REVIEW: The Importance To Assess Teacher Wellbeing in Free Schools

This is the Literature Review chapter that I wrote for my Masters dissertation in November 2017 where I assessed teacher wellbeing in a free school context. In terms of how research and findings have progressed from then on, I can say that very little has been done in this particular field but there has been an intense increase in the interest to discuss and address teacher wellbeing, Teach Care being a source to contribute towards this impetus, as well as the teacher crisis and teacher recruitment and retention.

It was this dissertation that led to my PhD project, which is officially titled ‘Teacher wellbeing in England: a critical evaluation of the correlative relationship between school leadership and wellbeing’; it is to examine the concept of teacher wellbeing in more relevant and accessible frameworks that the country is in need of, to broaden the impact of my research and offer some real and workable solutions to the teacher crisis, and I believe wellbeing lies at the heart of the matter. It is yet to be seen how COVID-19 will impact this already extremely fragile element of educational provision, with some of the teachers I have interviewed expressing that notwithstanding the emotional turmoil of living through a pandemic including teacher deaths, deaths of family members, shielding and isolation, but also the increased workload and duties of teachers, the challenges of teaching online across all year groups, the lack of resources including time and technology and the negative public and governmental judging of teachers including online bullying and biased journalism, we may lose even more teachers in larger numbers and quite quickly as well.

Minor edits and rephrasing has taken place for this literature review to make sense as a standalone piece of work.

Abstract

Teacher wellbeing is a heavily researched concept in academic scholarship whereas its manifestation in free schools is not. A clear gap in academic and professional research considering the concept of teacher wellbeing in free schools emphasises the need to conduct empirical research in a free school context to assess levels of wellbeing amongst teachers. In particular, the nature of leadership, management and governance of a free school is essential to consider to find out whether inherent features of a free school can have a beneficial or detrimental effect on teacher wellbeing. With new plans announced by the government this year [2017] for the expansion of the free school programme, the urgency of such research increases, as more British teachers will begin working in free schools. Therefore it is important to ascertain how teachers are accommodated in free schools, especially when acknowledging that free schools enjoy the most relaxed legal rules and regulations compared to any other type of school, the most pertinent of those relaxation of rules being that teacher unions agreements are not binding in free schools.

The need to investigate teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing is becoming a serious concern for the government (The Guardian, 2016), which is seeing a rapid depletion of the teaching workforce (The Guardian, 2017). A vast majority of teachers leaving are newly-qualified teachers, causing a consequential increase of unfulfilled vacancies across the country (Foster, 2017). In the House of Commons Education Committee’s report ‘Recruitment and retention of teachers’ (2017), there is a clear acknowledgement that ‘a considerable proportion of teachers leave the profession within five years’ and that ‘the number of teachers leaving the profession is growing (p14). In 2014, the Workload Challenge was initiated by the Department of Education (DfE, 2015), in which approximately 44,000 teachers participated in a consultation survey probing teacher workload. The analysis of the findings, which was based on a total of 1685 cases, found that:

‘63% of respondents stated that the excessive level of detail required made the tasks burdensome

45% stated that the duplication added to the burden of their workload

41% stated that the over-bureaucratic nature of the work made it burdensome’ (DfE, 2015, p7)

There is a clear indication that a vast majority of teachers feel that the nature and amount of work required of teachers is onerous. The analysis also pinpointed factors that teachers felt contributed towards these onerous burdens, including ‘the volume of work that they needed to get through in the time available’, ‘unrealistic/very short deadlines’, ‘too many sources of information to manage’ and a ‘lack of clarity with observation requirements’ (DfE, 2015, p7). In response, the DfE stated that they were committed to ‘working to remove unnecessary workload for teachers, to help them concentrate on teaching and their own development’ (DfE, 2017, np). In their action plan, pledges were made to ‘[S]trengthen the process by which teachers qualify and look carefully at what more we can do to cement the relationship between high quality initial training, early career support and on-going development opportunities’ (DfE, 2017, p6). In September 2017, the chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss expressed a willingness to accept increasing pay rises above the imposed 1% cap in public sector areas experiencing skill shortages (The Guardian, 2017).

These proposals all confirm that teacher wellbeing lies at the heart of the success of effective educational provision. It also confirms how supporting teachers to make duties and responsibilities manageable and to enhance career satisfaction is a focus the government have acknowledged and are working to improve. Therefore the need to conduct research into the concept of teacher wellbeing becomes an extremely relevant one, to gain a clearer understanding of what teachers need to feel secure and satisfied in their roles.

