PhD Research – Curricular Autonomy of Teachers of English

My study investigates how teachers of English make decisions about curriculum in their teaching and in their classrooms. I’m looking for participants to help me answer this research question:

(In what ways) do teachers of English exercise curricular autonomy?

Research Qu. 3

Why English Teachers?

English teachers are in a unique and challenging position in our education system. Their subject is at the centre of overlapping concerns about pupils’ capacity for creativity, their powers of expression and self-creation, and their ability to work and steer the course of their lives. At the same time, values which promote a shared traditional linguistic culture, and the survival, transmission, and shared appreciation of a literary canon, are in tension with growing awareness of the importance of reflecting the lives, experiences and cultures of pupils in a pluralist society. Finally English results at KS4 are a key accountability measure, the pressures from which are felt by its teachers and pupils.

At the same time teachers of English have a long tradition of reflecting on their resources, purposes, their values, and hopes for their pupils when making curricular decisions, which they hope will allow their pupils to learn and flourish.

There have been important changes of notions of professionalism and policy which have the potential to restrict this curricular autonomy, but we do not know the extent to which this is felt by teachers of English at classroom level. Understanding teachers’ curricular autonomy also has the potential to help policy makers at national and local levels understand how to work with serving teachers to enhance this autonomy.

Why am I studying this?

If decisions about the content of the English curriculum are often the focus of political debate and controversy, comparatively little is understood about the processes and substance of such choices. Much of the recent research on agency and autonomy focuses on the contexts in which autonomy or agency is achieved. So, the main benefit which I hope to realise, is an enhanced understanding of what teachers of English make curricular decisions about, and what resources, experiences, values they draw upon in making them.

I also hope to create a route for experienced teachers to explain their practices. Quite a lot of research is done with new teachers, because they are often easier for researcher to gain access to, and because policy makers see initial teacher education as as key policy problem. I would like to hear instead from more experienced teachers, not only to redress this balance, but because such teachers are, I think, more likely to have rich experiences of making curricular decisions than those more recently qualified.

What’s involved?

I’m looking for up to 6 participants, from anywhere in England, who will be involved in 4 semi-structured interviews, each lasting about 45 minutes. I will explore your experiences and perceptions of autonomy relating to curriculum and curricular work and particularly the relations you see between your work and your values and purposes of education. We can do these interviews online or in person if that is more convenient for you. I’m really aware that people working in school are pressed for time and will arrange these meetings as flexibly as possible.

If you’re interested you can download further information below, or you can email me at if you’d like to discuss or ask questions.