Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

KS3/4 Wider Curriculum Choice - Personalisation or Social Control? A contemporary study of influences on Year 9 students’ decision-making in an English comprehensive school

By Jennifer Martin


This research concerns tensions between ‘personalisation’, a neo-liberal concept adapted by New Labour to empower and motivate students and ‘performativity’, an aspect of governance whereby institutional effectiveness is monitored by statistical outcomes. Their ambiguous reconciliation in Personalised Learning (DfES 2004a) continues to develop in schools and colleges. A research focus on Key Stage 3/4 wider curriculum choice, one of five key but under-researched elements in this policy, provides the opportunity to explore this paradox. Involving an investigation into the recent experience of 14-15 year olds in an inner city English comprehensive school, the degree of equity afforded students in decision-making, based on teacher perceptions of students as achievers and underachievers may reveal conflicting values in the management of this process. \ud Taking an ethnographic approach to case study development, triangulation of method and source is used to test internal validity. Analysis of interview data from a range of pastoral staff provides outline images of the institutional management of student choice. A comparative statistical analysis using data from anonymous student questionnaires provides an independent account of the effects of this interpretation on the student stakeholder role. From the questionnaire sample, qualitative data from twenty student interviews offers further insight into the processing of decisions. Relying on respondent validation procedures throughout, for ethical reasons the identification of student interviewees as ‘achievers’ or ‘underachievers’ is retrospective. \ud Demonstrating how student access to the KS4 optional curriculum operates, the research reveals power differences firstly between the student cohort and ‘gate-keeping’ pastoral staff and secondly between individual students. While some evidence of social control through self-surveillance, implied through Foucauldian criticism of neo-liberal strategies (Rose and Miller 1992) may exist, the extreme social and economic deprivation of the area is used to justify this institutional interpretation of the stakeholder role through the moral imperative of social inclusion

