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Impact of Government Curriculum on Teaching and Learning

Governmental Control Over Curriculum and the Impact on Teachers as Skilled Professionals


Caldwell and Hayward (1998) state that the need for reform in England’s school system was realized in 1976 (p. 1). Yet, it was not until 1988 with the Education Reform Act instituted under Margaret Thatcher that a “national curriculum, national tests” and control of the schools by the government began to become a reality (Caldwell & Hayward 1998, p. 1). Murnane and Steele (2007) contend that national involvement in the public schools was intended to support the learners, as well as the teachers (p. 15). However, because of the continued awareness by governments that Western educational institutions were lagging behind the accomplishments of Eastern schools, continued changes in the area of education and government’s control over it have completely altered the educational landscape (Murnane & Steele 2007, p. 15). This is because of an adopted neo-liberalist policy approach that has favored markets over learners and policies over teacher effectiveness (Apple 2001, p. 182). As a result teachers are becoming “deskilled” and incapable of maintaining their own control over their effectiveness in the classroom (Hall 2004, p. 3). As this control subsides, therefore, teachers are leaving the profession due to frustration and an inability to maintain their professional capabilities in the schools. This knowledge provides evidence that the neo-liberalist policies that have been adopted in the United Kingdom are not achieving the end results as once forecast and that there is perhaps a need to reconsider these policies in order to ensure that teachers that are the foundation of education retain the skills and knowledge that is necessary to instruct society’s children.


Apple (2001) indicates that there was once a “classical liberalism” that existed in relation to the schools and those policies related to education that impacted teachers and students (p. 182). However, Apple (2001) states that as time has progressed the classical liberalism of the state policies has been altered toward a “neo-liberalism approach” (p. 182). According to Apple (2001), it is important to understand the differences between these two types of views of education because these differences are at the core of the educational issues that schools in many countries face today (p. 182).

Olssen (1996) defines classical liberalism in the schools as a method of “freeing those within the schools from state control” (p. 337). Olssen (1996), on the other hand, specifies that neo-liberalism supports the state’s role in controlling education by “creating a market…[that involves] the conditions, laws and institutions necessary for its operation” (p. 337). Apple (2001) argues that when an education “market” is, therefore, created it is a market that seems to suggest “individualization” (p. 182). However, the individualization of the market is subjected to the controls of the government and the policies that force parents, teachers and students to act in a certain manner, leading to the end results that the state intended from the start (Apple 2001, p. 182). This is because the actions of the entities connected to education are restrained by the boundaries set forth in the policies of the government and as those boundaries become more tightly fixed the actions of the parties are more predictable.

Choice and Influence on Teachers

Apple (2001) expands on this notion by examining the middle class in society (p. 182). Apple (2001) stipulates that when parents of different nations in the middle class are given the opportunity of school choice the government knows that those parents will naturally begin placing their own criteria and/or expectations on schools (p. 182). Consequently when parents are unhappy with the curriculum at one school the teachers at the school are forced to alter that curriculum in order to meet the demands of the parents or they will loose the students within that school (Apple 2001, p. 182). The loss of students within a school means the loss of government funding, the loss of jobs, the lack of teacher’s ability to provide resources and ultimately the loss of the school itself in the community. Therefore, as Apple (2001) indicates, the government policies may be suggesting that people have a greater choice; yet, what is actually occurring is a more significant control of schools through the ability of parents to actively use choice to influence curriculum in relation to the schools (p. 182). As parents influence how the curriculum is created, consequently, teachers are placed under greater scrutiny and are forced to expand their offerings in the classroom – even if these offerings include learning that the teacher is not knowledgeable or skilled in.

Brooker (2003) contends that the manner in which parents and private entities are capable of influencing the education of students is evident in the United Kingdom with the inclusion of computer technologies in the elementary classroom (p. 261). Over the past decade there has been such a significant increase in the demand for computer technology training of young students. Yet, those schools that do not conform to this expectation are loosing students (Brooker 2003, p. 261). In general this is because parents, manufacturers and the government insists that if children are not trained in the use of computers at an early age they will not be capable of competing with their peers or those in the outside world later on (Brooker 2003, p. 261). Yet, Brooker (2003) argues that technologies in the classroom has impacted teachers negatively due to the fact that many of today’s teachers are not skilled in the use of computers and they are not capable of acquiring the knowledge needed to instruct their students adequately (p. 261). This is because, in general, many schools fail to provide teachers with new training that will support the increase in the instructional scope and teachers do not have the ability to seek outside skill training and maintain their work schedule at the same time.

