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The Curriculum For Excellence Has On Teacher Professionalism Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 4519 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The existence of a relationship between curriculum policy and teacher professionalism would appear to be an established assumption. This is evident in claims that curriculum reform is often regarded as a threat to teacher professionalism (Al-Hinei 2003; Apple 2009; Locke et al. 2005). Most notably, it is often claimed that the level of prescription in the English National Curriculum, with the associated requirement to meet the prescribed outcomes, reflects a reduction of teacher autonomy in favour of accountability (Walsh 2006). It would seem, at this level then, possible to argue that a reduction in central prescription equates to an increase in teacher autonomy which in turn equates to an enhancement of teacher professionalism. To an extent this would seem to be an aim of recent curriculum reform in Scotland in the form of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). The first page of the first ‘Building the Curriculum’ document that claims that ‘teachers will have greater scope and space for professional decisions about what and how they should teach’ (Scottish Executive 2006:1).

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However, such a straightforward relationship between curriculum policy and teacher professionalism would, drawing on Evans (2008), be an over-simplification. Evans suggests that professionalism cannot be understood exclusively, through examining teachers’ ‘remit and responsibilities’ (p.23), and rather we must consider teachers themselves understand their professional responsibilities. To an extent this would seem to be recognised in Scotland’s curriculum reform, in for example claims that the reform requires a ‘culture change’ (Scottish Government 2009a:5) and the emphasis on the need for professional development (Scottish Executive 2006:2). This suggests recognition that a change of teachers’ remit and responsibilities alone will not impact upon professionalism.

In light of the perceived association between CfE and teacher professionalism – both as representing being and requiring a change – it becomes pertinent to consider the nature of the professional judgements that greater teacher autonomy over the content of the curriculum entails, and therefore the conception of professionalism it would seem to imply. This requires a consideration of the particular issues that are associated with the selection of curriculum content, and an examination of different conceptions of teacher professionalism.


First therefore, we must consider what is meant by “curriculum”. As a term it would seem to be notoriously hard to define, with a multitude of potentially conflicting definitions (Dillon 2009). Generally it can be suggested that ‘curriculum’ does not refer to a list, or progression, of items to be taught. The curriculum addresses not only what is taught, but why and how teaching and learning takes place. As such, curricula reflect and promote beliefs about the aims and nature of education (Flinders & Thornton 2009:8). They reflect different epistemological and pedagogical beliefs – beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning and teaching – in, for example, their organisation of ‘knowledge’ (Carr 1988), for example those that emphasise the separation of knowledge into subjects and those that favour integration of subject areas. However it should perhaps be noted that Carr (1988) argues that the epistemological and pedagogical bases of much curriculum policy is not entirely coherent. It should also be noted that the current discussion is centred around the concept of ‘explicit’ curriculum (REF-moore?), – curriculum as a statement of the planned or expected learning within a school context. Other conceptions regard curriculum to encompass all the experiences which impact upon a learner’s development (REF-Dillon?).

However, notwithstanding the range of approaches to understanding and creating curricula, curriculum design necessarily entails a selection of what is to be taught. Different curriculum models may differ in both when and by whom this process of selection takes place. In a heavily prescriptive, centralised, curriculum much of the selection is being made by policy makers. At the other extreme, in a strongly child-centred curriculum, selection is largely made by the child based upon their interests. (BACK THIS UP). If we consider the CfE itself, it is evident that it cannot be considered to be placing the decision of what to teach solely in the hands of teachers. Priestley (2010:23) suggests that it reflects a trend in curriculum development in general, in which there is an attempt to draw on both ‘top-down and bottom-up approaches to curriculum planning’. A process of selection has already occurred at the national level in terms of the forms of knowledge and skills that are to be developed. Even within this ‘clear framework of national expectations’ (Scottish Executive 2006:1), teachers do not have sole responsibility for curriculum content selection. In the pledge, ‘all children and young people should experience personalisation and choice…’ (Scottish Government 2008:17), there is an expectation that pupils will, to a certain extent, also be making decisions about curriculum content. Further, there is a strong emphasis upon collegiality, with teachers working together on curriculum development (Scottish Government 2009). However it clearly does aim to place more responsibility for choice in the hands of the teacher, and in doing so is potentially affecting the nature of teacher professionalism.


