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Storying the ‘good’ teacher: Figuring Year 6 mathematics

Townsend, V. M. (2020) Storying the ‘good’ teacher: Figuring Year 6 mathematics. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

A new statutory mathematics national curriculum for primary schools was introduced in 2014 to address the perceived underperformance of English pupils in international tests. This curriculum included content previously taught in secondary schools and came with an invitation to teachers to take ‘the freedom to develop more innovative and effective approaches to teaching’ (Minister of Education Michael Gove, 2012). This freedom sits uncomfortably in the wider context of the neo-liberal education system where results are valued over pedagogical integrity and pupils are increasingly viewed as data. In 2015-16, primary school teachers, working at the sharp end of primary school accountability systems in Year 6 classrooms, were teaching this curriculum for the first time and preparing pupils for revised key stage 2 (KS2) national curriculum tests. Many critics have described teachers’ professional integrity as suffering under a ‘performative’ system, finding that teachers often focused solely on achieving test results. This thesis explores how Year 6 teachers see themselves as doing a ‘good’ job in this context. This research presents a qualitative study focusing on the work of three Year 6 teachers over one academic year. Video recordings of mathematics lessons provided a rich stimulus for discussion in termly interviews, which were analysed through the twin lenses of Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner and Cain’s (1998) Figured Worlds theory, and Bakhtin’s work on dialogism. Being an ‘expert-insider-outsider researcher’ proved to be both useful and problematic: my existing relationships with participants presented methodological and analytic insights while also raising ethical issues across the course of the research. The three case studies reveal the different ways in which Year 6 teachers narrate themselves as being ‘good’ at their work, suggesting a connection between their ‘histories-in-person’ and their interpretation of the educational discourses related to their work in Year 6. Cases also reveal the extent to which I co-constructed teachers’ stories. This thesis demonstrates the impact of local and personal contexts on how Year 6 teachers work and on how they talk about their work. It shows the value of my chosen theoretical lenses in providing tools for understanding teacher identity, and the varied ways in which teachers both orchestrate educational discourses and enact policy.

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