This article examines the production of pupils at different levels of ‘ability’ within the school setting. It uses the theoretical work of Basil Bernstein, and particularly the concepts of vertical and horizontal discourse, to critique contemporary forms of ‘progressive’ educational practice and to suggest a reappraisal of the possibilities of more formal pedagogic strategies. The article uses detailed case study material drawn from primary classrooms in England and Russia, the practice in each underpinned by contrasting understandings of human development and learning, to illustrate the way in which teachers construct children’s learning either as the development of individual competencies or as a collective social achievement, and thus position children as more or less effective and successful learners. Finally, it examines the way in which a secondary school teacher draws on her own social positioning and life experiences as well as those of her students to develop ways of relating school knowledge to local knowledges, in this way encouraging students both to analyse the world and to understand, and thus potentially work to transform, their own position in society
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