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Junior Cycle Reform – Why Context Matters: A context- centric analysis of curriculum reform in lower Irish secondary education.

King, David (2017) Junior Cycle Reform – Why Context Matters: A context- centric analysis of curriculum reform in lower Irish secondary education. EdD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This thesis is concerned with curriculum policy enactment in the field of lower secondary education in Ireland. The research illuminates the experiences of teachers and school leaders in three pilot schools who were enacting a new Junior Cycle (JC) curriculum on a trial basis, prior to national roll-out to schools across the country. This reform, recognised by many as the most significant in the history of Irish education, has been marked by slow introduction, fragmentation and high levels of contestation from teacher unions. The initial aim of this research was to generate theory on the perspectives of key stakeholders regarding their enactment of this new curriculum, as described in A Framework for Junior Cycle, released by the Department of Education and Skills (DES, 2012). The research agenda lay within the interpretivist paradigm and followed a grounded theory methodology. The main method employed was both group, and individual, focussed interviews. Ball’s policy cycle (with modifications by Lesley Vidovich) provided a conceptual framework through which to analyse how teachers and leaders in the pilot schools had interpreted The Framework and translated it into practice across different levels of policy enactment. As the study progressed, the nature of what was being generated through the process of theory construction indicated that what was of central concern for participants was matters to do with context. Thus, in keeping with interpretive and grounded theory approaches to research, it was deemed necessary to re-orientate the aim to allow for a more specific interrogation of the contexts that influenced the enactment of The Framework. Consideration was given to the influence of school and system contexts on actors’ interpretations of JC reform and its translation into practice. The results of the study suggest that curriculum policy and the management of the reform process at a system level influenced actors’ interpretations of JC reform, whilst the management of school policy and participant values influenced its translation into practice. A new concept, contextual leverage, illuminates how policy can be managed to bring about a shared meaning of the purpose of JC curriculum at a school and system level. A context-centric theoretical model is presented, which reconciles the other concepts constructed in the study to describe how JC reform has been contextually mediated and institutionally rendered. Consequently, this study offers a contribution to knowledge that responds to the dearth of contextualised policy responses in the change literature. It looks to move beyond the truism that ‘context matters’ in curriculum policy enactment through illuminating what contexts matter, how they matter and why. This research presents, and expands upon, statements regarding why context matters for schools, for policy analysis and for system level governance. Context, in this regard, is not bleached into the background of the policy landscape but rather becomes a centralised, active force through which we can understand and mediate change better.

Item Type: Thesis (EdD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > School of Education (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.722784
Depositing User: Mr. David King
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2017 08:31
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2018 09:44
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18148

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