In order to examine this claim more closely it is necessary to consider the meaning of ‘professionalism’ itself. As with ‘curriculum’, it would seem that ‘professionalism’ is a difficult term to define with many different views as to what it really means (Al-Hinei 2003:41; Evans 2008).

Generally however, the term ‘profession’ may be regarded as indicating a distinct ‘class or category of occupation’ consisting of jobs such as doctor or lawyer, and sometimes teacher (Carr 2000:22), to which a certain status may be attached. This should be regarded as distinct from the everyday use of ‘professional’ as distinguished from ‘amateur’ which focuses on whether or not an individual is paid (REF-Carr?).

The purpose of regarding some occupations as ‘professions’ differs according to different perspectives. Some regard it as a socially constructed concept, suggesting it is a means of preserving power and status with a certain group of people (Locke et al. 2005:558). Carr (??:??) suggests it refers to those occupations that are required to maintain civil society (health, justice and education). Others suggest that there are certain defining characteristics which mark out an occupation as fulfilling the criterion for ‘profession’ (Locke et al 2005:558; Christie 2003:845).

Whilst this diversity of views exists, there does seem to be a general sense that those occupations that are classed as professions involve a level of autonomy to make decisions, a distinct knowledge base or expertise, and some form of care or service to society (Carr 2000; Christie 2003; Goodson 2003; Locke et al. 2005).

Professionalism itself may be perhaps regarded as the way in which we describe a profession in terms of its characteristics in relation to these concepts (Goodson 2003:126). In essence professionalism is concerned with considering the level of autonomy afforded to individuals by an occupation and the nature of the professional knowledge or expertise involved.

In this way, the assertion referred to earlier, that the English National Curriculum is considered as a process of de-professionalisation, may be regarded as a belief that the level of prescription involved is reducing teacher autonomy and changing the nature of the expertise required to do the job. As such, the distinct characteristics of teaching are more narrowly defined. Carr (2000:15) refers to such a reduced autonomy and knowledge base as ‘restricted professionalism’.

It is suggested that teaching is unique amongst the professions in terms of its balance between autonomy and accountability (Carr??). As Locke et al (2005: 564) point out, there is a ‘tension’ between professional autonomy and accountability. This unique accountability is related to the relationship between education and society.

Education, or rather schooling, is essentially concerned with ‘the kind of society we want to be’ (White 2004:2) and is often related to the economic health of a country (REF….). This is evident in the claim that the ‘Curriculum for Excellence can play a significant role’ in achieving the Scottish Governments aim ‘to make Scotland smarter, safer and stronger, wealthier and fairer, greener and healthier’ (Scottish Government 2008:3). It is from this notion of schooling as serving, and potentially shaping, society as a whole that it is suggested that schools and teachers are accountable in ways that other professions are not (Carr 2000:44). It is further suggested that teachers are also more accountable to parents and must accept the legitimacy of the views of ‘non-professionals’ in a way that lawyers or doctors do not (Carr 2003:64).

It may be as a result of this accountability to the state and parents that the dominant conception of teacher professionalism, in policy at least, has become that of the ‘competent teacher’ with a focus on meeting prescribed standards. (Goodson 2003:127; Menter et al 2010:21).

Viewing teacher professionalism in terms of standards is argued to potentially lead to a situation in which the professional knowledge base of teaching is purely related to practical skills, such as effective communication and the ability to manage behaviour (Goodson 2003:130). It is also argued that such a view of teacher professionalism can lead to ‘unreflective application of rules’ (Hegarty 2000:456), rather than scrutinising and questioning policy and curricula. It would seem reasonable to associate a prescriptive curriculum with such a concept of teacher professionalism, as indeed Menter et al. (2010:22) do.

