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Purpose and Agency in Teaching

July 10, 2019

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In February of 2015, the Welsh Government released Successful Futures, an “independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.” A number of recommendations were made in this report, and at the heart of these recommendations was the call for the development of a new, national curriculum framework for Wales.

 

The development of the framework was undertaken by specially selected schools called “Pioneer Schools” and is largely organised around the discourse of subsidiarity. In this context, subsidiarity means decisions being made at the appropriate level of responsibility and engagement.  The teachers from these schools were provided time and resources to engage with each other in deliberations over the “what matters statements” (information circumscribing curriculum content), progression steps (how young people advance through their schooling experience) and indicators of assessment (I have, I can statements, demonstrating the things young people “have done” and “can do”). The Welsh Government argues that the spirit of subsidiarity is served through the Pioneer model and will continue as an organisational principle when the curriculum framework is adopted and implemented by schools.

 

One of the most contentious aspects of the framework is the expectation that schools will develop “local” curricula for their pupils and communities they serve. Under the auspices of subsidiarity, teachers are expected to engage in curriculum and instructional activities as pedagogical agents engaged in all aspects of teaching — planning, performing, evaluating, reflecting and improving their practice. As such, agency has become an important educational concern in Wales. According to Biesta and Tedder (2006), agency is a teacher’s capacity to “critically shape their responses to problematic situations,” and there are few situations less problematic than curricular deliberations. However, agency is not simply the capacity to critically shape responses, it also involves notions of “purpose,” “efficacy” and “autonomy.” In short, a teacher’s agency is intersected by a number of factors —values, beliefs, priorities, activities, relationships, and environment (to name a few) (Biesta et al, 2014). It is a complex, under-theorised and, particularly in the case of Wales, an under-researched topic that deserves special consideration as we move into a new era of education reform.

 

The development of the new curricular framework and school-level curricula provide a distinct opportunity to not only understand how teachers currently understand ‘agency,’ but also how they think recent educational reform might affect their agency in the future. I am currently conducting research on teacher agency in Wales. The study involves two phases of data collection. The first phase is an online survey focusing on “purpose” and “agency.” The survey consists of 31 questions and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you are a teacher in Wales and would like to participate, please click on this link where you can find information about the study, your rights as a participant, and the survey itself.

 

Kevin Smith

SmithK26@cardiff.ac.uk

@dr_kevinsmith

 

References

Welsh Government. 2015. Successful Futures. Retrieved on 04/07/2019 from https://gweddill.gov.wales/docs/dcells/publications/150225-successful-futures-en.pdf

 

Biesta, G. and Tedder, M. 2006. How is agency possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. Working paper 5. Exeter, UK: The learning lives project.

 

Biesta, G., Priestly, M. and Robinson, S. 2014. The role of beliefs in teacher agency. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and practice. 21(6), pp. 624-640.

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