Teacher wellbeing has been extensively researched and reported in literature. Pillay, Goddard and Wilss (2005) describe teaching roles as ‘demanding roles’ and acknowledge that ‘there are growing concerns about teacher wellbeing and competence’ (p22). They stipulate that ‘stress, burnout, work overload, and job dissatisfaction contribute to teacher attrition while factors such as, administrative support, reasonable role expectations, and decreased workplace stress contribute to teachers’ intention to stay in teaching’ (p23). These findings support the government’s proposals to mitigate the burdensome elements of teaching to reduce stress and avoid job dissatisfaction. They also confirm the findings of the Workload Challenge in that an unmanageable workload is a principle factor leading to job dissatisfaction, whereas support and clarity in direction (leadership) and expectations appear to be principle factors in increasing job satisfaction and commitment.

Defining wellbeing

Before it can be assessed what causes high or low levels of teacher wellbeing, it is important to define what wellbeing is. For the purposes of this study, the definition offered by Frieberg (2005) will be used. Frieberg defines wellbeing as:

‘[a] positive emotional state that is the result of a harmony between the sum of specific context factors on the one hand and the personal needs and expectations towards the school on the other hand.’ (p35)

Frieberg’s definition is appropriate to use to conceptualise the investigation and analysis of this study as it incorporates the importance to look at the effectiveness of external factors such as leadership and management and working conditions as well as the teacher’s own interpretations and understanding of their role. With the emphasis on wellbeing being centered on a ‘positive emotional state’, this connotes that wellbeing is an extremely subjective, psychological concept as emotions are, amongst other things, ‘physiological occurrences’ (Solomon, 1978, p9) and according to Margolis, Hodge and Alexandrou (2014) wellbeing includes ‘physical, emotional, mental and spiritual contentment’ (p393).

This implies that how a teacher construes the concept of wellbeing, their own level of wellbeing and what this feels like can massively vary from their counterpart’s, regardless of external factors and even if they work in the exact same context. McCallum and Price (2010) also recognise that wellbeing is ‘individualised’ (p32) to the teacher. However, Caprara et al (2006) found that it is reasonable to believe that ‘individuals belonging to the same school tended to be more similar on many important variables than individuals from different schools’ (p481). This can imply that teachers working in the same or similar contexts bind together in a shared efficacy, which supports and informs a teacher’s individual level of self-efficacy. Similarly, a school’s unique context constituted by its leadership and management, location, student intake, policies and student outcomes can have a direct impact on a teacher’s self-efficacy. The current position on the actual effect of external factors on a teacher’s wellbeing seems to be unclear. Even though academics are clear in expressing that teachers are in control of their wellbeing, they all gravitate back to understanding of the bearing external factors can have on wellbeing whereas the impact of their effect is yet to be quantified.

Whilst looking at what causes teacher stress, Abel and Sewell (2010) use a specific definition of teacher stress generated through the work of Kyriacou and Sutcliffe (1977). The definition offered is that ‘[T]eacher stress is specifically defined as conditions of negative effects, such as frustration and anxiety, that result from aspects of the job and that are perceived by teachers, as a threat to their psychological or physical wellbeing’ and that ‘[I]n that model, the appraisal of threat to wellbeing is the main mechanism for mediating the experience of stress’. Subsequently ‘[C]oping mechanisms are subsequently activated to reduce the personal threat and mediate the stress-response syndrome’ (p287). More importantly though, Abel and Sewell state that as a result of this process, the ‘experience of stress results from the teachers’ perceptions of demands, the inability or difficulty in meeting such demands stemming from a lack of effective coping resources, and the ultimate threat to the teachers’ mental or physical wellbeing’ (p287). This deduction of how the outcome of stress builds reiterates the element of subjectivity – the way one teacher will interpret the demands of their job will be different to another teacher’s interpretation of the same predicament. In deduction, regardless of external factors and circumstances, it is how the individual teacher physiologically perceives their job in their school that informs stress and wellbeing levels. Furthermore, by using this definition of teacher stress, it cannot be deduced that working in a particular type of school or a particularly graded school has a correlative effect on wellbeing. Hypothetically, working in an ‘Outstanding’ private school does not ensure job satisfaction or improved staff wellbeing whereas working in an ‘Inadequate’ free school in ‘Special Measures’ does not imply burnt-out teachers.

