Paper at EuroACS 2019 on teachers as curriculum makers

This week, we presented work as part of an invited symposium at EuroACS 2019, the 4th European Conference on Curriculum Studies at Maynooth University. This builds on the ongoing work on developing the new Curriculum for Wales, specifically looking at the co-construction process with “Pioneer” schools, and the role of teachers as curriculum policy makers.

This work is being presented as part of a symposium entitled: “Teachers as curriculum makers: the central role of teachers in curriculum reform in Wales”. Emergent worldwide curriculum policy since the turn of the millennium has placed a strong emphasis on the central role of teachers as curriculum makers (Priestley & Biesta, 2013; Priestley & Philippou, 2018). Curriculum making, as multi-layered social practice, occurs in different ways across the different contexts (or layers) that comprise the education system in any jurisdiction: in macro-level policy making activity that produces national level policy frameworks; across meso-level development activity (e.g. regional support for curriculum development); and in macro/nano-level activity as the curriculum is enacted day-by-day in schools and other educational settings (Thijs & van den Akker, 2009; Priestley & Philippou, 2018). Supra-level curriculum discourses, propagated by organisations such as the OECD have extolled the benefits of school autonomy and the agency of teachers as local curriculum makers with expertise in their own localities. National/state macro-level curriculum policies have explicitly positioned teachers as agents of change and active curriculum makers with local flexibility to decide curricular content and pedagogic approaches (e.g. the New Zealand Curriculum, the Singapore Curriculum, Hong Kong’s Curriculum Framework, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, Ireland’s Junior Cycle Curriculum).

This symposium focuses on a single country case, Wales, where radical national mandated curriculum reform is currently emerging. Wales had followed the direction of England in curriculum policy in recent years, being subject to various iterations of the prescriptive National Curriculum, before political devolution to the National Assembly for Wales in 1999. Since 2015, Wales has been developing a new curriculum, in line with international trends towards school autonomy in determining curricular content, child-centred pedagogy and a focus on so-called 21st century skills and competencies (Donaldson, 2015). This new curriculum has been advanced through a process that has actively engaged teachers in “Pioneer” school networks, across three phases, from the development of guiding principles to the specification of the six areas of learning and experience (AoLEs).

The papers for this symposium illustrate how teachers’ inputs have shaped emergent policy and practice, and examine how new forms of curriculum making engagement are developing their agency as curriculum makers (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2015). The three papers focus on different layers of activity associated with the reforms:

  1. Macro: the involvement of teachers as active co-constructors of curriculum policy.
  2. Meso: the role of teachers working within a regional consortium, facilitators and leaders of curriculum making in schools.
  3. Micro: curriculum making in a single school, through a process of critical collaborative professional enquiry (Drew, Priestley and Michael, 2016).

As you can see from the abstract for our paper below, it presents the recent history of the national curriculum in Wales, and especially the developments since the publication of Successful Futures, the independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales, in February 2015. This work examines the role of practitioners in this process over this period; it primarily focuses on the outcomes of this involvement on practitioner agency and practice, their schools ability to improve under the proposed new system of increased autonomy, alongside the implications for the wider educational system across Wales.

Co-construction of a national curriculum: the role of teachers as curriculum policy makers in Wales

Tom Crick and Mark Priestley
This paper examines the role of teachers as macro-level curriculum policy makers, addressing two research questions: i] To what extent has the development of curriculum policy been shaped by teachers’ involvement in the process? and ii] How has teachers’ professional agency as curriculum makers been enhanced as a result of their engagement?
The paper is based upon empirical research, focusing on a small number of Pioneer teachers who have been involved in the process, as well as the documentation produced by the groups writing subject area specifications. Data generation methods include semi-structured interviews and document analysis. Data will be analysed using the ecological approach to understanding teacher agency (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2015), a temporal-relational methodology for analysing factors that shape teachers’ agency and its manifestations in practice.
Data collection is ongoing. Early indications suggest that: i] teacher agency has previously been limited, in terms of both teachers’ professional knowledge of curriculum development and the affordances that the system offered them as curriculum makers; ii] engagement in the process has significantly enhanced the capacity of these teachers as curriculum makers; iii] a particular benefit with significant implications for teacher agency has been the development of strong professional networks and associated relational resources; and iv] these teachers have played a significant role in shaping the forms taken by the new curriculum in Wales.
The study casts light on the processes and conditions that can foster teacher engagement with the formulation of education policy, the potential weaknesses of such approaches and the benefits for teachers. In particular, the study suggests that this approach has long-term implications in the development of a cadre of expert teachers able to support colleagues in the subsequent enactment of policy in schools, through the building of system capacity for curriculum making.
Donaldson, G. (2015). Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government.
Drew, V., Priestley, M. & Michael, M. (2016). Curriculum Development Through Critical Collaborative Professional Enquiry. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1(1), 92-106.
Priestley, M. & Biesta, G. (Eds.) (2013). Reinventing the Curriculum: New Trends in Curriculum Policy and Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Priestley, M., & Drew, V. (2016). Successful Futures, successful curriculum development; developing the new curriculum in your school. Commissioned for EAS.
Priestley, M., Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher Agency: An Ecological Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Priestley, M. & Philippou, S. (2018). Editorial: Curriculum making as social practice: complex webs of enactment. The Curriculum Journal, 29[2], 151-158.
Thijs, A. & van den Akker, J. (2009). Curriculum in Development. Enschede: SLO.
Welsh Government (2015). National model for regional working. Crown Publishing.
Welsh Government (2017). Realising a Curriculum for Wales: Curriculum development Core Brief.

The other papers in this symposium are:

  • The role of the Meso Level: regional consortia supporting, facilitating and leading curriculum making in schools (Nicky Hagendyk and Dan Davies, Educational Achievement Service for South East Wales)
  • Experience, agency and meaningful curriculum making in schools: the experience of one practitioner (Kelly Forrest Mackay, Deputy Headteacher, St Illtyd’s Primary School)

(also see: Publications)

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