This article debates three tensions within the contemporary teaching profession in Great Britain, in terms of education policy after the 1988 Education Reform Act. The first is between prospective and retrospective identities, as defined by Bernstein (1996/2000). The second is between teachers' expectations of professional status, and centralised and highly regulated school inspections. Finally, the article looks at vocation in the teaching profession, and how this comes into conflict with issues of self-interest amongst teachers. The article concludes by suggesting another tension that is evident throughout all three earlier strands of debate, between democratic professionalism (Whitty, 2002) and the post-1988 education landscape. The article closes by suggesting that a future education act in favour of a more humane education system may resolve this situation.