The assessment and isolating of factors that affect teacher wellbeing is more complicated than it appears. Wellbeing, and how it is ensured and understood by a teacher, is a very subjective and variable process. From this analysis, it becomes important to include specific provision during the research stage to investigate how teachers define wellbeing for themselves and how they ensure the adaptation of their competencies to be able to work effectively in a free school, focusing on the coping mechanisms each teacher uses to ensure their own wellbeing, and how this presents itself inside and outside the classroom.

With wellbeing defined and the implication that it is an extremely personal and subjective concept to analyse, next it is important to clarify in what form wellbeing will be assessed considering its inherent physiological characteristic.

The work of Bandura (1977, 1989, 2001) can be helpful in conceptualising the concept of wellbeing. Bandura’s (2001) social cognitive theory corroborates this study’s focus to assess wellbeing on a case-by-case basis and provides the framework in which teachers will be examined. Bandura states that the ‘capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life is the essence of humanness’ (p1) meaning it is at the very core of emotional physiology to be able to manipulate levels of wellbeing and that this is achieved through the observations and perceptions of social experiences. Bandura states human agency (Bandura, 1989), which is an individual’s ability to react, is driven by four core elements: intentionality, forethought, self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness (Bandura, 2001). This develops self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977), which is the ability to succeed in circumstances; individuals with low self-efficacy do not succeed or find it very difficult to do so. Bandura’s ideal of self-efficacy can be taken to form the basis of the notion of resilience that Margolis et al (2014) define as ‘the capacity to overcome ‘acute’ and ‘chronic’ adversities that are seen as ‘major insults’ on the developmental processes’ (p395). This links directly to the aims of this study as this framework will help ascertain what factors can strengthen or weaken a teacher’s self-efficacy that consequently affects levels of wellbeing. It also considers the element of subjectivity and will provide teachers with an open forum to share, rationalise and discuss what they do to adapt and succeed in working in a free school, as well as ensuring their wellbeing.

For the purposes of this work, the ‘intentionality’ of human agency will only be assessed as it appropriately fits into its aim of assessing teachers’ interpretations of external and internal factors. Intentionality is defined as the ‘representation of a future course of action to be performed…a proactive commitment to bringing them about’ (Bandura, 2001, p6). More potent to this framework is that Bandura stipulates that the human agency of intentionality (how the teacher reacts to the situation they find themselves in to ensure their wellbeing) can be conducted in three modes: direct personal agency which is the individual’s own actions of observation, proxy agency which relies on other agents/parties to act on an individual’s behest, order or command and collective agency, which includes co-ordinated and interdependent observation of numerous agents/parties (Bandura, 2001, p1). I will be solely focussing on the mode of direct personal agency to analyse how a teacher’s personal agency, which is the comprising of actions, capabilities and understandings of an individual, are used to achieve a result, that result being a secure level of self-efficacy and wellbeing. However, it cannot be ignored that although proxy and collective agency will not be assessed, their effect on a teacher’s personal agency can be impactful, which corroborates with the deduction made earlier that it is important to look at the effect of leadership and management on teachers’ wellbeing.

This raises an interesting point concerning the notion of intentionality when there are other agents present. Other agents would be other teachers, senior leadership, middle leaders, support staff, students, parents, external agencies and the governing body/Trust. Bandura terms the process of different agents working together to achieve an outcome as joint activity and states that ‘joint activities require commitment to a shared intention and coordination of interdependent plans of action’ and that the challenge in these types of activities is the melding of the ‘diverse self-interests in the service of common goals and intentions collectively pursued in concert’ (p7). It is undoubted that free schools perform the functionality of joint activity driven by a joint intention. This appears to be a straightforward feat, but the dynamic changes or problems that can occur by the presence of individual agentic intentions in a structure where joint activity is necessary becomes almost inevitable. Translating this to the context of this study, it becomes elemental to assess firstly, whether there was a shared intention amongst other agents to accommodate teacher wellbeing, secondly, what management and leadership did to ensure teacher wellbeing and thirdly, if and how it differed from what teachers did themselves to ensure their wellbeing.

