Date of Submission



The focus of this thesis is professional standards for teachers. In particular, teachers’ experiences of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (AITSL) Australian Professional Standards for Teachers are addressed as one example of similar professional standards found throughout the global metropole. There is a bountiful literature on professional standards written from a theoretical perspective, but no notable international literature on practitioners’ experience of professional standards and the professionalism which they enunciate. The literature review of this thesis takes a wide purview of the multiple discourses that have contributed to the genesis of professional standards. Understanding the context of professional standards thereafter allows for the problematising of professional standards and the teacher quality discourse in which they are situated. This inquiry adopted an original, multi-layered phenomenographic approach in seeking to understand the intersubjective space between teachers and professional standards. Semi-structured interviews with 71 secondary school teachers in a high performing school system formed the evidentiary base of this thesis. This was supported by a series of extended critically reflexive debriefs with a panel of peers. This generative process allowed for the construction of a phenomenographic outcome space that describes the finite number of ways in which teachers conceive professional standards. The outcome space provides the basis for the subsequent discussion of the impact of professional standards on the professional identity of teachers. The inquiry finds that the discourses of quality assurance and quality improvement dominate the arena of professional standards, and that the quality assurance discourse is seen by teachers in the current study as heavily outweighing the discourse of quality improvement. This has concomitant negative effects on the capacity of professional standards to fulfill their stated intention to improve the quality of teaching and raise its status. It further finds that while the AITSL Standards describe the epistemological dimensions of what teachers should know and be able to do, they largely ignore the ontological dimension of the human person that teachers become. This research seeks to stimulate reflection, dialogue and debate on the significance of the ontology of teaching, suggesting that the deepening of teacher ethics, by teachers and for teachers, holds the greatest promise for doing this in a way which connects the threads of teacher professional standards, teacher professionalism and teacher ontology.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


341 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education and Arts