This issue of "European Journal of Education" (vol.45, No. 1, 2010) is devoted to curricular changes. How school knowledge is changing to respond to global economic pressures? Underlying this problem there is the switch from disciplinary knowledge which is a long-standing tradition in school education to the key competences or to the common grounding of knowledge and skills for the end of Compulsory Education. It is a crucial issue of classification of knowledge too.

Version imprimable de cet article Version imprimable

Euopean Journal of Education

Very interesting and stimulating issue organised around Michael Young work and depicting three scenarios for the future of schooling based upon an analysis of school knowledge and school curricula transformations. The sociology of education is shifting from the sociology of education policy to the sociology of school knowledge, following previous Basil Bernstein analysis and developing new analytical perspectives of school inequalities.


LYN YATES, University of Melbourne, Australia;

MICHAEL YOUNG, Institute of Education, University of London,


Editorial Abstract

Part I Articles

Three Educational Scenarios for the Future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge (p 11-27)


This article draws on social realist approaches in the sociology of knowledge and in light of them constructs three scenarios for the future of education in the next decades. The primary focus of the article is on one of the most crucial questions facing educational policy makers — the relationship between school and everyday or common sense knowledge. The different possibilities for how the school/non-school knowledge boundaries might be approached are expressed in three scenarios —’boundaries treated as given’, ’a boundary-less world’ and the idea of ’boundary maintenance as a condition for boundary crossing’. The curriculum implications of each are explored and the article makes the case for the third scenario. The factors likely to make one or other scenario dominate educational policy in the next 20–30 years are also considered.


Revisiting School Knowledge: some sociological perspectives on new school curricula (p 28-45)


This article focuses on attempts to understand how the curriculum and pedagogy can help to reduce inequalities in the outcomes of schooling between those from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds. In the 1970s, the author was involved with Michael F.D. Young and others in the development of the so-called ’new’ sociology of education. Much of this work entailed laying bare the assumptions underlying the school curriculum and demonstrating how the selection of school knowledge was implicated in the reproduction of social inequalities. During the 1980s in England the curriculum was overtly politicised by the Thatcher government but the interests of sociologists of education moved increasingly away from the sociology of school knowledge to focus instead on the sociology of education policy. This paper identifies a recent tendency on the part of sociologists of education to return to the ’knowledge question’. In particular, it examines Young’s own role in this and his attempts to revisit and revise of his earlier position. Contemporary developments in curricular policy in England and Northern Ireland are then outlined and discussed. Finally, the paper considers whether the work of Basil Bernstein, particularly his concepts of classification/framing and recognition/realisation rules, might help us to address one of the prevailing political problems of many modern education systems — the systematic failure of socially disadvantaged pupils to perform well at school.


Setting Things Right? Swedish Upper Secondary School Reform in a 40-Year Perspective (p 46-59)


This article analyses reforms addressing and affecting the curriculum and organisation of Swedish upper secondary education over 40 years, up to an initiative by the present non-socialist government. The aim is to analyse the current reform of upper secondary education and relate it to previous reforms during a 40-year period in terms of continuity and breaks, mainly with regard to major functions of the reforms and the structuring and control of educational contents. Aiming to create a sharper division of students into three separate streams (academic and vocational education, and apprenticeship training), the reform constitutes a major break with the previously dominant trend towards greater integration. It is argued that it will result in a restriction and reformulation of the knowledge which is regarded as desirable. Similar moves are evident in relation to teacher education, which, if enacted, would involve moving from a model of high flexibility and a common core of knowledge to substantially stronger divisions between contents and programmes.


Global Knowledge-based Policy in Fragmented Societies: the case of curriculum reform in French-speaking Belgium (p 60-73)


This article examines the relationship between knowledge and policy in French-speaking Belgium. It starts by describing Belgium as a consociational democracy, i.e. a society that is largely organised around integrated pillars of society (Catholic, secular), each of which provides a wide range of services (educational, training, health, health insurance, social care, family planning, leisure) to ’its’ people. This special political-institutional arrangement has profound implications for the way knowledge circulates (or not) and the way it is used (or not) both within pillars and across the policy community. We argue that consociational democracies are not likely to generate knowledge-driven policy communities. Since knowledge could threaten the peace, some things are better left unknown: the co-existence of distinct communities requires a form of discretion (Mangez, 2009).

Recently, however, globalisation has led to changes in this long-standing state of affairs: elites are now seeking more knowledge about systems and joint regulation is on the rise. In the education sector, several policy issues, including curriculum issues, have been subject to new joint regulation. In the second part of the article, we take curriculum reform as a case study to investigate these changes. Although all school networks from both pillars are now obliged to follow common guidelines (influenced by globalisation), they are still responsible for transposing them to their individual curriculum programmes. Lexico-statistical analysis reveals that when they transpose these common guidelines to their own curricula, each network reasserts its own values and cultural references (including its own view of the role of knowledge).


