How schools in England understand and enact education policy: the case of modern languages at key stage 4

Hagger-Vaughan, Lesley (2018) How schools in England understand and enact education policy: the case of modern languages at key stage 4. EdD thesis, University of Nottingham.

[img] PDF (Thesis - as examined) - Repository staff only - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (2MB)


Whilst learning an additional language throughout compulsory schooling is increasingly the norm across the world, this is not the case in England, where currently fewer than 50% of young people study a modern language at upper secondary level (key stage 4). However, a recent change to education policy has required the ‘vast majority’ of young people to study a language to GCSE level as part of the combination of subjects which form the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure. This research explores the interrelated nature of the factors that help and hinder schools in responding to this policy requirement to extend participation in language learning.

The study adopts a multiple case study approach and draws on qualitative data generated from semi-structured interviews, participant observation and document analysis in three schools to develop an in-depth understanding of how schools make sense of education policy and make policy their own. In order to preserve the voices of the participants the findings are presented in the form of three portraits which aim to capture the cultural and linguistic identities of the schools and their communities. A range of theoretical resources are drawn upon in the analysis, including Ball et al.’s theory of ‘policy enactment’ (2012) and Bourdieu’s tools of habitus, capital and field. These are used as lenses through which to analyse the contested field of participation in modern languages at KS4.

The study finds that the evolving national policy imperative is understood and enacted locally in different and unequal ways according to a complex interplay of habitus, capital and field - the interplay of school specific factors, circumstances, contexts, histories, and the dispositions of school leaders. This determines the differing opportunities afforded to young people to learn a language at KS4. The Bourdieusian analysis suggests that, in the current political context of school accountability and linear examinations, schools’ enactment of the language policy reform can be understood as a ‘game within a game’, and that the field of modern languages at KS4 cannot be seen in isolation from the broader education field which has a significant impact on how schools understand and enact language education policy. The research concludes that given the complex interrelated range of factors at play, sustainable change cannot be effected by schools alone and that action is required at all levels to address the inequalities that persist in language education at KS4. While individual schools and educators may exercise considerable agency and work hard to meet the language policy expectations at a local level, the multiplicity of factors and the tensions and contradictions made transparent in this research illuminate how these interrelated aspects need to be recognised and addressed at national and regional levels, as well as locally. The study puts forward a number of recommendations for action at these different levels.

The study also sheds light on opportunities for change and spaces for action. It offers positive examples of how schools strive to offer more equitable language learning opportunities for young people. The findings contribute to a more hopeful and critical discourse than the one that currently characterises language education in England by challenging taken-for-granted binaries and illuminating how educators are key actors rather than merely subjects in the language education policy process. The research also points to the need for educators to maintain a focus on the ‘bigger picture’ of why language learning matters in the 21st century in their day-to-day practices. It highlights the need for educators to exercise critical agency and to develop ‘a feel for the game’ (Bourdieu, 1990) in order to offer all young people an inclusive and high-quality modern languages education at KS4 which will enable them to embrace the linguistic and cultural diversity of the global 21st century.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (EdD)
Supervisors: Hall, Christine A.
Hood, Philip
Keywords: multilingual, plurilingual, linguistic repertoires, modern foreign languages, curriculum leadership , secondary education, education policy enactment, performance measures, English Baccalaureate , agency, Bourdieu
Subjects: P Language and literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 53341
Depositing User: Hagger-Vaughan, Lesley
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2018 09:13
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2019 18:15

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View