The onus of wellbeing

The next enquiry is to look at the literature to find whether teacher wellbeing is a joint activity in schools or whether it is an outcome of personal agency. Margolis, Hodge and Alexandrou (2014) examined the ‘teacher educator’s role in promoting resilience within new teachers in the light of tensions between what is healthy and sustainable for individual teachers vs. the institutions in which they work’ and argue that the ‘hyperfocus on resilience within international teacher education research and practice is detrimental to both individual teachers and the training profession as a whole’ (p391-392). This can be interpreted to mean by making teacher resilience a high-priority objective causes the opposite effects of resilience and reduces a teacher’s capability to deal with their requisite (and implied) duties and responsibilities. They also highlight that teachers must be acutely aware of ‘what life is like’ (p392) for practising teachers to prepare them for their future careers, with the responsibility of ensuring this exposure placed with teacher trainers and courses. To emphasise the adverse effects of this intense approach, Margolis et al (2014) state that ‘people often make the error of placing too much focus, responsibility and blame on individual teacher characteristics, and not enough on the power of environment, structure and the multitude of situational factors that impact the work of teachers’ (p392). This ties in with the point made earlier on how placing a mandatory onus on teachers to have resilience implicitly ignores the fact that a type of school, its structure and its working conditions has an effectual impact on teachers’ wellbeing – yes teachers are responsible for developing their resilience thresholds but the potential effect of external factors cannot be ignored or mitigated in this process.

It emerges that to place the responsibility of wellbeing predominantly on the teacher is a worrisome approach to take. However McCallum and Price (2010) argue that ‘the retention of teachers is dependent on having a wellbeing strategy in place that clearly identifies inhibiting and enabling strategies’ to ‘remain well for themselves and the future of our children and young people’ (p19). They also affirm that wellbeing is attained by ‘[T]aking responsibility and developing a sense of agency in one’s own wellbeing is central to productivity, wellness and a sustained teaching career’ (p19), which supports this study’s assessment framework of teachers’ interpretations of their wellbeing. McCallum and Price also emphasise the importance for teachers to have ‘positive attitude, taking ownership and responsibility, along with identifying as a lifelong learner’ to sustain their wellbeing and that this is done through ‘active participation, consisting of physical activity, cognitive stimulation, social interactions and a connection with significant places’ (p20). These statements are responsibility-endowing upon teachers to develop coping strategies (similar to that discussed by Abel and Sewell), stimulate themselves and build connections with the school community. McCallum and Price do mention that the community, school leaders and employers (p32) play a vital part in ensuring staff wellbeing, however it is clear that they principally place the onus of wellbeing on the teachers themselves, which as Margolis et al (2014) suggest can cause adverse outcomes.

Factors that affect teacher wellbeing

In addition to the response data analysis of the Workload Challenge, it is important to explore what the literature suggests as factors that affect teacher wellbeing. Abel and Sewell’s (1999) comparative study is particularly useful to look at as it assessed the comparison between teacher burnout in rural and urban schools. As CS is situated not only in an inner-city and urban region but also a socio-economical deprived ward (Redacted details, 2016) it would be interesting to see if the findings of this study match those found in Abel and Sewell’s study. They found that ‘[U]rban school teacher experienced significantly more stress from poor working conditions and poor staff relations’ and that ‘pupil misbehaviour and poor working conditions predicted burnout for urban school teachers’ (p287) and pinpointed [R]elationships with pupils to be ‘the most important source of stress for teachers’ (p288). Similar to McCallum and Price (2010), Abel and Sewell (1999) also take heed of the potential influence of external factors on a teacher’s self-efficacy that ‘tend to lie outside the individual’s control’ (p288) such as geographical location, student body and management and leadership. The fact that Abel and Sewell’s study found ‘significantly greater self-reported stress’ (p292) in urban schools, like CS, coupled with the free school set-up, emphasises the importance to investigate stress levels and what contributes towards them amongst teachers working in a free school.

