03 SES 01, Balancing Curriculum Regulation and Freedom across Europe (Part 1)
Symposium: to be continued in 03 SES 01
Curriculum issues can be approached from various analytical perspectives. One perspective is the substantive one, which focuses on the classical curriculum question about what knowledge is of most worth teaching and learning within the limited amount of time available for schooling. This question needs to be addressed at all levels of curriculum planning, first and foremost at system/society level. Decision-making about what should be built in and what should be left out of a curriculum in order to avoid overload, and about the extent to which goals and contents of education should be regulated, often can be characterized as a battle field on which various stakeholders bombard and try to persuade each other with all kinds of substantive and socio-political arguments.
The CIDREE (Consortium of Institutions for Development and Research in Europe) Yearbook 2013 provides a cross cut of curriculum initiatives taking place through Europe. During this ECER double symposium, 6 of these (Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, and the UK) will be presented by focusing on curriculum (de)regulation policies, practices and research. The contributions try to disentangle, interpret, position, and discuss the (often complicated) balancing act between curriculum regulation and curriculum deregulation. 'Curriculum regulation' (Kuiper, Nieveen & Berkvens, 2013) is defined as a government's intention to prescribe the high-fidelity implementation of directives at the input level (goals and contents, in terms of 'goals to attain' or ‘goals to strive for’) and at the output level (modes of assessments and examinations, surveillance by the inspection; governance). Those prescriptions at 'the front door' and at 'the back door' of education imply that the room for site-specific curricular choices is restricted. On the other hand, 'curriculum deregulation' reflects a government's intention to refrain from prescription and control at the input and output level by stimulating school-based decision-making. At the heart of curriculum deregulation is the focus on and trust in schools and teachers having the freedom to make site-specific interpretations of curriculum guidelines and to lead curriculum renewal.
Curriculum (de)regulation pertains to both curricular documents and the process of implementation. The level of (de)regulation marks the curricular space available to decide on curricular input and output - and by whom. Arguments in favour of curriculum regulation may involve: (i) a general attempt of raising the bar and narrowing the gap for all students (serving equity goals); (ii) the provision of more curriculum coherence; and (iii) regeneration of economic prosperity. Arguments in favour of curriculum deregulation may involve: (i) marketization; and (ii) acknowledgement of teachers’ professionalism.
For curriculum development agencies it is of major relevance to reflect on what amount of curricular space can or should be offered to schools while at the same time meeting societal, political, social, academic, cultural and personal demands (e.g. to realize equity). Obviously, the direction of the pendulum swing on the regulation – deregulation continuum varies across countries, and the same is true for the force of the swing. Also, all kinds of actors or mechanisms in the education system – for instance, inspection frameworks and teachers' heavy reliance on textbooks - may support or (unintentionally) counteract curriculum policy ambitions to come true at the school and classroom level. Other intriguing issues are to which degree directives and/or guidelines are specified and what curricular components address at the national level (only 'what' or also 'how' aspects?). The idea behind this symposium is that much can be learned from an analysis of examples of, motives behind and experiences with searching a proper balance between more or less curriculum regulation and offering schools more or less freedom to make site-specific curricular choices in a number of European countries.
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