English GCSE reform from Whitehall to the classroom: reform, resistance, reality

Craske, James (2020) English GCSE reform from Whitehall to the classroom: reform, resistance, reality. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This thesis develops a “policy trajectory” (Ball 1993) study of the content, aims, and ambitions of the 2013 reforms to GCSE English, and their ongoing enactment by practitioners since 2015. The study utilises a cross-sectional design to capture different moments in a policy’s life seeking to understand and analyse how policymakers, politicians and teachers, in their different ways, construct ideas about “school English”, “teaching” and “the teacher”. Firstly, using concepts provided by the logics of critical explanation (Glynos and Howarth 2007), it examines how, through politicians’ speeches and policy documents, the state constructs relatively stable (though contingent) notions of “teaching” and “English”, arguing that the functions and purposes of [English] teaching are organised by the “master signifier” of professional autonomy. This pivotal concept ties together a seductive programme of new actors, ideas about autonomy, knowledge acquisition, and managerial practices all grounded within intellectual frameworks of neoliberalism and cultural conservatism. Secondly, through an in-depth case study of a single secondary school, the thesis demonstrates the complex ways that practitioners ‘enact’ policy, and how at ‘the front line’ this converges with or departs from elite policy goals.

The thesis thus contributes to an emerging strand of education policy sociology that emphasises “enactment of policy” (Ball, Maguire, and Braun 2012), and builds on it by going beyond semi-structured interview data to consider ethnographic accounts of policy work in English classrooms, staff room discussions and interactions. It develops empirical and theoretically-informed arguments about the processes of enactment and their connection to broader discourses concerning teacher professionalism, subjectivity, praxis, and the workings of power, showing that whilst the reforms and their embedded discourses prompted new ways of working with data practices and standardisation, many “softer” interventions on curriculum and pedagogy were largely ignored or subsumed by external contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Education and Lifelong Learning
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2020 09:44
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2020 09:44
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/77865
DOI:

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