University of Leicester
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KS3/4 Wider Curriculum Choice - Personalisation or Social Control? A contemporary study of influences on Year 9 students’ decision-making in an English comprehensive school

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posted on 2011-05-31, 14:34 authored by Jennifer Martin
This research concerns tensions between ‘personalisation’, a neo-liberal concept adapted by New Labour to empower and motivate students and ‘performativity’, an aspect of governance whereby institutional effectiveness is monitored by statistical outcomes. Their ambiguous reconciliation in Personalised Learning (DfES 2004a) continues to develop in schools and colleges. A research focus on Key Stage 3/4 wider curriculum choice, one of five key but under-researched elements in this policy, provides the opportunity to explore this paradox. Involving an investigation into the recent experience of 14-15 year olds in an inner city English comprehensive school, the degree of equity afforded students in decision-making, based on teacher perceptions of students as achievers and underachievers may reveal conflicting values in the management of this process. Taking an ethnographic approach to case study development, triangulation of method and source is used to test internal validity. Analysis of interview data from a range of pastoral staff provides outline images of the institutional management of student choice. A comparative statistical analysis using data from anonymous student questionnaires provides an independent account of the effects of this interpretation on the student stakeholder role. From the questionnaire sample, qualitative data from twenty student interviews offers further insight into the processing of decisions. Relying on respondent validation procedures throughout, for ethical reasons the identification of student interviewees as ‘achievers’ or ‘underachievers’ is retrospective. Demonstrating how student access to the KS4 optional curriculum operates, the research reveals power differences firstly between the student cohort and ‘gate-keeping’ pastoral staff and secondly between individual students. While some evidence of social control through self-surveillance, implied through Foucauldian criticism of neo-liberal strategies (Rose and Miller 1992) may exist, the extreme social and economic deprivation of the area is used to justify this institutional interpretation of the stakeholder role through the moral imperative of social inclusion.



Wood, Philip; Lawson, Tony

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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • EdD



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