Professionalisation and Deradicalisation of Development Education

Spring 2011

Evolution or revolution? An analysis of the changing faces of development education in the United Kingdom

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Seán Bracken, Gareth Dart & Stephen Pickering


In this article, Seán Bracken, Gareth Dart and Stephen Pickering investigate whether and to what extent there has been an ideological shift in the realisation of development education policy and practice over the past three decades.  Using the United Kingdom (UK) as a case study, the paper provides a review of the literature in the field and investigates the extent to which the introduction of the Primary School Curriculum through the Education Reform Act (1988) has had an effect on the teaching and learning of development issues within schools.  Using a conceptual framework loosely based on the work of Andreotti (2008), which interrogates the narrative used in policy formation, the paper provides a comparative analysis of policy and curriculum documents.  The overt and subliminal ideological perspectives adopted in these documents are interrogated to determine the relative positioning regarding how best development issues might be addressed.  A critical analysis of findings is then used as the basis to determine whether there has been a de-radicalisation of the ways in which development education policy and content is addressed particularly in the contexts of formal education.




This paper uses historical inquiry and critical post-colonial analyses (Andreotti, 2008) to explore evolving notions of radicalism versus conservatism as reflected in the formal education sector’s approach to development education in the UK. The study interrogates a variety of policy and curriculum documents over the past 35 years.  However, investigating the supposed linear nature of historical developments in educational policy and practice is problematic because the past continues to interface with the present, and past exemplifications of practice are reflective of temporal contextual factors such as the political settings, spatial implications, and socio-cultural influences (Freathy & Parker, 2010; McCulloch & Richardson, 2000).  Ideational perspectives encompassed in curricula addressing social justice, equality, inclusion and a global dimension may indeed shift over time.

For example, in an overview of the evolution of global education in the UK, Hicks (2007:19-20) notes that there was a conservative reaction against the concept of development education in the 1980s because it was perceived as condoning indoctrination and politicisation of the educational experience.  Further, such approaches were critiqued as relying on improper teaching methods which ultimately resulted in a lowering of educational standards.  To some extent, this perception may be mirrored in contemporaneous reinterpretations of curriculum, because as outlined in the current White Paper, the curriculum ‘must not try to cover every conceivable area of human learning or endeavour, must not become a vehicle for imposing passing political fads on our children and must not squeeze out all other learning’ (DfE, 2010:41).  There are hints that an impending reorientation in the curriculum may marginalise the importance of development education, just as in the 1980s an increasing control of the teaching methods and content led to a marginalisation of development education until the mid-1990s.




The methodology used in this paper relies on purposeful interrogations of written policies and procedures which provide insights into the cultural attributes of actions and mindsets based in time and initiated as a result of differing political perspectives (Atkinson & Coffey, 1995). The nature of cultural and political situatedness may become clearer through an interrogation of the conversational nuances within and between a diversity of documents because, ‘all writing is intertextual in that texts relate to other texts, and is social in that writers relate not only to their readers but also to writers of other texts’ (Nelson, 2009:545).  This ‘comparative intertextuality’ may be further teased out through exploratory investigations of practical teaching materials and by gaining further insights from those who are charged with policy and document development (Rapley, 2008).  However, the analysis of documents is not a straight-forward process because, as recognised by Bryman (2008), policy documents are specifically designed to portray an aspirational reality.  Consequentially, researcher responsibility involves determining the nature and extent of possible dissonance between the aspirational reality as presented in documentation and the complexity of realities as evidenced in the lived experiences of stakeholders.

In order to gain a defined perspective of such dissonances, the methodology also relies on post-colonial perspectives of development education.  These perspectives are identified by Andreotti (2008:60) as encompassing a focus upon inequality and injustice as opposed to portrayals of those in the global South as being helpless and poverty-stricken.  This perspective also relies on recognition of unequal access to power and resources as the predominant narrative in development policy and practice.  Accordingly, structures, and belief systems purported to be of universal relevance tend to mask asymmetrical power relations reflecting the notions of Northern and Southern elites.  An exemplification of this is reflected in the portrayal of the concept of globalisation which is generally treated as unproblematic and universally beneficial in many formal educational documents.  According to this perspective, the role of the researcher is to reveal where these contentious issues are glossed over and incorporated into policy.


Shifting boundaries, a comparison of differing historical perspectives


Until the recent changes in the political landscape of the UK, a global dimension in teaching and learning was seen as a central part of the curriculum and was supported by numerous resources, provided not just by outré NGOs but by central government.  A primary aim of the National Curriculum before the recent changes identified that:


“The school curriculum should contribute to the development of pupils’ sense of identity through knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages of Britain’s diverse society and of the local, national, European, Commonwealth and global dimensions of their lives”(DfID, 2005:5).