Topics: Curriculum choice, personalisation, personalised learning, performativity, equity, student voice, marketisation, governance, manipulation, social control, KS3/4 wider curriculum choice
Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2003). (2003b) 14-year-olds set to benefit first from ‘personalised learning.’
  2. (2006c) Student voice: revolution, renewal or regression? Seminar presentation to the Sussex School of Education,
  3. (2008). (Mis) Understanding underachievement: a response to Connolly.
  4. (2004). 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform. Final Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform. Nottingham: Crown Copyright DfE0976-2004.
  5. (2005). 14-19 Education and Skills Implementation Plan.
  6. (1967). A Comment on Disguised Observation in Sociology.
  7. (2001). A Description of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) Faculty Members’ Perceptions of Teaching.
  8. (2004). A New Relationship with Schools.
  9. (2007). A Sociology of Pedagogic Voice: Power, inequality and pupil consultation. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education,
  10. (2006). Action research: A Methodology for Change and Development.
  11. (1988). Against the quantitative-qualitative incompatibility thesis or dogmas die hard.
  12. (1777). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,
  13. (2007). An Investigation of Personalised Learning Approaches used by Schools.
  14. (2007). Assessment as learning? How the use of explicit learning objectives, assessment criteria and feedback in post-secondary education and training can come to dominate learning.
  15. (2004). Assessment for Learning: Principles, Policy and Practice. Teachers developing assessment for Learning: impact on student achievement.
  16. (2008). Assessment for learning: sectarian divisions of terminology and concepts.
  17. (2003). Assessment for Learning.
  18. (2000). Bettering Yourself’? Discourses of risk, cost and benefit in ethnically diverse, young working-class non-participants’ constructions of higher education.
  19. (2007). Beyond anti-bias education: changing conceptions of diversity and equity in European early childhood education.
  20. (2008). California: Sage, quoted in
  21. (2000). Case Studies and generalizability: grounded theory and research in science education.
  22. (1999). Case study, case study, case study!
  23. (2007). Children’s perceptions of the value of education.
  24. (2004). Choice and Voice in Personalised Learning. London: DfES Innovation Unit/Demos/OECD Conference „Personalising Education: the Future of Public Sector Reform.‟ Miliband, D. (2004c) Ofsted – A new relationship with schools.
  25. (2002). Classification and judgement: Social Class and the cognitive structures of choice of higher education.
  26. (2006). Consistency, Understanding and Truth in Educational Research.
  27. (2004). Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning.
  28. (2005). Critical Realism and Empirical Research Methods in Education.
  29. (2004). Delivery: Why it matters, What it means. Tackling Inequalities in Newham to Improve Health. Presentation by the Prime Minister‟s Delivery Unit,
  30. DfES (2004a) A National Conversation about Personalised Learning.
  31. DfES (2004d) The Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners.
  32. (2007). Education and Career Choice: A new model of decision -making.
  33. (2007). Education and Career decision -making: challenging the context of choice.
  34. (2009). Education for All The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds. London and
  35. (2008). Education, Markets and the Pedagogy of Personalisation.
  36. (2006). Educational Leadership and the imperative of including student voices, student interests, and students’ lives in the mainstream.
  37. (2006). Epistemological Issues in Phenomenological Research: How Authoritative Are People’s Accounts of their own Perceptions?
  38. (2006). Equity and Efficiency of Compulsory Schooling: Is it necessary to choose and if so on what grounds? Prospects,
  39. (1992). Ethical Guidelines, Edinburgh: SCRE for BERA, quoted in
  40. (2003). Ethnography for Education.
  41. (2010). Everything to play for, Soundings, editorial vol.44. accessed on 10.07.
  42. (2001). Finding or losing yourself? : working class relationships to education.
  43. (2009). Findings from Exploratory Research (DfES Research report RW67) London: KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? DfES [online] Available: pdf
  44. (1985). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
  45. (2003). From improvement to transformation. Keynote lecture at the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. „Schooling the Knowledge Society‟:
  46. (2000). Fuzzy Generalisations and Best Estimates of Trustworthiness: a step towards transforming research knowledge about learning into effective teaching practice.
  47. (2003). GCSE results
  48. (2005). Growing educational gap between rich and poor children,
  49. (2007). Harnessing the Potential of Pupils to Influence School Improvement. Sage Publications,
  50. (2006). How do young people make choices at 14 and 16? (DfES Research report 562).
  51. (2009). accessed 31st
  52. (2004). Improving the effectiveness of pupil group work. Report on first results from the TLRP Phase 2 SPRinG project. KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control?
  53. (1999). Individual Action Planning in Initial Teacher training: empowerment or discipline?
  54. (2006). Introducing the Quantitative- Qualitative Continuum: An Alternative View on Teaching Research Methods Courses. Paper presented at the University of Geneva,
  55. (2001). Introduction: Whose Ethics, Which research?
  56. (2005). Is there a role for learning styles in personalised education and training?
  57. (2003). Issues and dilemmas in teaching research methods courses in social and behavioural sciences: US perspective.
  58. (2004). It's all becoming a habitus': beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research.
  59. (2009). KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control?
  60. (2006). KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? Alexander,
  61. (2003). KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? DfES (2002) Progress File Achievement Planner.
  62. (2006). KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? Fendler,
  63. (1971). KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? Gramsci, A.
  64. KS3/4 wider curriculum choice - personalisation or social control? Pring, R. (2000b) The ‘False Dualism’ of Educational Research.
  65. (2008). Leadership for Personalising Learning.
  66. (2006). Leadership, Personalisation and High Performance Schooling: Naming the New Totalitarianism.
  67. (2006). Leadership, radical student engagement and the necessity of person-centred education.
  68. (2004). Learning about Personalisation: how can we put the learner at the heart of the education system?
  69. (2008). Learning awareness: constructing formative assessment in the classroom, in the school and across schools.
  70. (2003). London: Macmillan Social Research Ethics
  71. (2005). Mindset Profiles: Segmenting decision -makers at 14
  72. (2005). Mixed Methods Research: A discussion paper.
  73. (2004). Mixed Methods Research: A Research Paradigm Whose Time Has Come.
  74. (2007). Mixing Methods is wrong: An everyday approach to educational justice.
