Other studies that were presented and discussed during the first day of the Research Network meeting included the the EI report on The use and misuse of teacher appraisal presented by Laura Figazzolo, and the international teacher mobility survey, funded by EI and conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Educational Foundation, presented by Nancy Van Meter, Deputy Director of the AFT Research and Information Services Department.