Contextual factors that affect secondary school teachers' agency in noncore subjects

Year: 2016

Author: Jenkins, Gayle

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Adapting to and implementing curriculum change has become the norm for teachers across Australia. There is limited research regarding the contextual factors that affect teacher agency during curriculum change for teachers working in non-core subject areas. This paper addresses that gap by reporting on a qualitative PhD study conducted over three years. It explored perceptions of teacher agency of 12 secondary Home Economics teachers working in a range of schools across Queensland. The paper concluded that teachers’ perceptions of their classroom agency to develop and introduce new curriculum was high. Fewer teachers however, described having agency at a department level and school curriculum level. As a result of the introduction of the Australian Curriculum (AC), the impact of NAPLAN and changes to schools by state directives, teacher influence in school level curriculum further decreased over the course of the study. The study found traditional influences and recent changes in school environments have impacted Home Economics teachers’ agency. The identified contextual factors identified include personal factors such as the career stage of the teacher and the initial support they were provided in schools. In addition, individual teachers’ perceptions of their power and position in schools, teacher motivation and their belief in the importance of Home Economics for student learning all contributed to perceptions of their teacher agency. A supportive school culture and good collegial relationships both within the school and the professional teaching community were considered significant for effective teacher agency. It became apparent over the course of the study that school administrations had increased their control in all aspects of school curriculum. In addition, the changed organisational structures within subject departments in many schools were to the detriment of Home Economics teachers’ agency. Other environmental factors that adversely affect teacher agency include job intensification, inadequate professional development opportunities and the changing focus of subject priorities and assessment requirements in schools. The introduction of Year 7 curriculum into Queensland secondary schools, and planning for the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) also had adverse affects on teacher agency. An inescapable conclusion from this research is that Home Economics teachers believed they had reduced teacher agency at a national, state and school level. They did however retain a strong sense of agency at a department and classroom level if they were provided with a supportive and collegial environment.