Teachers’ conceptions of students’ ‘ability’: creating the space for professional judgment

Andrew Stables, Clare Gellard, Sarah Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)


Primary and secondary school teachers in the London area discuss their understanding and operationalising of the concept of ability as applied to their students. Combining elements of achievement and potential, ‘ability’ is not clearly and consistently defined by teachers and is, strictly speaking, not a necessary concept since other terms account for all its apparent dimensions. Nevertheless, teachers, with some exceptions, employ ‘ability’ as a central working concept. Teachers’ working conceptions of ‘ability’ and ‘effort’ seem to be key to understanding the within-school semiotic code, whereby messages are largely passed from teachers to students. It is this semiotic code, rather than the policy or academic discourses about schooling, that has most effect on the student experience. Within this context, teachers employ ‘ability’ in part to keep open a space for their professional judgment that remains protected from the external influences acting on them.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jul 2018


  • Teachers, students, ability, semiotics

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