How are Key Stage Three English teachers responding to shifting discources on standards and standardisation in England and Wales?
Historically, the subject of 'English' has often been associated with progressive teaching styles; 'personal growth' as a pedagogical aim has been a strong thread running through accounts of English teaching in England and Wales from the 1920s to the 1970s. From 1988, the 'disciplinary technologies' of the 'standards agenda', including detailed tables of content standards, standardised assessments and prescriptive pedagogies, have played an important role in shaping the subject. However, in 2008 standardised tests in English at Key Stage Three were suddenly abolished in England, amid signs that the dominance of the logic of standards was receding. This Research Project examines the work of Key Stage Three English teachers in England and explores their responses to shifting discourses on standards between October 2008 and March 2010. The experiences of English teachers in Wales (where standardised tests were purposefully abolished in 2005) are used as an illuminating comparator. Data was generated from semi-structured interviews with teachers, lecturers and civil servants; attendance at a subject association meeting for English teachers in London; and close readings of curriculum and assessment documents from England and Wales. Grounded Theory, supplemented by Situational Analysis (Clarke 2005), was used to analyse the data and to theorise about the links between practice, policy and discourse. The study concludes that the removal of standardised testing at Key Stage Three, in both England and Wales, has widened teachers' pedagogical repertoires and has prompted a more active and holistic engagement with literature, especially Shakespeare texts. It also finds that in Wales, despite moves to grant teachers more autonomy to assess students, a persistently performative discourse is pressurizing teachers to inflate grades and to 'fabricate' assessment data. In England -in spite of the abolition of SATs and the National Strategies and an ostensibly less prescriptive curriculum - nationally generated standards continue in a variety of forms, including standardised assessment grids from the Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP) initiative. However, APP is non-statutory which means that practitioners have an opportunity to shape their own assessment practices, particularly if they develop the pedagogical connoisseurship to defend their choices.