This would however, seem an insufficient account of teacher professionalism to meet the requirements of a curriculum which gives teacher greater autonomy of what to teach. Therefore, through focussing on the specific issues which arise in relation to curriculum content selection, attention will be paid to models of professionalism which could perhaps be regarded as more appropriate. Two ideas will be addressed in relation to content selection. The first: the implications of regarding content selection as a pedagogical skill (REF…??) with teachers drawing on, for example, knowledge of child development. The second considers the implications of regarding curriculum as a ‘selection of culture’ (Giroux 1980:228), pointing to content selection as having ethical implications.

Curriculum Content Selection

Viewing content selection as a pedagogical skill would perhaps reflect White’s (2004a:20) assertion that teachers’ ‘expertise’ lies in ‘deciding what specific aims and what pupil experiences best suit the particular children’. In this case, teachers professional knowledge may be regarded as wider than that of practical skills, rather it involves drawing on pedagogical, subject specific knowledge and knowledge of child development, to select and order the content that makes up the curriculum (REF).

The teacher is utilising their professional knowledge in order to make professional judgements as to the content which will move an individual to the next stage of development.

Clearly this points to the need for some form of curriculum aims. As White (2004:6) points out, we cannot sensibly decide what to teach without reference to an aim, an indication as to what the next stage of development actually is. Applying such an understanding to the CfE, we can see that the overall curricular aims are set out in terms of the ‘four capacities’ – statements as to the type of person the curriculum seeks to develop (Learning and Teaching Scotland 2010). At a more detailed level, the ‘experiences and outcomes… describe the expectations for learning and progression for each of the eight curriculum areas’ (Learning and Teaching Scotland 2010). The teacher, then, would seem to have autonomy in choosing what they teach in order to achieve the expected learning.

The need to make professional judgements of this nature would seem to point to a conception of a more enhanced professionalism than a more prescriptive curriculum, and may point to such models as the ‘reflective teacher’ (Moore 2004:4). Such a model of professionalism is regarded as perceiving teaching as involving more than practical skills. Rather the teacher reflects upon their classroom practice, evaluating their teaching, perhaps drawing on their theoretical understanding with a view to improving and developing their teaching (Moore 2004). It could also relate to the concept of ‘the enquiring teacher’ (Menter et al. 2010:23), in which teachers are regarded as researchers, drawing on observations in the classroom to inform their professional decisions in their planning. It is suggested that such a conception of the teacher is ‘very apposite in the context of the Curriculum for Excellence’ (Menter et al. 2010:23), which seeks to give teachers greater autonomy in curriculum development.

These models would certainly seem to extend the concept of teacher professionalism beyond that of the perceived technicism of the ‘competent’ teacher. As such they may provide suitable models for teachers who are involved in the selection of curriculum content, placing an emphasis on teachers’ pedagogical expertise.

However, if we turn to the second concept, an understanding of curriculum content as a ‘selection of culture’ (Giroux 1980:228), understanding teacher professionalism in terms of pedagogical expertise may begin to seem inadequate.

Culture, in its broadest sense, may be regarded ‘as a whole way of life’, encompassing all aspects of society including the knowledge, skills and activities, such as sport and ‘recreation’, of that society (Entwistle 1977:111). However, if we regard education as being, in some way, involved with ‘betterment’ (Entwistle 1977:111), schooling cannot be concerned with all those things that make up a culture. Rather, Entwistle (1977:111), suggests that in schooling we select those aspects of culture which are regarded to be conducive to the ‘improvement of the individual or group’.

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This again points to a consideration of the aims of education: it is only through an awareness of what is regarded as ‘betterment’, and therefore, what we are aiming to achieve through education, that selection of content can sensibly be carried out (White 2004:6). Related to this, cultural selection clearly also implies a process of evaluation, distinguishing between those things which we regard as ‘desirable or undesirable’ aspects of culture (Entwistle 1977:110).

Therefore concerns about the selection of culture which makes up the content of a curriculum can perhaps be regarded as arising both in relation to the aims of the curriculum and in the evaluations of the relative desirability, or worth, of different cultural elements.

