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Appears in Collections:Faculty of Social Sciences eTheses
Title: Is this Academy a place where teacher agency can flourish?
Author(s): McGowan, Neal L
Supervisor(s): Priestley, Mark
MacAllister, James
Keywords: Academies
Teacher Agency
Education Policy
Secondary Schooling
Teacher Professionalism
Neo-Liberalisation of Education
Professional Autonomy
Critical Realism
Issue Date: 31-Oct-2015
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis is concerned with teacher agency and how this is achieved within the autonomous schooling model of England’s academies programme. The enquiry draws upon the empirical work conducted in a single case study sponsored academy (‘Bucklands Academy’ ) in 2012. The research was conducted in order to investigate whether the autonomy and freedoms afforded to one such school extended to the teachers working in it and how this affected their professional roles as classroom educators. The thesis begins by sharing my research interest, which relates to whether greater levels of school autonomy enhance the pedagogical approaches taken by teachers. This interest then develops towards the notion of teacher agency and asks the fundamental research question: Is this academy a place where teacher agency can flourish? The study sets out the policy context for academies in England, including an analysis of the historical development of state secondary schooling since 1944. It is shown that the continued ‘need’ to develop a new approach to schooling, eventually in the form of academies, started with claims of unfairness, discrimination and waste of talent brought about by the tripartite system of schooling established by the 1944 Education Act. It then analyses later concerns about the alleged failure of the comprehensive system to achieve its aim of raising standards for all children. The political contexts of state schooling are considered, and particular attention is given to the neo-liberal ideology developed after 1979 of ‘rolling back the state’, introducing choice and competition between schools and increasing the role of the private sector in the delivery of public services. However, the scope of the investigation is not restricted to the national policy context; the research interest lies in establishing what the key reforms have meant for teachers in the classroom and how this has affected the agency they achieve. A number of themes emerged in the review of key literature, including school autonomy, teacher professionalism, the policy to practice paradox and discourses around the academies programme. This thesis sets out a clear theoretical position, which draws upon the critical realist social theory developed by Roy Bhaskar and Margaret Archer. This approach offers a centrist alternative to what Pring (2000b) describes as the false dualism of the two epistemological positions of educational research. Critical realism posits that the world is real and that its structures exist beyond our understanding, but that our knowledge of this stratified world is socially constructed. Within the structure-agency debate, the ecological view of agency developed by Priestley et al. (2015) is adopted, which sees it as being context-dependent and something that individuals achieve in concrete settings. The empirical work within this study consisted of semi-structured interviews, observations and documentary analysis. The main findings from the research are that the case-study school had significant autonomy to develop its own policies and approaches to raising standards. However, this autonomy did not extend to any significant extent below the level of the academy sponsors and the principal. The school had developed a highly performative culture where teachers’ work was centrally directed and through which they were held highly accountable for the attainment of their students. It was found that the way in which autonomy was distributed throughout the school affected the agency of key stakeholders. The sponsors achieved high levels of agency, the principal achieved restricted agency and teachers achieved limited agency. It was found that teachers took one of two approaches to a new curricular reform being introduced by the academy sponsors. They either adopted it or used their limited agency to modify it so that it aligned more closely with their own educational philosophies. There was no indication that any teachers rejected the school’s reform, and it is suggested that this may have been the result of them subordinating this key policy to their ultimate concern of working in a school recognised by school inspectors to be highly effective. This thesis concludes that, contrary to the policy rhetoric, teachers working in one sponsored academy may have had less autonomy than those teaching in local authority maintained schools. This in turn affected the agency they achieved, which appears to undermine the original vision and aims of the academies programme. The thesis concludes by offering possible areas for further research which emerged during this study.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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