Factors that enable and constrain Physical Education teachers to exercise agency during large-scale educational reform
MacLean, Justine T.
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Curriculum for Excellence (CfE, 2004), Scotland’s most recent curricular reform, adopted in 2010, positions teachers as key stakeholders in the change process where they are not merely regarded as technicians delivering prescribed curricula but rather as designers and co-producers of school-based curriculum. This critical review considers the ways in which teachers engage with and enact this reform using the lens of teacher agency, to provide insight into how teachers relate to policy (Tao & Gao, 2017). Teacher agency has been defined as the ability to act (Bandura, 2001), to critically shape a response to a problem (Biesta & Tedder, 2006), and reflect on the impact of one’s actions (Rogers & Wetzel, 2013). This critical review contributes to understanding of the factors that enable or constrain teachers to exercise agency as they enact new policy. Research in teacher agency is important because teachers may use their agency to support new policy, develop a critical stance or oppose educational change altogether (Sannino, 2010). CfE significantly altered the nature and purpose of Physical Education (PE) by relocating PE and dance to the newly created educational domain of ‘Health and Wellbeing’, but also offering dance as a unique subject within the Expressive Arts domain. The focus on PE is particularly salient, since PE teachers were not only managing the complexities of enacting whole school reform, but at the same time reconstructing the nature of their subject between the two educational domains. Given the complexities of enacting new policy in PE, this critical review examines the tensions, issues and challenges that PE teachers face when exercising agency to enact new curricular policy in their school setting. This critical review draws from three studies presented in six peer-reviewed international publications, analysing 525 Questionnaires and 50 interviews, that trace the policy formation process using Bowe, Ball and Gold’s (1992) cycle of policy creation and enactment in practice. The six papers do not follow a linear path but can be read as a set of three interrelated research studies, conducted in ‘real time’, examining policy processes in practice. The first study investigated the creation of the CfE policy text by interviewing key policy constructors selected by the Scottish Government to create a vision for PE within Health and Wellbeing. The second study surveyed PE teachers in Scottish secondary schools and examined CfE at the implementation stage of the policy process, comparing policy intentions to teachers’ translation of the policy text during the early years of policy enactment. The third study analysed PE teachers’ perceptions, experiences and provision of dance in the curriculum using a ten-year longitudinal study to explore teacher agency from student through to experienced teacher. The studies identified the practical manifestations of the theoretically complex concept of collective context-bound agency that is exercised through policy enactment in the relational context of schools. The research established that policy enactment and agency were interconnected when actors were able to respond to tasks that involved them in a socially embedded process. Agency was exercised when teachers reflexively deliberated on the meaning of policy for their practice and negotiated the cultural, social and material contextual environment required to support reform. Teacher agency was enhanced by the collective experience in that, as a group, the PE teachers possessed emergent properties not possessed by individuals but by the power of the relationship that bound them together. The findings are relevant and timely in seeking to explore the information that sits beneath the surface of curriculum change by developing an understanding of the ways to support teachers’ current and future practice.