Concerns that rise in relation to the aims of the curriculum are perhaps best exemplified by the criticisms of a curriculum whose aim is, for example to increase employability skills. Those who regard knowledge acquisition as having value in its own right would regard an instrumental approach to content selection as an impoverishment of education, limiting access to many forms of culture which may not have direct instrumental value (drawing on Carr et al. 2006:17). In this way then, we can see that the selection of content is in some way impacted upon by our beliefs about the purpose of education, and as such regarding selection of content as technical skill may be insufficient.

However, it is perhaps in relation to the evaluation as to the relative worth of aspects of culture that the most complex issues arise. It is in considering the relationship between knowledge and power that cultural selection becomes problematic. This becomes evident when we draw on Bourdieu’s (1986:106) concept of ‘cultural capital’. Bourdieu (1986:106) suggests that different forms of ‘culture’ are invested with value which can be drawn on for monetary gain, or an increase in social status. If we consider this in terms of ‘knowledge’ as a form of culture, then acquisition of certain forms of knowledge by an individual can be utilised in generating income and increasing social status. For example, acquiring specific biological and medical knowledge can enable one to gain both the income and status conferred upon a doctor. However, it is not only the acquisition of the knowledge per se. which is valuable, but rather gaining institutional recognition – in the form of an academic qualification – of possessing a particular form of culture (Bourdieu 1986:110). In this sense, certain forms of knowledge, certain forms of culture, have greater value by virtue of being ‘institutionalised’ in the form of a qualification (Bourdieu 1986:109).

This would suggest therefore, that schools are involved in both the transfer of forms of culture which enable an individual to gain economic capital or social status, but also in some way define what forms of culture are of value. Such an assertion is supported by Giroux’s (1980:228) argument that the culture that is selected to form the curriculum becomes ‘legitimised’ by the very fact of its inclusion in the curriculum. This concept can further be seen in claims that the ‘traditional’ academic curriculum is an elitist selection of culture, giving value to forms of knowledge associated with the middle class (REF!).

It is the relative value that become associated with different forms of knowledge and different skills that forms part of what is termed ‘hidden curriculum’ (Ref). This is a reference to the values and ideas that a school may not explicitly plan to teach, but which nevertheless are transmitted to pupils (REF). It is suggested therefore that the exclusion of an aspect of culture from the curriculum communicates to pupils a belief about the relative worth of this aspect of culture (REF..exemplify?)

Moore (2004) provides an interesting illustration of this claim of elitism in cultural selection. Moore focuses on portrayals in film of teachers who are regarded as ‘saviours and non-conformists’ (Moore 2004:58), such as ‘Ms Johnson’ in the film Dangerous Minds. He argues that whilst the approach they take to education may be extraordinary, the content of that education is not. Moore (2004) contends that the cultural selection made by these teachers, of what he regards to be representative of middle class values, ‘may be read as contributing to and confirming social and cultural biases’ (p.58)

It is in this sense that Young (2006:734) argues that ‘social interests are always involved in curriculum design’, those with the power to select what is included in the curriculum have, to an extent, the power to legitimise certain forms of knowledge and certain practices. It is suggested that through this process of promoting and legitimising middle class culture (here we have the notion that a society consists of many ‘cultures’ (ref)), schools are implicated in entrenching inequalities of social class (REF).

Such a claim requires closer consideration in order to understand the means by which cultural selection may be regarded to be implicated in matters of social justice. One way in which it is suggested that this is the case is that individuals from a middle class background have greater access and exposure to the forms of knowledge that are regarded as valuable by schools (Reay 2006). In this way, Reay (2006) suggests, children from middle class backgrounds are at an advantage, able to draw on the cultural capital they already possess in order to perform well at schools, gaining institutionalised recognition through academic qualifications, and thus gain status in society.

This would seem to highlight a tension for those involved in selecting the content of a curriculum. On the one hand, it is suggested that if schools do not provide the ‘high status cultural capital that academic and economic success requires’ then children from working class backgrounds are potentially deprived of the ability to raise their social status (Anyon 2006:44). However in doing so, they are perhaps complicit in reproducing bias as to what is regarded as legitimate and valuable knowledge.

