03 SES 09 A, Nation-wide Curriculum Change and the Role of Pilot Schools
The (inter)national curricular policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s distinguished between two major levels of curricular decision-making: the central level, which defines the core curriculum (Skilbeck, 1994) or national curriculum; and the contextual decision-making level, which encourages more autonomy for schools and teachers in terms of contextualised curriculum management based on a curricular development plan/project (Roldão & Almeida, in press). This should serve as a reference for the curricular development work that teachers conduct in class. In the Portuguese case, this level of contextual decision was formally resulted in the production of school curricular projects (PCE), which in turn were transformed into class curricular projects (PCT).
However, the national curriculum assumes different forms depending on whether we consider centralised or decentralised countries. In centralised countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, France), the national curriculum has always been the only curriculum. What was new in those contexts was the curricular autonomy granted to schools. Conversely, in decentralised countries (England, Norway, Finland) the opposite occurred: the national curriculum was introduced as a common regulating factor that would act on the traditional diversity of options that schools could selected from ― that were standardised via external assessments.
The emergence of the national curriculum as a core curriculum led to a tendency in policy to conceive teachers as agents of change (e.g. Young, 1998, Goodson, 2003, 2014; Priestley, 2011, Priestley et. al, 2012). In the past twenty years, the (re)emergence of the national curriculum ― such as Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence and the New Zealand Curriculum (Priestley, 2011) ― has implied a renewed vision of teachers as developers of curriculum and of professional knowledge. Governments have established a relationship between patterns of professional knowledge and educational change, as well as the need for a revivified form of teacher professionalism (Goodson, 2003). In countries with a centralised tradition, this was an important change after several decades of policies that de-professionalised teachers and withdrew their curricular autonomy, which had been an important dimension of the teachers' professionalism (Priestley et. al., 2012).
Two decades after the implementation of curricular policies that introduced more autonomy, they have had a two-fold effect that has been identified in international documents (UNESCO, 2015; OECD, 2014): on the one hand, national curricula implemented in countries that have a localised curricular tradition have become more encompassing and detailed in the several revisions made after the first versions were published in the 1990s (FNBE, 2016). However, in these systems, that intensification did not result in a significant loss of the traditional autonomy of schools and teachers, since the school and the teaching culture in these societies are strongly grounded on the autonomy of local curriculum management. On the other hand, in countries that have a centralised administrative tradition, the attempts to create dynamics of contextualised curricular management by schools did not achieve the desired projection (Roldão & Almeida, in press; Bolívar, 2013).
In the Portuguese context, the literature demonstrates that these curricular decision-making thresholds for schools were called into question, which turned PCE/PCT into bureaucratic documents. The adoption of the term national curriculum to designate the core curriculum, which made sense in Northern-European countries due to its novelty factor, in Portugal has never been understood, since the sole referent in the Portuguese curricular culture has always been, the national one, from which arise the prescriptions that are profoundly engrained in the acting of schools.
Currently, Portuguese decision-makers ― again upholding an updated curricular policy that converges with the international trends and implies strengthening the contextual dimension (OECD, 2015; UNESCO, 2014, 2015), have reintroduced in the political agenda since 2015 the discussion on curricular management.
The Ministry of Education has brought together a technical team with external experts to support the development of policies aiming at promoting curricular autonomy. The authors of this communication were commissioned to update a reference model for curricular development in schools published during the first curricular policies aiming at promoting curricular autonomy in Portugal (Roldão, 1999), given the lack of tradition in the creation of these curricular documents. In order to update the reference model, a research was carried out based on the following general question: How can we improve the coherence between the different curricular levels (system, school, and classroom) in more centralised teaching systems, such as Portugal? In this communication, we propose to accomplish three aims: 1) Analysing the curricular projects of a school network in order to understand: How do schools link the national curriculum to the local curriculum? 2) Analysing the speeches of the teachers who conceived these PCE: How did they appropriate the theoretical-curricular and political framework of curricular autonomy? 3) Presenting a reference model for the development of curricular projects: How can we produce knowledge for the creation of a reference model for curricular development in schools and for curricular autonomy policies? We considered appropriate to develop a study focused on the evaluation of PCE (2016/2017 academic year) presented by a collaborative network of 44 schools from various regions of the country. The PCE analysis was accompanied by interviews conducted with educational agents in three selected schools using the focus group technique (Morgan, 1997). For the PCE analysis and interviews we used content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004). The system of categories of discourses produced was constructed in a deductive way based on six curricular decision fields (Roldão & Almeida, in press), as well as inductively from PCE documents, the interviews, and the objectives of our research. Content analysis was performed with using the MAXQDA 12.3.1 software. The reference model for curricular development in schools is an update of the book Curriculum Management: Foundations and Practices (Roldão 1999), which consists of three parts: 1) Part 1: historical contextualisation of curricular autonomy policies; 2) Part 2: reference model for curricular development based on three levels of curricular decision-making (central, institutional (schools), and classroom) that includes six curricular decision fields; Part 3: definition of core concepts within the context of curricular contextualisation.