Briner and Dewberry’s (2005) study working in conjunction with Worklife Support (now called Educational Support Partnership as of 2015) provided positive factors on wellbeing such as ‘feeling valued and cared for and job stimulation and enjoyment’ (p2). It was found that there was an effectual correlation between the two elements of emotion (the level of wellbeing and job satisfaction of teachers) and behaviour (the teacher’s coping strategies, or lack thereof). For example, high levels of teacher wellbeing implicated strong pupil performance, whereas where teachers suffered from low levels of wellbeing could suggest pupils of such teachers were unable to reach their full potential. Even though this study exclusively examined the relationship between teacher wellbeing and pupil performance, it implicitly highlights one of the most important theoretical underpinnings of my study – ‘if we want to improve school performance, we also need to start paying attention to teacher wellbeing’ (p4). The application of this finding as an analogy to CS looks something like this: to improve educational performance teachers need to be happy, confident and secure in their roles – CS has a poor school performance record according to Ofsted (2016, details redacted) – therefore the teachers that work at CS have low levels of happiness, confidence and security in their roles.

In support of this, Caprara et al (2006) conducted a very similar study across 50 junior schools in Italy, assessing the correlative effect between teachers’ self-efficacy and its impact on students’ academic achievement. They also found that teachers who had high self-efficacy beliefs tend to have a greater positive impact on students’ learning. They also summarised factors that positively impacted on a teacher’s self efficacy, stating that:

‘An extensive review of the literature has clearly documented that teachers with a strong sense of efficacy exhibit high levels of planning and organisation, are open to new ideas and are more willing to experiment with new methods to better meet the needs of their students. These teachers also exhibit enthusiasm for teaching, are more committed to their profession, and are likely to exert a positive influence on students’ achievements and their own sense of efficacy’ (p485).

Caprara et al found that teachers who have high self-efficacy levels are more capable to build ‘interpersonal networks’ and ‘nourish and sustain their work satisfaction’ (p485). Perhaps the study that offers the most definitive list of factors that can affect wellbeing was Chaplain’s (2008) study looking at stress and psychological distress in trainee secondary school teachers in England. A total of twenty-three factors were used in the study to record stress levels including: ‘administrative tasks’, ‘lack of recognition and effort’ and ‘attitude/behaviour of senior management’ (p202).

The importance of context: teacher wellbeing in free schools

The last four sub-chapters have offered a plethora of studies, research and findings based on teacher wellbeing in specific groups of people, in specific types of schools and in specific countries. However research into teacher wellbeing in free schools in virtually non-existent. Whereas the first sub-chapter explains the need to investigate teacher wellbeing as a whole, this section will establish the importance to investigate teacher wellbeing in the specific context of a free school set-up and how inherent features of a free school can have an impact on teacher wellbeing.

Morris (2015) highlights the inherent differences of free schools compared to the typical LEA or academy school. Some of these are the privileges for free schools to ‘operate as their own admissions authority’ and be ‘partially selective’ (p536). Free schools also have increased autonomy in crafting the curriculum provision of their school, the length and timings of the school day, the holiday timetable and can employ unqualified teachers (p537). All these elements of the free school set-up emphasise a greater autonomy in their structure, policy and processes.

One of the government’s specified reasons for introducing free schools to the English schooling system was to achieve the educational success they had brought in countries like the USA, Canada and Sweden, to raise the British profile of educational attainment. The government’s White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ (2010) uses a repetitive reference to ‘best improving and fastest improving education systems’ (p18) throughout the policy document as a reasoning for the increased autonomy of free schools. In the Foreword, David Cameron and Nick Clegg made a statement confirming this justification in response to Britain’s declining position on PISA’s scoreboard by stating that ‘[T]he only way we can catch up, and have the world-class schools our children deserve, is by learning the lessons of other countries’ success’ (p3).

It would be crude to say that the government at this period in time were playing copycat to regain education attainment and reputation by incorporating the notion of autonomy in schools, which gave birth to British free schools, the same notion that had previously mothered the successful charter schools of the USA and the free schools of Sweden. However it could be said that this approach so explicitly advocated by the government was flawed from the outset. Wiborg (2010) provided an intricate analysis on the merit of Swedish free schools in contribution to the English debate. She argues that the success of Swedish free schools can only be duly assessed within the unique educational context of the Swedish education system. I believe in addition to these contextual factors, it would also be of vital importance to look at the influence of social policies as well such as welfare, health and housing (Bibi, 2016) to truly ascertain the validity of free schools in England. Therefore Wiborg is implying that there is no guarantee that the Swedish free school success story can be transferred into the British schooling system. This presents the Free School initiative to be a dangerous gamble from the outset to be tools of educational improvement in the UK.