New Teacher Training

The concept of choice and control offered by the government is also being reflected in proposals by government entities associated with initial teacher training (Apple 2000, p. 1). Apple (2000) specifies that in the current educational climate what is being considered is the “deregulation” of teacher training as a means of promoting competition among institutions of higher learning (p. 1). Essentially what this causes to occur is that colleges and universities are freely allowed to choose their own approaches to teaching and teachers have the choice of training institutions that they prefer. However, as time progresses it becomes apparent to schools and the communities that support them which teachers are trained effectively and which are not (Apple 2001, p. 182). This occurs when standardized test scores are revealed from students, reflecting directly back on the teacher’s abilities to educate (Apple 2001, p. 182). As a result, when enough teachers from a particular institution are incapable of developing learners that can pass standardized tests that institution begins to realize a decline in enrollment (Apple 2001, p. 182). Although teachers in training are given the choice of schools to attend and colleges are given freedom in determining how those teachers are training, ultimately it is the governmental control of policies that impacts whether or not the institution of higher learning will survive and what curriculum will be used to teach teachers in society. In the neo-liberalist approach to education there is evidence that the freedoms that are being given to colleges and universities are instead tools that negatively impact teachers entering the profession, often with the new teachers being unaware that they are ultimately slated for failure before they even begin their careers.

Able Students

Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz (1994) stipulate that governmental control over education further impacts teachers and curriculum due to the fact that teachers and schools begin to attempt to avoid students with special needs and “seek out able children” (p. 19). This is because special needs students require a greater amount of teacher time, teacher expertise and teacher interaction with students that takes away from the teacher instructing “able” students who do not have special needs (Ball, Bowe & Gewitz 1994, p. 19). In England, Ball, Bowe and Gewitz (1994) state that this intent to encourage able students enrolling in schools by teachers and administrators is directly related to the “publication of performance indicators such as examination league tables” because schools find it difficult to explain that test scores may be low due to an abundance of special needs students (Ball, Bowe & Gewitz 1994, p. 19).

Yet, Gerwitz, Ball and Bowe (1995) further argue that control of the curriculum and teacher performance is also related to the students of different cultures (p. 6). For example, in England it is known that African American students traditionally have difficulties in the schools because of the large segment of this population that is impoverished (p. 6). Poverty is correlated to the abilities of the students, with those in the impoverished classes historically performing less successfully on standardized tests (Gerwitz, Ball & Bowe 1995, p. 6). Apple (2001), therefore, states that this causes teachers to develop curriculum that targets students who are more capable of learning and ignores those students that standardized testing was intended to support in the first place (p. 182).


Allen and Ainley (2007) contend that as time progresses the governmental control over the curriculum in the schools is continuing to expand, impacting how teachers not only teach, but changing what is taught to students, causing a fragmentation of teacher control over their own labor (p. 1). An example of this exists within English schools as education reform is focused on vocational education for students beginning at age 14 (Allen & Ainley 2007, p. 1). According to Allen and Ainley (2007) the government came to the conclusion that there was a decline in students graduating from schools with marketable skills and this impacted their success after public schooling (p. 1). The issue, therefore, became less concentrated on a student’s ability to read, write and perform simple math and more on specifically training students to function in specific jobs once they have left academia (Allen & Ainley, 2007, p. 1).

Allen and Ainley (2007) indicate that this brings about two specific issues. First, while teachers in the United Kingdom have indicated that they do not support this policy, teacher organizations throughout the country have ignored teacher protests and called on educators to ensure that the policies are successful (Allen & Ainley 2007, p 1). Second, programs for vocational training are being largely created in schools that instruct low income or impoverished students, with those students in high performing schools working with a traditional curriculum (Allen & Ainley 2007, p. 1). What this means is that while governmental policies are once again suggesting that there is choice in relation to education, the policies are ensuring that only those choices that support what the government deems appropriate for education will be made (Allen & Ainley 2007, p. 1; Chitty 2004, p. 160). Furthermore, Murnane and Steele (2007) state that this causes teachers to be inundated with having to cope with a curriculum that is ever-changing and that they believe they no longer have control over (p. 15). As a result teachers are leaving the teaching profession in vast numbers and this is creating a greater shortage in the teacher workforce than ever before (Murnane & Steele 2007, p. 15).