It should be pointed out that this problematic account of knowledge and cultural selection does not suggest that ‘knowledge’ is wrong or should not form the basis of a curriculum (Young 2006). Rather it suggests the need to consider the exact nature of the content we are choosing to include, and significantly exclude, from the curriculum. It suggests the need for reflection on our reasons for content selection, requiring an awareness of our own biases we bring to the process (Chan 2009:??).

From these observations, in which the selection of curriculum content is regarded as having social implications and is implicated in the transmission of values, an understanding of teacher professionalism which emphasises practical skills or even pedagogical knowledge perhaps begins to appear inadequate.

Therefore the remainder of this essay will consider the notion that teaching is inherently ethical in its nature, and that teacher professionalism should therefore centre upon the moral characteristics of the profession (Goodson 2003; Campbell 2003; Carr 2006)

Carr (2006:172) argues that whilst all occupations are in some way concerned with ethical issues, these generally play a ‘regulative’ role – they indicate standards for good practice. However he suggests that this is not the case with teaching, rather he suggests that ethical considerations are ‘constitutive’ of teaching. This is perhaps more clear in Campbell’s (2007:604) assertion that:

‘It is far more challenging to disentangle the ethics of teaching from the very process, practice and content of teaching…’ (CHECK CONTEXT)

It would seem that what is meant by this is that the decisions and actions taken by a teacher have ‘moral’ significance (drawing on Campbell 2003:1). By its very nature teaching is involved in forming children’s values and understanding of the world and as such is involved in transmitting conception as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (REF). Further, as discussed earlier the decisions made potentially impact upon an individuals achievement in schooling and thus possibly affect their future prospects.

Following from this concept that issues of ethics are inbuilt into teaching, Campbell (2008:605) argues that ‘ethical codes’ are insufficient to address the issues faced by teachers. Rather she suggests that teachers requires an understanding by teachers of the complex moral issues they must address (Campbell 2008:605).

It would seem that within the Scottish context there is recognition of this. The ‘Standards for Initial Teacher Education’ in Scotland, which ‘specify what is required of a student teacher’ (Christie 2003:847), includes reference to ‘professional values and personal commitment’ (Christie 2003:848).

There is a danger, Carr (???) suggests, in framing values as a competence or standard, in that it would seem to suggest that the other aspects of teaching are ‘value-neutral’. In this way, the ethical nature of teaching perhaps cannot be reduced to a competency or standard. Rather Carr (2006:178) suggests that it is about teachers ‘taking moral issues and questions seriously’. It should be noted that this does not suggest that teachers do not currently take moral and ethical considerations seriously, Campbell (2003:2) argues that many teachers are aware of the moral implications of their actions.

However, Locke et al. (2005:570) do suggest that when teachers are subject to high levels of accountability it can lead teachers ‘doing things right’ rather than ‘doing the right thing’. Potentially, therefore, the CfE’s focus on greater autonomy could provide greater flexibility for teachers to make the decisions they regard to be ethically sound. At the same time, by increasing teachers’ scope for choosing what to teach the ethical nature of teaching perhaps comes even more to the fore.

It would seem then, that in aiming to give teachers greater autonomy over the content of the curriculum, the CfE both can be viewed as potentially enhancing teachers’ professionalism as understood in terms of levels of autonomy. However, it also seems to require a consideration of the professional knowledge base on which professionalism is based. The importance of pedagogical expertise and development is clearly important and highlighted as so ( e.g. Scottish Government 2009:4). Yet, considering the complexity, and potentially value laden nature of the cultural selection involved in selecting curriculum content it would seem important to emphasise the ethical nature of teacher professionalism. In essence then, the greater autonomy afforded to teachers to select the content of the curriculum by the CfE would certainly seem, as Menter et al (2010:23) suggest, to point to a model of teacher professionalism in which teachers both reflect upon and develop their practice. However in light of the essentially ethical issues involved in content selection, it would seem fair to suggest that teachers’ reflections and decisions should draw not only on theoretical and practical knowledge, but must also consider the ethical reasons for choosing to include, or not to include content in their teaching.


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