To expound the complication faced by British free schools to be successful, Higham (2014) confirms the relaxation of legal and local authority limitations and controls that previously dogged the inaugurations of parent-promoted schools which are the closest existing variation of a free school. However, an important intention was annexed to the notion of free schools – free schools were to serve in disadvantaged areas and be led by demand as much as possible. This implied that free schools were to be set up to tackle educational obstacles or failings in a certain community or geographical location, especially in areas with high socio, economic and employment deprivation. However, Higham’s (2014) study of analysing the aims and motivations of 50 free school proposals found a very different outcome. Higham found that the free school proposals that were successful were the ones that were able to evidence a strong professional support network, robust educational aims and, crucially to this study, schools that did not specifically intend to serve disadvantaged communities. This is corroborated with an American study conducted by Lubienski et al (2009), which found that successful charter schools (similar to the British free school) were located on the periphery of poverty areas. Similarly, Allen and Burgess (2010) found that successful Swedish free schools were ‘concentrated in urban, affluent and gentrifying localities and serve parents who are most likely to be highly educated or second-generation migrants.’ (p125) It appears that the government’s stipulated requisite for a free school to serve a community’s educational shortcoming as a premising reason for its existence in actuality has not been the case if we are to look at the free schools that have been successful. The question that therefore arises in the context of a free school that is based in one of the most deprived areas in the whole of England (redacted details 2017, p13) is this – was it doomed from the outset? And if so, what effect has this had on its teaching staff?

More potently to the context of CS, Higham found that the ‘majority of proposers located in highly disadvantaged areas are shown to have aims and expertise that do not fit well with what the government is willing to accept’ (p122) and that overall ‘the motivations, aims and actions of accepted proposers are found not to support specific involvement of disadvantaged communities’ (p123). This finding has alarming implications for CS and highlights what a gamble free schools are – it highlights that CS, even before it opened its doors, was facing challenges given its location. As a result, it was inevitably going to be a difficult school to sustain for all working parties involved, including teachers. Higham does not go onto provide reasons used to reject free school proposals (that were essentially doing what the government wanted them to do) but what he does provide is a comparative analysis of disadvantaged-orientated proposals that were accepted and disadvantaged-orientated proposals that were rejected. Here, it was found that the underlying trend between accepted proposals had leaders who had strong professional backgrounds and a keen focus on traditional academia. To apply this to CS, CS placed a greater focus on social and cultural development of students (Redacted, 2013) with a Trust of professionals with little educational experience. It may be inferred here that these facts could be some of the contributing factors that led to the failure of CS as in July 2017 as CS was permanently closed.

It is therefore clear that the existing literature evaluating the merit of free schools in England expresses how increased autonomy of free schools opens up more room for error and how the vast majority of the free schools that passed the application process and remain open do not meet the intended objectives of the government. At the same time, there is still no mention of teacher accommodation in free schools.

It is important to note in relation to teacher wellbeing that free schools are not bound by teacher union agreements (Hatcher, 2011, p485) and that ‘[A]ll three of the classroom teachers unions – ATL, NASUWT and NUT – are strongly opposed to free schools’ (p499). The NUT (now a part of the National Educational Union) fervently opposed the free school initiative in their case against free schools titled ‘Free Schools: Free for All? (NUT, 2013) from a predominantly fiscal angle. The discussion about teachers only arose intermittently to highlight an increased number of unqualified teachers teaching in free schools; there is scarce if any mention of qualified teachers’ legal protection, support assurance or wellbeing that work in free schools. It therefore seems like the free school initiative has opened up a black hole in which the accommodation of qualified teachers (and indeed unqualified teachers) has fallen and the government, the DfE, not even the unions, have managed to 1. predict nor notice this occurring quick enough and 2. have taken the appropriate measures to ensure some level of support and protection for teachers working in free schools. This highlights the fundamental importance of this study to expose the realities faced by teachers working in a free school who have fallen by the wayside so that it can be flagged to the government, to the DfE and to the unions that there has been a negligent oversight from all parties to support and protect teachers working in free schools. Hatcher expressly pinpoints that an area of contention with free schools is the ‘implications for teachers, including union-related issues’ (p486) but then only expands on this statement with one paragraph in his article. This stance is clarified when he makes the subsequent statement that ‘The extent to which free schools use their autonomy in these respects remains to be seen’ (p498) when commenting on teaching conditions in free schools. This highlights the lack of empirical research into teaching conditions in free schools and, implicitly, how they will vary from free school to free school.

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