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A critical discourse analysis of history teacher responses to the February 2013 draft National Curriculum for History

Smith, Joseph

A critical discourse analysis of history teacher responses to the February 2013 draft National Curriculum for History Thumbnail


Joseph Smith


This thesis seeks to explore history teacher engagement in debates surrounding the 2013 draft National Curriculum for History and locates these in the wider context of English history teacher identity. The 2013 draft curriculum, which was announced in February, was withdrawn in August 2013 following complaints of political bias (see Smith, 2014). This “curriculum war” might be interpreted – as others have been (e.g. Crawford, 1998; Taylor & Guyver, 2011) - as an attempt by both the left and right to frame a curriculum which furthered their political metanarrative, but this research shows that such views are oversimplifications.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight history teachers in the north-west of England who actively opposed the draft curriculum and their responses were analysed using van Dijk’s (2009) sociocognitive approach to critical discourse analysis. These responses uncover a complex nexus of motivations in which political opposition is only a small strand. Instead, the strongest motivation was a deep loyalty to the epistemological and methodological underpinnings of their subject (Bernstein, 1999).

In opposition to the narrow nationalist conception of school history, the interviews indicated strongly the existence of a social realist (Young, 2008) counter-hegemonic discourse which informs and underpins a vibrant history teaching community. This shared discourse argues that historical knowledge is constructed and contested, and that it should be taught as such (Lee, 1991). In this paradigm, the draft curriculum was opposed not because it advanced a rightist narrative, but because the concept of a single narrative was itself considered inherently unhistorical. The epistemological unity of the history teaching community contributes to a project-identity of resistance (Castells, 1997) which is further bolstered by the research activities of the Schools History Project and the Historical Association.

A Gramscian (1971) analysis is used throughout, but history teachers are not found to be, in the main, Marxists. Gramsci’s work instead provides the framework for understanding the nature of the history-teaching community and the mechanics of its resistance.

Publication Date Oct 1, 2015


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