Duggan and Pole (1996) suggest that the dissatisfaction in the teacher workforce began to be ever apparent in the 1990s (p. 139). Hall (2004) states that this is an issue that has increased over time because of policies such as “the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies in primary school and the Key Stage 3 Strategy in secondary schools”, as well as the inclusion of technologies and standardized testing that “constricts teachers” and their capabilities throughout the curriculum (p. 3). According to Hall (2004) the types of control connected to the schools and the deskilling of teachers are endless (p. 8; Appendix 1). Consequently there is an increased teacher workload, decreased teacher satisfaction and a reduction in the number of teachers that want to or are capable of instructing students in the manner in which government and/or society demands. For the future of education in the Western world this could mean that the attempt by government to regulate education and create more successful outcomes for students in England has the opposite effect, as is indicated by Hall (2004, p. 3).

The research indicates that the original intent of education to create students that were capable of being productive citizens after their educational careers ended became extremely complex when it was realized that Western students did not achieve at the same rate as Eastern students. Therefore, a neo-liberalist policy toward education by the government was adopted, suggesting that choice was available to parents, teachers and students and that a greater freedom in education would exist. Yet, the research also demonstrates that the idea of choice was restricted by the policies related to education that were adopted by the government and that these policies minimalized the choices that actually existed. Moreover, these neo-liberalist policies became so intricately woven within education that the choices made by those connected to education could be predicted and manipulated with ease. For teachers this has meant that they are overworked, under-trained and unprepared for the demands of the modern educational system and given few options as to how they can overcome these issues. This knowledge provides serious implications for the educational system because as teachers continue to become frustrated due to their increasing deskilled status they are leaving the teaching workforce. This knowledge provides evidence that the neo-liberalist policies that have been adopted in the United Kingdom are not achieving the end results as once forecast and that there is perhaps a need to reconsider these policies in order to ensure that teachers that are the foundation of education retain the skills and knowledge that is necessary to instruct society’s children.

Appendix 1

(Hall 2004, p. 8).

1. Regulated market control: metaphors of the market and consumer demand are imposed upon schools; success and profits go to those who best meet consumer demand. Teachers’ work is evaluated in terms of measured outputs set against cost. Competition is the key element in relations between schools. (Ball, 1994)

2. Technical control: this is embodied in structures rather than people – in, for example, notionally ‘teacher proof’ teaching materials and text books, and in specified competences (Apple, 1988, 1996)

3. Bureaucratic control: hierarchical power is embedded in the social and organisational structure of institutions – jobs are differently divided and defined, have different salaries, and supervision, evaluation and promotion arrangements. The potential for establishing a career operates as a control mechanism.

4. Corporate control: the focus of the institution is on economic rather than social good. A competitive ethos prevails. Managers focus on economic goals. The head teacher is perceived more as a line manager than as a first among professional equals.

5. Ideological control: hegemonic beliefs – for example, that a good teacher has certain characteristics – become part of the dominant ideology within schools. These ideas and beliefs are reinforced in pre-service and in-service training. Certain conceptions of teachers’ work become naturalised – for example, a move away from child-centred discourse to market based discourse.

6. Disciplinary power: Foucault (1977) shows how, by means of the technologies of power – hierarchical observation, normalising judgment and examination –individuals are ‘disciplined’ into ways of understanding their work. Minor procedures and routines are specified (times, dress, expected responses) in ways that become anonymous and functional within a school; teachers and others within the school regulate their own behaviours to meet these expectations. Smyth describes this as a ‘triumph of technique over questions of purpose’


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Ball, S., Bowe, R., & Gewirtz, S. (1994). Market forces and parental choice. In S.

Tomlinson (Ed.), Educational reform and its consequences (pp. 13-25). London: IPPR/Rivers Oram Press.

Brooker, L. (2003). Integrating new technologies in the UK classroom. Childhood Education. 79(5): 261-289.

Caldwell, B., and Hayward, D. (1998). The future of schools: Lessons from the reform of public education. London: Falmer Press.

Chitty, C. (2004). Education policy in Britain. London: Palgrave.

Duggan, R., and Pole, C. (1996). Reshaping education in the 1990s. New York: Routledge.

Gewirtz, S., Ball, S., & Bowe, R. (1995). Markets, choice, and equity in education. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

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Olssen, M. (1996). In defense of the welfare state and of publicly provided education. Journal of Education Policy. 11: 337-362.


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