03 SES 03 A, Curriculum-Design at Levels
Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), in common with many modern curricula worldwide, is a curriculum which seeks to transform education for young people. CfE was introduced in Scotland in 2010 to provide a coherent competency-based education for children aged 3-18 years. It aims to promote student learning that prepares young people more effectively for life and work in the 21st century. CfE is distinctive in comparison to previous curricular reform in Scotland because it combines a ‘top-down’ approach to curriculum planning with school-based curriculum development. One of the challenges that faces schools in Scotland (and other European countries e.g. Portugal, Czech Republic) when they enact curriculum reform is the ‘implementation gap’ (Supovitz and Weinbaum, 2008) which exists between the curriculum envisioned by its architects and classroom practice (Priestley et al., 2021). Indeed, the OECD has reported that CfE has not been fully enacted in many secondary schools and that development is required if CfE is to be fully realised (OECD, 2015). This paper will explore the disjuncture which exists between policy intention and practice at the school level.
Previous research has shown teachers mediate policy at school level to fit with existing beliefs, values and practice (Priestley & Minty, 2013; Priestley et al., 2015). Therefore, the success of CfE is largely dependent on how school leaders and classroom teachers interpret CfE and more specifically on how they implement the initiative in their school community. This paper will utilise the theoretical framework developed by Priestley et al. (2021) [see below] to examine how the curriculum operates (or is made) in different ways at different sites of activity:
Supra – transnational ideas about education
Macro – national level policy intentions
Meso – system level support and guidance for curriculum-making
Micro – school-level curricular practices
Nano – classroom interactions
The framework demonstrates that the curriculum is ‘made’ at multiple sites of the education system and that policy has the potential to be mediated at each level, consequently, the implementation of CfE has been problematic because curriculum reform is not a transformative process, which can be imposed, rather it is a complex multi-layered set of practices. This paper will focus on the micro – school-level curricular practices and nano-classroom interactions that shape curriculum-making practices at school level. More specifically, it will seek to identify the barriers and drivers, which constrain and enable curriculum-making at the school level. Previous research (Priestley & Minty, 2013) suggests that a particular barrier to curriculum innovation has been the inherent tensions in its design; for example, whilst CfE recognises the agency of teachers, their capacity to act is simultaneously enabled and constrained by a complex combination of individual, social and cultural interactions and competing policy agendas, e.g. participative pedagogy is juxtaposed with a culture of performativity and accountability whereby ‘teaching to the test’ is rewarded (Priestley & Humes, 2010).
This paper outlines the findings from the qualitative strand of the Nuffield Foundation-funded ‘Choice, attainment and positive destinations: exploring the impact of curriculum policy change on young people’ project. We draw on qualitative data from national level stakeholder focus groups, which will include focus groups with Headteachers, curriculum leaders and class teachers recruited from school leaders' organisations, subject associations and teaching unions from across Scotland.
The paper builds iteratively upon original primary data on curriculum provision and practices in Scottish secondary schools, generated from an online survey sent to school leaders in all secondary schools in Scotland between June and September 2020. These findings have highlighted areas for further exploration through qualitative methodologies. The subsequent qualitative strand comprises online focus groups with local authority education leaders, Headteachers, curriculum leaders, class teachers, parents and young people at a national level. This paper will focus on the qualitative focus groups, undertaken between February and June 2021, involving Headteachers, curriculum leaders, class teachers, recruited from school leaders' organisations, subject associations and teaching unions. This ensures a diverse range of professional participants from senior to middle leadership, alongside representation from different subject groupings and those in guidance roles. This new data will be presented for the first time in this paper and will allow for the exploration of curriculum-making and curriculum provision with secondary school staff from across Scotland and provide insights into the factors which shape curriculum-making at the micro and nano levels. There will be a particular focus on the role, and agency, of senior leaders and teachers in contemporary curriculum-making processes. In order to meet this aim, the project will seek: To identify the implementation gaps that exist between policy intention and practice at school level. To understand the micro and nano level practices that shape and influence curriculum making at school level. To develop an understanding of the drivers and barriers which enable and constrain curriculum innovation at school level. To inform current and future curriculum policy and practice. As previously indicated, the data will be analysed using the theoretical framework developed by Priestley et al. (2021), in order to examine how different levels of the social system influence and shape the practices at the micro and nano levels. In addition, constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014), informed by theories of teacher agency (Priestley et al., 2015), will be applied to the data gathered from teacher focus groups, in order to generate explanatory context-specific theory relating to micro and nano level curriculum-making practices.
The findings from the school leader survey informed the iterative design of our qualitative strand and pointed to the trends and patterns, which will be unpacked in the qualitative phase. We seek to understand the processes in place that influence, shape and challenge secondary school staff in producing their school curriculum e.g., the key policy drivers and organisational constraints. We expect to find that there are diverse practices with regards to curriculum-making in Scottish secondary schools, with context (regional, local) a key factor in shaping practices. For example, recently collected survey findings (Shapira et al., 2021) have suggested that national level policies, including CfE, are not always deemed influential by Scottish secondary senior school leaders in providing and designing their school curriculum. Therefore, we will collect, analyse, and report on focus group data which seeks to understand how curriculum policies are being interpreted and implemented by schools and how these decisions are shaped. The findings reported in this paper will be of interest for policy makers and practitioners concerning the micro and nano level factors which shape curriculum-making at school level. The reported findings will also be of interest to those working internationally in curriculum making and development in order to advance discussion and debate, and to develop nuanced ways of thinking about curriculum making as a multi-level practice.
Charmaz, K. (2014) Constructing grounded theory. Los Angeles: Sage. OECD (2015) Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective. Paris: OECD. Priestley, M. & Humes, W. (2010) The development of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Amnesia and Déjà vu. Oxford Review of Education 36, pp. 345-361. Priestley, M. & Minty, S. (2013) Curriculum for Excellence a brilliant idea but...’. Scottish Educational Review, 45 (1), pp. 39-52. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. (2015) Teacher Agency an Ecological Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Priestley, M., Phillipou, S., Alvunger, D. & Soini, T. (2021) Curriculum making: A Conceptual Framing. In: Curriculum Making in Europe. Policy and Practice Within and Across Diverse Contexts. Emerald Publishing: Digital publishers. Shapira, M., Priestley, M., Peace-Hughes, T., Barnett, C. & Ritchie, M. (2021). Preliminary findings from the secondary school leaders survey: a summary. Working Paper No. 2. Stirling: University of Stirling. Supovitz, J.A. & Weinbaum, E.H. (2008). Reform Implementation Revisited. In J.A. Supovitz and E.H. Weinbaum (eds.), The Implementation gap: understanding reform in high schools (pp. 1-21) New York: Teachers College Press.
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