03 SES 10 A, Curriculum Development and the Role of Knowledge Selection
The period since the turn of the millennium has seen what in many ways can be viewed as a radical departure in curriculum policy – what Priestley and Biesta (2013) have termed the ‘new curriculum’. These curricula, while manifesting local features, exhibit a number of common characteristics, including: learner-centredness; a focus on skills development (as opposed to learning facts); a focus on personalisation; the framing of the content of the curriculum as learning outcomes expressed in levels; and an apparent [re]turn to teacher autonomy in curriculum making. While exhibiting many progressive features, the ‘new curriculum’ has been termed technical-instrumental by critics such as Young and Muller (2010), who have critiqued it for its apparent economic instrumentalism and its downgrading of knowledge.
This paper addresses a particular aspect of the latter issue, namely a narrowing of curricular practice experienced by senior phase students in schools, which has been alleged to have taken place following the introduction of the new curriculum. Such narrowing, if actually occurring, contradicts the principles of such curricula, which tend to emphasise a divergent rather than this apparently convergent approach to education. The research is situated in the context of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which is an early variant of the ‘new curriculum’, introduced in 2004. There are three apparent issues related to curricular narrowing:
- A narrowing in provision and student choice. Research in Scotland (Scott, 2014) suggests that the introduction of new forms of qualification have led to decreased student choice in the senior phase (14-18), leading to a decline in the uptake of ‘non-core subjects’ such as modern languages, although the research methodology was limited in scope, rendering its conclusions problematic.
- A narrowing of content taught within subjects. Research in in New Zealand (Ormond, 2017 in press) highlights how some schools are teaching the Vietnam War without mentioning the role of the USA. This is possible because the generic learning outcome in question simply specify that students should understand cause and consequence around a significant event – typically selected from the early part of the war before the American involvement. Anecdotal evidence in Scotland suggests similar narrowing, which can be attributed to the curriculum model.
- A pedagogical narrowing, in response to pressures to ‘teach to the test’, associated with cultures of performativity in schools (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2015).
The research will investigate the complex terrain surrounding curriculum and assessment in the senior phase of schooling in Scotland through examination of the impact of CfE on the numbers, configuration and levels of National Qualifications (NQ) undertaken at ages 15 and 16, the impact of CfE on examination results at age 16 (final year of compulsory education), and the emerging effects of the curriculum and qualifications model on school provision and the educational experiences and outcomes of young people. The study will employ mixed methods research, combining: quantitative analysis of the linked administrative data on secondary education in Scotland; and qualitative interviews with local authority staff, teachers and students. The following research questions will guide the study:
- What is the nature of narrowing of choice and subject uptake in the senior phase of CfE?
- What is the nature of narrowing of subject content and pedagogical approaches experienced by students in the senior phase of CfE?
- What are the drivers of curriculum narrowing within the senior phase of CfE?
- What are the effects of curricular narrowing on students’ attainment in the senior phase?
Ormond, B.A. (2017, in press). Curriculum decisions – the challenges of teacher autonomy over knowledge selection for history. Journal of Curriculum Studies. Priestley, M. & Biesta, G.J.J. (eds.) (2013). Reinventing the Curriculum: New Trends in Curriculum Policy and Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Scott, J. (2014). The Governance of Curriculum for Excellence in Scottish Secondary Schools: Structural Divergence, Curricular Distortion and Reduced Attainment. Written submission to the OECD Review of Curriculum for Excellence, https://www.academia.edu/20171586/OECD_Evidence_Paper_2015 Young, M. & Muller, J. (2010). ‘Three educational scenarios for the future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge’. European Journal of Education, 45, 11-27.
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