Curriculum regulation in England – giving with one hand and taking away with the other

David Leat

Abstract


England has had a National Curriculum since 1988. Its first manifestation was highly prescriptive and there have been a number of reviews which have gradually reduced the degree of content specification. The recent political rhetoric has been about giving schools and teachers freedom to innovate. Indeed new categories of schools – ‘academies’ and ‘free schools’ – do not have to follow the National Curriculum at all. However while input regulation has been decreasing, output regulation has been increasing, so that schools in England are increasingly saturated by a performativity culture related to examination targets and school inspection frameworks. The paper will argue that a strong reason for this trend is the political desire to commodify education so that schools are subject to the market forces, which is only really practicable when educational outcomes remain are relatively visible and readily quantified. The resultant dominant discourse in schools has similar effects as in Scotland on individual teachers and schools, reducing teacher agency and introverting curriculum making processes with secondary schools in particular rarely looking outwards for stimulus or resources. The conclusion will offer some discussion of regional efforts in North England to construct networks and an alternative discourse/ecology to encourage more responsive curriculum processes.

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