Diversifying our curriculum: Rediscovering the power of our narrative voices
16 Dec 2022
Funded by the 2021–2022 British Curriculum Forum Curriculum Investigation Grant, this project aimed to investigate the degree to which a secondary school in England included a multitude of narrative voices in their year 10 curriculum. Through a curriculum audit and interviews conducted across three different curriculum areas (business studies, English and history), the project sought to gain an understanding of the range of narratives emerging and of stakeholders’ perspectives of the cultures presented in the curriculum. The study was underpinned by three research questions:
1. What cultural representations are currently being presented through the curricula?
2. What are the experiences of heads of department, teachers and students regarding current cultural representations in teaching and curricula?
3. What different approaches can be developed to broaden students’ experiences of cultural representations?
The aim of the project was to investigate the degree to which our school includes a multitude of narrative voices in our current year 10 curriculum. To this end, a curriculum audit was carried out and interviews conducted with stakeholders across three different curriculum areas. The sample comprised students, teachers and heads of department (HoDs) – to gain an understanding of the range of narratives emerging and of stakeholders’ perspectives of the cultures presented in the curriculum. The study, focusing on the year 10 curriculum in business studies, English and history, was underpinned by three research questions (RQs):
RQ1: What cultural representations are currently being presented through our curricula?
RQ2: What are the experiences of HoDs, teachers and students regarding current cultural representations in teaching and curricula?
RQ3: What different approaches can we develop to broaden our students’ experiences of cultural representations?
The exam syllabus is limited in its narrative voices: Case studies, texts and sources are drawn from a Eurocentric perspective; the content that the exam boards prescribe is limited in its choice of narratives presented.
Materials used on the syllabus present a polarised narrative: The case studies, texts and sources used serve to further the process of ‘othering’; Europe is presented as embodying the correct ideals, morals, philosophy and politics in comparison to ‘the rest of the world’. Countries are seen as successful or morally right when they adopt a Eurocentric perspective.
Teachers provide the balance and nuance between what needs to be delivered and what students encounter in the class: It is through their interests and passion for their subject that teachers bring in additional perspectives to enrich students’ experiences.
Teachers provide the balance as they have a desire to instil empathy and tolerance in their students: By exposing students to a more nuanced approach that encompasses a multitude of perspectives, teachers know they take students beyond their own experiences to develop a sense of empathy, respect and tolerance.
Teachers are able to manage such situations as they take time to know their students and their limitations: Introducing alternative perspectives that challenge students’ preconceived ideas can be unsettling or even threatening to students. Teachers, in taking the time to understand their students, understand when and how best to present multi-perspectives.
Students desire a more nuanced approach to the curriculum and rely on their teachers to provide this: Students are aware of the polarisation of perspectives presented to them through the exam syllabus; they rely on their teachers to provide counter-examples or a richer, more complex picture.
Students, teachers and HoDs face significant barriers to changing the narrative voices: Developing the curriculum to encompass a more multi-perspective approach is hindered by many significant barriers, including lack of time and subject knowledge, funding for resources and training, and a perceived lack of relevance to the exam syllabus.
Despite this, teachers see the importance – and potential – of implementing a multi-perspective approach: Teachers see beyond what is essential to pass the exam and recognise the benefits of enhancing students’ cultural capital.
In summary, the inclusion of multi-perspectives in the curriculum for business studies, English and history relies heavily on the professionalism and understanding of the teachers delivering the content.