ERG SES C 01, ICT and Education
Across Europe, education policy is increasingly focused on ensuring greater ‘equity’ in education outcomes (Hippe, Araujo & Dinis da Costa, 2016). Policy makers have seen equity as a means of addressing the factors underpinning the increasing social and political uncertainty which is the theme of the ECER 2019 (European Commission, 2018). The policy focus on equity has been prompted by ongoing concerns about differences in attainment and other educational outcomes that are correlated with student characteristics such as socio-economic background, ethnicity, migrant background and gender (ibid.).
In Scotland, this European dimension is reflected by the Scottish Government’s policy aim to close the ‘attainment gap’ between children and young people living in poverty and their peers (Scottish Government, 2016). The curriculum framework – Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) – has been seen as a means of addressing this attainment gap (Education Scotland, 2016). However, there is a need for critical exploration of the extent to which CfE does indeed provide practitioners with the conceptual or practical tools to do this. This issue is potentially significant, as recent trends in curriculum policy have been critiqued on the grounds of equity. In particular, researchers have highlighted how a curriculum which does not explicitly engage with disciplinary knowledge has the potential to increase inequity (McPhail & Rata, 2016; Wheelahan, 2015).
The paper draws on an on-going doctoral research project, which explores the above issues within the intended curriculum (van den Akker, 2005), that is, the high-level curriculum vision and aims set out in national policy and guidance documents. The specific focus of the paper will be on the project’s first and second research questions. The first of these explores the interpretation(s) of equity which have been advanced within CfE, while the second considers how these equity-related discourses align, or perhaps conflict with, other discourses within CfE. The paper draws on Hajer’s (2006) definition of discourse as the concepts which underpin and structure the meaning-making process. It aims to use detailed analysis of curriculum policy texts to begin to identify these concepts, before data are triangulated with accounts from policy-makers and other key stakeholders who were involved in developing CfE. For its theoretical framework, the research project draws on Critical Realism due to its potential to account for both individual sense-making and the underlying mechanisms, such as social, cultural or organisational settings, which shape individuals’ actions (Archer, 1995; 1998; Smith & Elger, 2014).
The paper will focus on the first main method adopted within the research project –computer-aided analysis of language usage. This method has been drawn from Corpus Linguistics (CL) (Gray & Biber, 2011). It has been selected due to the challenges of dealing with a large number of curriculum policy texts, which have been produced over several years. The aim of using CL has been to orient later stages of analysis in the specific language used within curriculum policy texts. Computer software has been used to analyse a corpus made up of 30 curriculum policy texts (c. 150,000 words) written between 2004 and 2016. In line with the research questions mentioned above, this stage of analysis has explored the most frequent content words and word clusters within the corpus. It has also explored specific words related to equity identified from the literature – for instance ‘knowledge’. This analysis has produced quantitative data (e.g. frequency counts of words). Groups of words used in similar contexts or clusters have been read in detail, and this has allowed the construction of a number of themes used within the corpus. These themes are currently being used to inform the content of semi-structured interviews with policy-makers and other stakeholders who have been involved in developing the Scottish curriculum.
Findings from the computer-aided analysis of curriculum policy texts indicate that there is a limited explicit focus on equity within the high-level curriculum framework in Scotland. Specific words related to equity are not frequently used within the policy texts. In addition, knowledge, which the literature suggests has important implications for the outcomes achieved by students with lower socio-economic status, is used in a non-specific way within the policy documents. It most frequently appears alongside a ‘bundle’ of other curriculum outcomes such as ‘skills’, ‘attributes’ and ‘capabilities’. These findings appear to pose challenges to policy-statements that the curriculum is a key tool that practitioners can use to address socio-economic inequity. Other, more frequently used words and word clusters relate to themes such as the importance of assessment and qualifications and active, student-led learning. This suggests that, in fact, the curriculum policy texts emphasise competing discourses. As the research project is still ongoing, at the ECER 2019 detailed findings from the corpus linguistic analysis of curriculum policy texts will be shared. The implications for equity from these emerging findings will be considered and plans for future work will be outlined.
Archer, M. S. (1995). Realist social theory: The morphogenetic approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Archer, M. S. (1998). Realism and morphogenesis. In M. S. Archer, R. Bhaskar, T. Lawson & A. Norrie (Eds.), Critical realism: Essential readings (pp. 356-382). London: Routledge. Education Scotland. (2016). Curriculum for Excellence: A statement for practitioners from HM Chief Inspector of Education. Retrieved from https://education.gov.scot/improvement/Documents/cfestatement.pdf European Commission. (2018). Education and training monitor 2018. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/education/resources-and-tools/document-library/education-and-training-monitor-eu-analysis-volume-1-2018_en Gray, B. & Biber, D. (2011). Corpus approaches to the study of discourse. In K. Hyland (Ed.), Continuum companion to discourse analysis (pp. 138-154). London: Bloomsbury Publishing. Hajer, M. (2006). Doing discourse analysis: Coalitions, practices, meaning. In M. van den Brink & T. Metze (Eds.), Words matter in policy and planning: Discourse theory and method in the Social Sciences (pp. 65-74). Utrecht: Netherlands Geographical Studies (344). Hippe, R., Araujo, L. & Dinis da Costa, P. (2016). Equity in education in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union; EN 28285 EN. McPhail, G. & Rata, E. (2016). Comparing curriculum types: ‘Powerful knowledge’ and ‘21st century learning’. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 51(1), 53-68. Scottish Government. (2016). Delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education - A delivery plan for Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. Retrieved from http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/06/3853 Smith, C. & Elger, T. (2014). Critical realism and interviewing subjects. In P. K. Edwards, J. O’Mahoney & S. Vincent (Eds.), Studying organizations using Critical Realism: A practical guide (pp. 109-131). Oxford: Oxford University Press. van den Akker, J. (2005). Curriculum development re-invented: Evolving challenges for SLO. In J. Letschert (Ed.), Curriculum Development Re-Invented: Proceedings of the Invitational Conference on the Occasion of 30 Years SLO 1975-2005, (pp. 16-29). Enschede: SLO. Wheelahan, L. (2015). Not just skills: What a focus on knowledge means for vocational education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 47(6), 750-762.
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