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Thresholds for dis/trust: exploring the impact of standards-based reforms on the process of being and becoming a VET teacher in England and Austria

Christina Donovan (Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK)
Hannes Hautz (University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 6 February 2024




This paper seeks to illustrate how interventionist education reforms shape dis/trust-building processes and their impact on teacher professionalism in vocational education and training (VET) across national contexts. Using trust as the object of analysis, we discuss the affective mechanisms of becoming a professional in a standards-based neoliberal environment.


Through an analysis of VET teacher narratives in England and Austria, the paper draws attention to the ways in which policy instrumentalism has created a culture of distrust in VET. Drawing upon foundational work on system trust developed by Niklas Luhmann, we illustrate how conditions for trust sit at symbolic thresholds, which set the conditions for professional recognition within VET.


Our analysis revealed that attempts to standardise VET strategy are fuelled by the need for existential security and predictability, leading to tensions in the cultivation of system trust. Conditions for professional recognition across both contexts were based on practices of documentation and subordination, narrowly defining modes of legitimate self-expression in organisations. This constitutes a crisis of trust in VET teacher professionalism, which undermines pedagogical autonomy and integrity.

Practical implications

We seek to highlight the impact that reduced trust in the governance of VET can have on issues associated with teacher motivation, well-being and retention. The consideration of trust is therefore essential both for policy design and implementation in VET organisations.


The application of trust theory offers a distinctive lens through which to understand the impact of accountability, performativity and governance processes upon teacher subjectivity within VET across national contexts.



Donovan, C. and Hautz, H. (2024), "Thresholds for dis/trust: exploring the impact of standards-based reforms on the process of being and becoming a VET teacher in England and Austria", Education + Training, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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