“Dimensions of acceptability: England in the OECD TALIS programme” by Tore Bernt Sorensen

Monday, 29 February 2016, 16:00-17:00,

Room 3.13, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol.

The slides used by Tore in his presentation can be accessed here.


This paper discusses the role of state authorities and teacher unions in the global educational policy field, focusing on the case of England and the OECD programme Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). TALIS is one of the most ambitious efforts so far to launch a global debate on the role of school teachers and leaders in knowledge societies. TALIS is coordinated by the OECD and engages a variety of policy actors with overlapping horizons of action. England participated in the second round, TALIS 2013.

Drawing on critical realism, the paper combines literature review and critical discourse analysis of policy actors’ practical argumentation, on the basis of an empirical material consisting of policy documents and theory-laden realist interviews. The paper analyses the practical argumentation of English state authorities for taking part in TALIS and discusses it in relation to those of other main policy actors engaging with TALIS, including the OECD, the European Commission, the global teacher union Education International and national teacher unions.

The paper highlights the complex pluri-scalar nature of the TALIS programme. The practical argumentation of state authorities in England suggests that England came to take part in TALIS 2013 due to domestic policy priorities and strong teacher union interest in the programme. Moreover, English state authorities insist that participation in programmes like TALIS does not challenge the fundamentally national character of education systems and associated institutional arrangements for teachers. On this basis, two key relationships structuring the practical argumentation of English state authorities are distinguished: between government and domestic unions, and between national government and international agencies like the OECD and the European Commission. From the viewpoint of English state authorities, these relationships are imbued with a dimension of acceptability and there are red lines that cannot be crossed.

Yet, the paper argues that this argumentation cannot stand alone. The TALIS debate on teachers is framed by the historical influence of the US government on OECD’s indicator development as well as the strong working partnership between OECD and the European Commission. Indeed, we might understand TALIS as a distinct contribution to the creation of a common space of measurement for the purpose of unifying and administering education systems on an international scale.

Main references

Fairclough, I. & N. Fairclough (2012). Political Discourse Analysis: A method for advanced students. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Lingard, B., & Rawolle, S. (2011). New scalar politics: Implications for education policy. Comparative Education, 47(4), 489-502.
Nóvoa, A., & Yariv-Mashal, T. (2003). Comparative Research in Education: A Mode of Governance or a Historical Journey? Comparative Education, 39(4), 423-438.
Sorensen, T.B. (forthcoming). An explanatory critique of industrial relations in global education governance. In S.L. Robertson, R. Dale, & J. Komljenovic (eds). [Anthology on critical cultural political economy of education].

About the Speaker

Tore Bernt Sorensen is a doctoral candidate (Education) in the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Tore’s PhD project concerns contemporary trends in the global educational policy field. Focusing on the main political actors involved in OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), the project discusses the implications for the teaching profession on a global scale and in selected countries such as Australia, England and Finland.

This is a free event. No booking required. For further information, please email: ed-gesf@bristol.ac.uk