The decline in bureaucratic-professional regulation and the trade unions’ knowledge

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The decline in bureaucratic-professional regulation alters the position of the trade unions in the policy-making process and tends to increase the nebulousness of the relevant knowledge that should serve as the matrix for trade union activity.

In Portugal (Barroso, 2000), as in other European countries (Maroy, 2006), the regulation of the educational system was dominated throughout most of the 20th century (at least until the late 1980s) by a bureaucratic-professional “model”. At the institutional and organizational level, this model resulted in a combination of bureaucratic components (which tended to favor an administrative way of thinking, in line with state intervention) and professional teaching components (which tended to favor a pedagogical way of thinking). Therefore, it can be said that, during this period, two types of regulation systems coexisted in Portugal: a “bureaucratic and administrative state regulatory system” and a “corporative and pedagogical professional regulatory system” (Barroso, 2000). This explains the important role played by teachers in the actual administration of education, through the positions that they hold and the jobs that they perform. It also explains the relevance that knowledge and professional teaching experience has in justifying and legitimizing educational policies. This same context also helps us understand the leading role played by teachers’ representative associations in the political process, which participated and negotiated with governments in matters that went far beyond purely professional concerns. In this sense, the bureaucratic-professional form of regulation frequently resulted in a tacit “alliance” between the state and the teachers’ unions, which was determined either by the relationship between the forces at hand, a convergence of interests, or a mere institutional mimicry (which was seen as beneficial for teachers, the school and the educational system in general).

Now, this model is clearly in a state of decline in Portugal. On the one hand, the emergence of new methods of regulation is associated with the development of post-bureaucratic forms of coordination. On the other hand, it is possible to detect a deliberate strategy on the part of the current government itself to reduce the role of the trade unions and their level of intervention in general matters of educational policy. Finally, the media have given great prominence to the intervention of opinion makers, characterized by a systematic and concerted discourse directed against teachers, pedagogical innovations and educational sciences in general, calling into question the cognitive references that, according to them, formed the basis for the educational reforms that ensued after the re-establishment of democracy in 1974.

Based on the aforementioned context, we should attempt to understand the vagueness transpiring from the type and means of circulation of the relevant knowledge on which trade unions base their representation of the educational system, as well as the way in which they participate in the policy-making process. In some cases (such as FENPROF, for example), the political intervention of trade unions still includes a strong ideological component. Although, in other cases (such as the FNE, for exam-ple), this dimension tends to diminish to be progressively replaced by a technical and scientific discourse inspired by the transnational circulation of knowledge (guidelines issued by international organizations, “good practices”, “models of success” represented by top-ranked leading countries etc.). In any case, in a context where the measures taken by the government are not justified by their political “choices”, but rather by technical “imperatives”, trade unions are compelled to seek and acquire competencies in these areas, so that they can also argue in this same register whenever negotiations are taking place. Despite still being in its infancy (as the data suggests) this phenomenon seems to be occurring at this very moment in Portugal and has evident consequences in terms of the type of knowledge that these teachers’ representative associations receive, produce and disseminate.

BARROSO João (ccord.), CARVALHO Luís Miguel, FONTOURA Madalena, AFONSO Natércio & COSTA Estela (2008), The social and cognitive mapping of policy. The case of the education sector in Portugal, KNOWandPOL report.

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  • BARROSO João (2000), Autonomie et modes de régulation locale dans le système éducatif, Revue Française de Pédagogie, 130, 57-71.
  • MAROY Christian (Ed) (2006), École, régulation et marché. Une comparaison de six espaces scolaires locaux en Europe, Paris: PUF.

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