  75. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry.
  76. (2003). New Labour’s Double Shuffle, Soundings,
  77. (2006). No Harm Done: The Implications for Educational Research of the Rejection of Truth.
  78. (2006). On Generalising from Single Case Studies: Epistemological Reflections.
  79. (1979). On governmentality quoted by
  80. (1968). On the ethics of disguised observation: a reply to Denzin.
  81. (1982). On the ethics of disguised observation: an exchange.
  82. (1982). On the Merits of Covert Research.
  83. (1984). Opening Pandora’s Box: A Sociological Analysis of Scientists’ Discourse. Cambridge:
  84. (2006). Panoptic performativity and school inspection regimes: disciplinary mechanisms and life under special measures.
  85. (2007). Patterns of Absolute and Relative Social Mobility: A Comparative Study of England,
  86. (2007). Performativity by stealth: a critique of recent initiatives on creativity.
  87. (2004). Personalisation through participation. A new script for public services.
  88. (2008). Personalisation, education and the market.
  89. (2007). Personalisation: the emerging ‘revised’ code of education?
  90. (2009). Personalisation: the nostalgic revival of child - centred education?
  91. (2004). Personalised Learning - an Emperor’s Outfit. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.
  92. (2004). Personalised Learning – New Directions for schools?
  93. (2007). Personalised learning: ambiguities in theory and practice.
  94. (2005). Personalised Learning: Transforming Education for Every Child.
  95. (2004). Personalised learning. Forum (for Promoting 3-19
  96. (2004). Personalising Learning 1: next steps in working laterally. London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  97. (2004). Personalising Learning 2: student voice and assessment for Learning London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  98. (2005). Personalising Learning 3: Learning to learn and the new Technologies London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  99. (2005). Personalising Learning 4: curriculum and advice and guidance London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  100. (2005). Personalising Learning 5: mentoring and coaching and Workforce development London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  101. (2006). Personalising Learning 6: the final gateway: school design and organisation London: Specialist Schools Trust.
  102. (1992). Political power beyond the State: problematics of Government.
  103. (2002). Practical Social Investigation: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Social Research:
  104. (2002). Practical Social Investigation: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Social Research: Harlow,
  105. (1982). Problems of Reliability and Validity in Ethnographic Research.
  106. (2007). Psycho-pedagogy and personalised learning.
  107. (2008). Psycho-social aspects of white middle-class identities: designing and defending against the class and ethnic ‘other’ in urban multiethnic schooling.
  108. (1996). Qualitative Researching. London, Sage, quoted in
  109. (1988). Quality and Quantity in Social Research. London: Unwin and Hyman, quoted in
  110. (2008). Reconceptualising Assessment for Learning and its implications for Education Policy. Paper presented the British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference,
  111. (1986). Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research.
  112. (1998). Research Intelligence 65, quoted by Pring, R. (2000b) The ‘False Dualism’ of Educational Research.
  113. (1985). Research Methods.
  114. (2004). Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice. London: Learning & Skills Development Agency.
  115. (2008). Social Problems vol.14, p.366-373, quoted in
  116. (2008). Social Science Research Methods .New York:
  117. (2008). Social Science Research Methods.
  118. (2007). Spoilt for Choice? Pupil perceptions of the options process at year 9.
  119. (2004). Stigmatised Choices: social class and social exclusion and secondary school markets in the inner city.
  120. (2006). Student voice and the perils of popularity.
  121. (2007). Student Voice’’ and Governmentality: The production of enterprising subjects? Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education vol.28,
  122. (2001). Students as Radical Agents of Change.
  123. (2004). System thinkers in action; programme and policy perspectives on developing collaborative enquiry-based leadership and learning in networked contexts.
  124. (2004). Teacher Autonomy: Power or Control?
  125. (2007). Teachers perceptions of personalised learning.
  126. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. Sage: Thousand Oaks,
  127. (2006). The educational impact of parental choice and school competition. London: Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics quoted in Reay,
  128. (1991). The Ethics of Covert Research.
  129. (1996). The Ethics of Deception in Social Research: A Case Study.
  130. (1997). The Forms of Capital’
  131. (1991). The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality.(p.97- 104) Chicago:
  132. (2006). The Future of Educational Change: Systems Thinkers in Action.
  133. (2006). The Importance of Student Voice.
  134. (2004). The influence of the school in the decision to participate in learning post -16,
  135. (2000). The mind doesn’t work that way: the scope and limits of computational psychology.
  136. (2006). The Myth of ‘Scientific Method’
  137. (2006). The past, the papers and the project. Educational Review vol.58, no.2,p.131-143 quoted in
  138. (1998). The Qualitative- quantitative debate: moving from positivism and confrontation to post-positivism and reconciliation.
  139. (2007). The role of schools in developing students’ sense of justice: a European comparative study.
  140. (1984). The Second Industrial Divide.
  141. (2005). The Shape of Things to Come: Personalised Learning Through Collaboration.
  142. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation, translated by
  143. (2001). The Virtues and Vices of an Educational Researcher.
  144. (2006). The zombie stalking English Schools: Social class and Educational Inequality.
  145. (2007). Theorizing Student Voice: Values and Perspectives. Improving Schools - Sage publications vol.10,
  146. (2007). Theorizing Student Voice: Values and Perspectives. Improving schools - Sage publications,
  147. (1973). Thick Descriptions: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture, in C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures.
  148. (2000). Tipping Point.
  149. (2008). Tony Blair, the promotion of the 'active' educational citizen, and middle-class hegemony.
  150. (2004). Transformative Approaches to Student Voice: Theoretical Underpinnings, Recalcitrant Realities.
  151. (2002). Transformative potential of student voice: confronting the power issues.
  152. (2007). Truths and Realities: An Autobiographical Account of a Researcher’s View from the Inside. Paper presented at
  153. (2004). What is 'underachievement' at school?'
  154. (2006). What Will it Take to End Child Poverty? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation quoted in
  155. (2006). Why Generalisability in not Generalisable.
  156. (2009). Widening 14-19 choices: Support for young people making informed decisions. National Foundation for Education research (NFER):

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.