The French Curricular Exception and the Troubles of Education and Internationalisation: will it be enough to ’rearrange the deckchairs’? (p 74-88)


The history of education in France, with its inherited link between the Republic and the religion of knowledge, produces a specific form of educational functioning, consubstantial to a tradition of selection and a symptomatic lack of what elsewhere is called a curriculum. While the recent introduction of the ’common grounding of knowledge and skills for the end of Compulsory Education’ (’socle commun’) in the French Law of 2006 eventually opened the door both to the teaching of ’skills’ and to the idea of a curriculum, and potentially created a revolution in powers and knowledge, one can wonder to what extent it was not a drop on a waterproof system. The question is also to see what was the impact of international influences in these developments. In this article, we analyse the reality and the ambiguities over the opening up of French educational policy towards international concerns, both in relation to the reception of PISA in France and to the decisions which led to the common grounding. This analysis allows us to raise key questions about what could be the potential consequences of a possible change of curricular policy.


The Absence of Knowledge in Australian Curriculum Reforms (p 89-102)


This article draws on a study of Australian curriculum shifts between 1975 and 2005 to take up two themes of this special issue: the question about what conceptions of knowledge are now at work; and the consideration of global influences and national specificities in the reformulations of curriculum. It discusses two important approaches to curriculum in Australia in recent times, the ’Statements and Profiles’ activity of the early 1990s, and the ’Essential Learnings’ formulations of the past decade. The global tendencies we see at work in these two major approaches are, first, an increasing emphasis on externally managing and auditing student progress as a key driver of how curriculum policies are being constructed; and, secondly, a growing emphasis on approaching curriculum aims in terms of what students should be able to do rather than what they should know. We argue that in the contexts we discuss here, these approaches offered a way of marrying 1970s progressive views on child development and knowledge-as-process (views widely held by influential curriculum professionals in Australia) with late 20th century technologies of micro-management and instrumental agendas favoured by politicians — but that many questions about knowledge were left off the agenda.


Conceptualising Curriculum Knowledge Within and Beyond the National Context (p 103-120)


The core theme of this article is the implications of a global language for the curriculum and how it can be dealt with in terms of content knowledge and reform. First, the article conceptualises curriculum from the perspective of schooling within a geographical territory, symbolising its own cultural history and the nation as a key agent in reform. Second, it takes a closer look at current reform designs and asks how they represent equivalent but also contrasting arguments and rationales about curriculum beyond the national. Third, the article discusses implications of globalisation for curriculum pertaining to both cultivation and qualification as indispensable parts of education and schooling. The main empirical point of departure is the formal curriculum guidelines in Norway, written policy documents, expert reports and evaluation frameworks, written within the last two decades. Through the application of a new language for change, these documents advocate world-wide expectations which could harmonise curriculum across national boarders. However, the design of the reform is of core significance in standardisation processes, and highly dependent on the way matters and meanings are conceptualised in the professional semantics which accompany reform efforts within and beyond the national context.


Part II Articles

Competences for Learning to Learn and Active Citizenship: different currencies or two sides of the same coin? (p 121-137)


In the context of the European Union Framework of Key Competences and the need to develop indicators for European Union member states to measure progress made towards the ’knowledge economy’ and ’greater social cohesion’ both the learning to learn and the active citizenship competences have been highlighted. However, what have yet to be discussed are the links and the overlaps between these two competences. Based on the development of research projects on these two fields, this article will compare the two sets of competences, both qualitatively and quantitatively. It will describe how the values and dispositions that motivate and inform active citizenship and learning to learn are related to each other, both empirically and theoretically. Both these competences are tools for empowering individuals and giving them the motivation and autonomy to control their own lives beyond the social circumstances in which they find themselves. In the case of active citizenship, the ability to be able to participate in society and voice their concerns, ensure their rights and the rights of others. In the case of learning to learn to be able to participate in work and everyday life by being empowered to learn and update the constantly changing competences required to successfully manage your life plans. When measuring both these competences then certain values relating positively towards democracy and human rights are common in their development.


Changes in the Management of Doctoral Education (p 138-152)


This article deals with the current reform of European doctoral education. It is argued that the concrete results of the reform can be better understood by analysing changes in the management of doctoral programmes. This rests on the case study of a Norwegian PhD programme in finance and is based on an analytical framework composed of three public management narratives: New Public Management (NPM), Network Governance (NG) and Neo-Weberian-State (NWS). The latter allows for a particular focus on the instruments, actors and objectives of governance. The article concludes that the examined doctoral programme’s management story can be divided into two episodes. The first — the ’internationalisation’ episode — is shaped by the academic profession in finance which uses a wide range of constraining NPM instruments and applies them in a comprehensive manner to doctoral education in order to achieve its overall objective, namely to implement an internationally competitive PhD programme. The second — the ’integration’ episode — is about a recently developed policy instrument with relatively non-constraining NWS elements, used by the State to establish National Research Schools. The latter are principally aimed at the better development and coordination of doctoral training between small and large higher education institutions. Due to those differences between the two episodes in terms of constraining character and scope, the reform of the examined doctoral programme is strongly shaped by the first episode. Hence, the reform essentially consists in a doctoral programme with an international and academic character.


Institutional Contexts and International Performances in Schooling: comparing patterns and trends over time in international surveys (p 153-173)


15 European countries were classified into four types in an international comparative study. The country profiles are based on indicators of the key concepts’ funding, governance and choice. This research attempts to answer the question of how the quality of schooling of these types of education systems progressed as from 1995 and what explanations an expert panel of educationalists and researchers can provide for the outcomes. We observe significant differences between the performance trends of the four types of education systems. Also, comparisons between the different years show relatively high and significant correlations, especially between the original sample of countries in 1995 and future performances in TIMSS and PISA measurements.


Les documents de l'article