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Western Australian upper secondary schooling since the 1960's: A socio-historical analysis of curriculum, assessment, and certification discourses

Murphy, Kerry (1997) Western Australian upper secondary schooling since the 1960's: A socio-historical analysis of curriculum, assessment, and certification discourses. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is a socio-historical analysis of Western Australian upper secondary schooling since the 1960’s. Specifically, the thesis seeks to develop an understanding of upper school curriculum, assessment and certification discourses over that time, both within Western Australia and Australia-wide.

The study was sparked by some concerns about upper school education in Australia, which have persisted over the last three decades. Of particular concern is the way in which a scientific instrumental rationality has continued to underlie upper school education in this country. Within specific historical contexts, this dominant discourse has continued to legitimise a perceived hierarchy of knowledge in the upper school curriculum. One outcome has been standardised assessment and teaching and learning practices, which have tended to devalue the ideas, opinions, and cultures of diverse student populations. Another outcome is the instrumental value which has been placed upon some courses in the upper school curriculum has often led students to select courses unsuited to their competencies and future aspirations. In turn, student ‘ability’ has continued to be perceived in terms of whether or not they have selected the more prestigious ‘academic’ courses, and whether they can master the more prestigious forms of knowledge in the upper school curriculum.

A major factor which has maintained this dominant discourse is the perception held by participants in schools that they operate within a hierarchical structure of power. In their view, they are powerless to avoid the constraints imposed by traditional structures, such as those imposed by the external examination system. This thesis seeks to examine how these dominant perceptions and structural constraints have become reified in upper secondary education. However, the aim is not to merely accept dominant rationalities themselves as universal and transcendental, nor to assume that they have been maintained by traditional structures. Rather, within a Foucauldian theoretical framework, this thesis argues that traditional structures are maintained within different historical conditions by discursive practices carried out by participants at all levels of involvement. It is argued that, rather than constraints being imposed within a top-down hierarchical power structure, power is inherent in the way in which participants produce knowledge at all levels of involvement in upper school education.

In order to develop an understanding of how this has continued to occur in upper school education, discursive practices were examined within three upper school courses since the 1960’s. The aim was to examine, within different historical conditions, the extent to which participants at all levels of involvement in three courses have often negotiated the dominant upper school curriculum discourse, and those inherent in syllabus aims. It is argued that competing upper school discourses have often been ‘read’, in order to serve perceived needs which have been legitimised within particular historical conditions. Of prime importance has been the subject position of participants, in relation to these competing discourses.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Collins, Cherry
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