Knowledge in England’s Key Stage 3-4 National Curriculum 2014 and its impact on the teaching of English.

Submitted by: Andrew D Carr
Abstract: Has the focus on official knowledge in England’s Key Stage 3-4 National Curriculum (2014) led to a change in the way that teachers teach English?

The teaching of language and literature in England is constrained by national policy, as prescribed by the political construction of the Key Stage 3-4 National Curriculum for English at the Department for Education (Isaacs, 2014). This has been evident in England since the election of the Conservative party in 2010, when New Labour’s policy of community responsibility was replaced by the neo-conservative perspective (as defined by Bernstein, 1996) of the then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove,

Gove’s claim, at that time, was that conceptual knowledge was limited in a vague national curriculum of little value. Yet critics, such as Isaacs (2014), have argued that what followed – the current National Curriculum of 2014 – was a curriculum dense in facts.

My doctoral thesis is therefore bounded around the way in which secondary school English teachers have used agency, as defined by Priestley, Biesta and Robinson (2015), to interpret and enact this curriculum, in order to consider the way in which they want their pupils to engage with language and literature.

Through an ethnographic methodology and multiple-case study method (Stake, 1995), I have begun to explore English teachers’ perceptions of the knowledge they encapsulate in their teaching, its alignment with the official knowledge (Bernstein, 1996) of the National Curriculum and the pedagogy that they use to present it in the classroom. Formal and informal interviews, lesson observations and artefact/document analysis have formed much of the data collection process, exploring current practice and comparing this to perceptions of practice under the previous national curriculum.

The collection of data is currently on-going and this presentation aims to explore the data collected to date and what this might be suggesting about the current climate of England’s secondary school English classrooms.

Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Maryland, USA: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Isaacs, T. (2014) ‘Curriculum and assessment reform gone wrong: the perfect storm of GCSE English’, The Curriculum Journal, 25(1), pp. 130–147.

Priestley, M., Biesta, G. and Robinson, S. (2015) ‘Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter’, in Kneyber, R. and Evers, J. (eds) Flip the System: Changing Education from the Bottom Up. London, UK: Routledge.

Stake, R. E. (1995) The Art of Case Study Research. London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Key words:
curriculum, official knowledge, pedagogy, agency, case study