Towards thinking classrooms: foundation stage possibilities in Northern Ireland

Donaghy, Michelle Maria (2022) Towards thinking classrooms: foundation stage possibilities in Northern Ireland. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The integration of thinking skills programmes into primary and secondary school curricula has gained increasing prominence in global educational policy over the past two decades. This research investigated the factors that influence how a particular approach to the development of thinking skills adopted in the Northern Ireland (NI) context is interpreted and implemented by teachers in early years classrooms. The Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities Framework (TSPC) was introduced as a statutory component of the revised NI curriculum in 2007 and this study explores its enactment through the perceptions of key groups that interface with the policy from a range of different contexts: teachers and Head Teachers, Curriculum Advisory and Support staff, university academics and Initial Teacher Education staff. The study adopted an interpretive approach, utilising interviews with members of these key groups to explore their perceptions of the factors that influence the effective and consistent implementation of the TSPC and to explain possible reasons why it has embedded effectively in some NI primary schools and not in others. In addition to interviews, policy analysis of key texts that shape teachers’ approaches to the TSPC was undertaken using a framework based on Fairclough’s three-dimensional approach to critical discourse analysis. The purpose of this analysis was to explore the connection between the discourses used in these texts, and the extent to which the ideological cues that underpin them exert an influence on how teachers interpret and implement thinking skills in their practice. The study also explored how human capital theory, and an ecological approach to the enactment of the TSPC based on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Model (1979), provide different frameworks for understanding how the TSPC is interpreted and implemented in practice, with particular reference to Northern Ireland.

The findings suggest that there are a number of significant factors that both enable and constrain the effective implementation of the TSPC across schools. The region’s political, social and historical context was viewed by participants as playing a key role in how policy reforms are interpreted and implemented. School leaders can play a central role in mediating the impact of these reforms to ensure that they are implemented in ways that take account of diverse and specific school contexts. From the perspective of participants, Head Teachers and school leaders also play a pivotal role in nurturing teachers’ professional learning, skill, and motivation in the teaching of thinking skills. Consistent opportunities for professional development, including collaborative working, and sharing of practice, both in and beyond the school, was viewed as the primary means of ensuring the development of a shared vision and language about thinking skills, and participants agreed that this is central to its consistent implementation across all schools.

Analysis of the participants’ understandings of the purpose of teaching thinking skills, and the aims of education more broadly, highlighted a tension between approaches to education that focus on children’s holistic development, and policy discourses, especially those related to Human Capital Theory that view education as a mechanism for achieving economic goals. The influence of these discourses across a range of public policy areas, as well as the disconnect between what participants and policy-makers viewed as the purpose of thinking, was highlighted in the analysis. For participants, the integration of thinking skills into the curriculum was about developing autonomy, criticality, and independence in children’s thinking, whereas policy-makers viewed it from a human capital perspective and strongly linked it to discourses of ‘lifelong learning’, ‘employability’ and ‘skill’.

From the perspective of participants, the findings indicate that for policy makers in Northern Ireland to better understand how to embed the TSPC as a core component of the curriculum in all schools a number of cross-system actions need to be undertaken. These include a baseline review of the impact of the TSPC in the ten years since its inception as part of the comprehensive review of education announced by the Minister for Education in January 2021. The data suggests that this review should ensure that teachers and school leaders are central to its design and approach and that it is fully inclusive of all schools in Northern Ireland that sit within its scope. A return to more localised support and advice services with a coordinated approach to the development of the TSPC in all schools was also viewed by participants as essential to its development and embedding in all schools.

A more coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach to implementation would, it was argued, ensure that ongoing professional learning in thinking skills was accessible, including the establishment of more strategic, collaborative partnerships with higher education, ITE and Inspection Services. This changed focus, I conclude, requires a move away from human capital and sector specific approaches to the consistent development of thinking skills programmes in all Northern Ireland schools. Recommendations also centre on future policy reforms that are inclusive and that give teachers their professional place as the primary implementers for the development of thinking skills programmes in schools.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Hedge, Professor Nicki
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-82739
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Mar 2022 14:21
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2022 16:46
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82739
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82739

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