The PCE content analysis allowed us to draw the following general conclusions: • descriptive character of the school organisation without implications for the pedagogical and curricular plan; • register of normative documents by the inclusion of rights, time allocated to tasks, and other measures of a regulatory nature; • the almost total invisibility of school options in the curriculum, limited to the adoption of transversal areas in the field of citizenship and the reinforcement of working times for students with difficulties in structuring areas such as Mathematics and Portuguese; • major absence of decisions regarding individual teaching methods or strategically advocated teaching and learning strategies; • poor guidelines for the regulatory role of assessment in the development and improvement of curricular learning; • insufficient elements on the evaluation of the curricular project itself, which can be explained in part by the fact that these actions and strategic options are little operationalized and consequently they are impossible to monitor. The analysis of the speeches of school agents shows the lack of articulation between the Educational Projects and the PCE ― already seen in the analysis of the latter ― which confers them little strategic potential because they are difficult to be mobilized for pedagogical practices and were even unfamiliar to some of the interviewees. The prescriptive nature of the production of this type of documents, coupled with the lack of tradition of autonomy in the way schools can lead the teaching process itself, and the predominant individual/departmental functioning of the teaching practice as the interviews revealed, constitute other explanations for the little strategic value of PCE as a tool for curricular management. Hence the need for a reference model for curriculum development in the short term, because in the long term without concrete measures aimed at teacher training courses this model can hardly be effective.
Bolívar, A. (2013). Melhorar os processos e os resultados educativos: o que nos ensina a investigação. In Joaquim Machado & José Matias Alves, Melhorar a escola. Sucesso escolar, disciplina, motivação. Direção de escolas e políticas educativas (pp.107 – 121). Porto: Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Finnish national board of education. National curriculum. Helsinki: FNBE, 2016.
Goodson, I. (2003). Professional knowledge, professional lives. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Goodson, I. (2014). Curriculum, personal narrative and the social future. London: Routledge.
Krippendorff, K. (2004). Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus group as qualitative research (2ª ed. Vol. 16). London: Sage University Paper.
OECD - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2014). TALIS 2013 Results: an international perspective on teaching and learning. Paris: OECD Documents.
OECD, (2015). Draft summary record of the Education 2030 workshop "Towards defining Character/attitudes/values/behaviours". Paris: OECD Documents, EDU/EDPC/M(2015)5 Education Working Papers, n. 41.
Priestley, M., Biesta, G.J.J. & Robinson, S. (2012). The importance of relationships in shaping teacher agency. A paper presented at the European Conference for Educational Research, 18 September 2012, Cadiz.
Priestley, M. (2011). Whatever happened to curriculum theory? Critical realism and curriculum change, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 19, 221-238.
Roldão, M. C. & Almeida, S. de (Ahead a print). Avaliação de projetos curriculares numa rede de escolas portuguesas. Contextualização curricular: promessa ou oportunidade perdida? Estudos em Avaliação Educacional. Retrieved from: http://publicacoes.fcc.org.br/ojs/index.php/eae/issue/view/320
Roldão, M. C. (1999). Gestão Curricular. Fundamentos e práticas. Lisboa: Ministério da Educação, Departamento de Educação Básica.
Skilbeck, M. (1994). The core curriculum. In The Curriculum Redefined: Schooling for the 21st Century (pp. 95-100). Paris: OECD.
UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2015). The curriculum in debates and in educational reforms to 2030: for a curriculum agenda of the twenty-first century, Geneva. (IBE Working Papers on Curriculum Issues, n. 15).
UNESCO (2014). Curriculum in the twenty-first century: challenges, tensions and open questions. Paris: Unesco Education Research and Foresight, 2014. (ERF Working Papers, n. 9). Retrieved from:
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