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Curriculum is – or should be – at the heart of educational practice

Mark Priestley Stavroula Philippou

New forms of national curriculum emerging worldwide have shifted the focus from input regulation – detailed specification of content to be taught – to output regulation – evaluation of the outputs of education, gauged via analysis of attainment data and by school inspections (Nieveen & Kuiper, 2012). This ‘new curriculum’ (Priestley & Biesta, 2013) continues the trend of positioning education systems more widely, and curriculum in particular, as drivers of economic development and national competitiveness (Yates & Young, 2010).

In light of these international trends in education, systematic and nuanced thinking about the curriculum has never been more important. The curriculum is – or at least should be – at the heart of educational discourse and practice. Moreover, the role of scholarly journals such as the Curriculum Journal, with a specialist focus on curriculum studies, is key to developing and maintaining this. It is therefore with a great sense of responsibility and pride that we take on the editorship of a journal with an illustrious and distinctive history, and with a strong track-record of making important contributions to scholarship, research and practice in the field of curriculum.

The new editorial team comprises two lead editors – Mark Priestley (University of Stirling, UK) and Stavroula Philippou (University of Cyprus) – and an extended international team of associate editors.

Definitions of ‘curriculum’ as a concept of inquiry and ‘curriculum studies’ as an interdisciplinary field have repeatedly been addressed in the literature through the metaphor of boundaries – disciplinary and in other forms. In a sense, a key task occupying a journal – especially one of the few and key journals in a particular field – relates to the paradoxical task of maintaining and even consolidating those boundaries, while simultaneously contributing to understanding, challenging and reshaping them. Over the years the Curriculum Journal has focussed on, and will continue to focus on, curriculum theory, policy and practice, including research on issues concerning curriculum structure, organisation and development, teaching, learning, pedagogy and assessment. All of these issues comprise the multi-layered social practices through which curriculum is made.

‘Curriculum research and scholarship is currently at a critical juncture, with the curriculum becoming more central to education debate and policy.’

We view curriculum research and scholarship as currently being at a critical juncture. In the UK, after much activity and productivity in the 1970s and 1980s, it became negatively influenced by the introduction of the national curriculum, becoming primarily geared towards questions of fidelity of implementation and normative evaluation of the national curriculum. In recent years we have seen strong signs of a revival of interest in curriculum matters that go beyond these questions. Curriculum discourse, so often seemingly absent from educational conversations in the UK, is once more apparent, for example, in the public pronouncements of Ofsted in England. These trends are evident more broadly. In many countries, the curriculum has become a central pillar of education policy, manifested in recent years in the development of new and innovative forms of national curriculum policy and a renewed emphasis on the important role of teachers as curriculum makers (for example, the Welsh Successful Futures initiative, the New Zealand Curriculum and in the Netherlands).

These trends are to be welcomed, but come with considerable challenges, not least in supporting and sustaining the capacity of professionals to conceptualise, mediate and enact the curriculum in educational institutions such as schools. Furthermore, such attention to curriculum has sometimes contributed to its constriction, as official curricular texts and policies have been framed as tools of regulation and control, both of teachers’ work and of pupil learning, with a strong focus on standardised or high-stakes testing. The increased focus on teachers and the curriculum is clearly related to school development and questions about how different models of continuing professional education become a vehicle to facilitate teachers’ curriculum practice at school and classroom level. To some extent, it has also found its way into discussions about initial teacher education.

Internationally, significant parallel developments greatly add to the complexity of the curriculum field. In North America, the ‘reconceptualisation’ of curriculum studies over recent decades, and subsequent concerns over ‘internationalisation’ and ‘post-reconceptualisation’, have shifted the focus to some extent from questions of curriculum structure, organisation, development and enactment towards wider historical, sociological and political questions about the curriculum. On the European continent, the concept of ‘curriculum’ has been less prominent as a field or object of scholarship and research than has been the case in the Anglophone sphere; instead, questions about the curriculum have been approached more through the traditions of ‘bildung’ and ‘didactics’. Important questions about the interconnections between didactics and curriculum have long engaged curriculum scholars across the Atlantic.

We see the Curriculum Journal as an important forum for these debates, and our role as editors as enabling such debates within the space provided by the journal. The papers included in this first issue of the new volume focus on the crucial and difficult curriculum questions that we will seek to explore throughout our tenure.

This blog is an edited extract from the editorial to issue 1, volume 30 of the Curriculum Journal, by Mark Priestley and Stavroula Philippou. Click here to see the full contents of this issue.

BERA members get access to the Curriculum Journal, and four other field-leading educational research journals, as a benefit of their membership – click here for more information.


Nieveen, N., & Kuiper, W. (2012). Balancing curriculum and freedom in the Netherlands. European Educational Research Journal, 11(3), 357–368.

Popkewitz, T. S. (2007). Cosmopolitanism and the age of school reform: Science, education and making society by making the child. New York, NY: Routledge.

Priestley, M., & Biesta, G. J. J. (Eds.). (2013). Reinventing the curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Sinnema, C., & Aitken, G. (2013). Trends in international curriculum development. In M. Priestley & G. J. J. Biesta (Eds.), Reinventing the curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice (pp. 141–164). London: Bloomsbury.

Yates, L., & Young, M. (2010). Editorial: globalization, knowledge and the curriculum. European Journal of Education, 45(1), 4–10.