However, to a large extent, notions of identity or national heritage were not problematised, nor was the notion as to whether the concept of a single national heritage is possible in an era of fluid modernity (Bauman, 2004).

Historically, the concept of development education was defined by the United Nations (UN) in 1975 as an initiative that aimed:


“ enable people to participate in the development of their community, their nation and the world as a whole.  Such participation implies a critical awareness of local, national and international situations based on an understanding of the social, economic and political processes...and of the reasons for and ways of achieving a new international economic and social order (Hicks & Townley, 1982:9).


It is noteworthy that this early UN definition recognises issues of power, politics and unequal access to resources as being central to the development process.  The role of development education then involves a strengthening of learners’ critical capacities so that they might lead a movement towards a new international social order.  This model challenges concepts which may be reflected in more recent models of development education which emphasise the necessity for the global South to catch up with economic development policies, priorities and practices established in the global North (Sinclair, in Osler, 1994:51).  Though there were a variety of development educations in existence in the UK in the 1970s, to a large extent the critical practices associated with the radical definition identified by the UN were realised by the World Studies Project which involved a loose network of schools and teacher educators (Hicks, 2003:266).

While early initiatives of the World Studies Project and the collaborative engagements between NGOs and the UK’s Development Education Association impacted within a number of schools there was as yet no formal declaration recognising the role of development issues in the curriculum.  However, the government was moving towards the creation of a National Curriculum.  As part of this process, the DES produced a green paper entitled, Education in Schools: A Consultative Document (1977), which included a checklist of ‘essential areas of experience’ incorporating a limited focus upon the social and political (Fowler, 1988:45).  Some 12 years later the Education Reform Act was introduced and it outlined the role of the curriculum in preparing learners for global awareness as follows:


“Every pupil in maintained schools [is entitled]…to a curriculum which (a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and (b) prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life” (DES, 1989).


It is arguable that this document formalised the role of the curriculum in preparing learners for an ethical engagement with others, both at home and in the wider world.  However, the scope to which this engagement would be realised is significantly more delimiting than the vision as expressed in the UN definition of development education.  Rather, the focus is very much on the pupil and intrinsic perspectives, rather than the more critical, active and transformative perspectives which were the hallmark of earlier development education initiatives.  Thus, in this historical analysis, radical perspectives in development education were rather short-lived, spanning about a 15 year period between the mid 1970s and lasting until the early 1990s.  Doubtless, the impact of more radical interventions made an impression within participating schools and it is arguable that such interventions had the potential to embed development education issues at the heart of teaching and learning.  Nevertheless, there is a shortage of research data to ascertain precisely the depth or breadth of such interventions.

What is clear is that the introduction of a National Curriculum in England and Wales defined the future scope for what might be taught and learned in all schools.  Because of the very prescriptive nature of the new National Curriculum, there was an exceptionally limited capacity for furthering any extensive engagement with global issues, economic awareness, political engagement or environmental education (Kelly, 1990; Alexander, et al., 1992; Radnor, 1992; NCC, 1993; Butterfield, et al., 1993).  Within the curriculum, the focus was primarily upon a perceived necessity to strengthen the teaching and learning of English and mathematics at the expense of mediating a broader more liberal curriculum. This stance was not without its critics.  For example, the National Curriculum Council (NCC) argued:


“We consider it important that the principle of breadth and balance in the primary curriculum should be retained.  This was a key aspect of the Education Reform Act and we consider that any move to drop subjects would result in an unacceptable narrowing of the curriculum” (NCC, 1993).


Nevertheless, it was not until 1990 that the concept of development education and global citizenship once again gained significant traction within the formal curriculum.  This occurred when the NCC published a pamphlet entitled ‘Education for Citizenship’ which offered specific advice that ‘[p]upils should develop the knowledge and understanding of the variety of communities to which people simultaneously belong: family, school’ (NCC, 1990, cited in Andrews, 1994:7). Practical guidance for the teaching and learning of development education was provided later, particularly with the publication of ‘Global Perspectives in the National Curriculum: Guidance for Key Stages 1 and 2’.  To some extent, this document built on the work of Andrews (1994) who had articulated the ways in which the international dimension could be included in each of the subject areas.

Once again, there is a limited amount of research available for this period which might shed light upon the extent to which global development issues were taken up within mainstream schools.  Nevertheless, even within the more formalised curriculum, as evidenced in the new GCSE examinations from 1986 onwards, there was a growing emphasis upon teaching strategies and practices which had traditionally been the preserve of development educators.  These strategies included the use of investigative work, discussion and debate and an increasingly incorporated emphasis on multi-faceted problem solving techniques.  Schools were also encouraged to develop more creative and diverse schemes of work.  For example, in English a new emphasis was placed upon coping constructively with different points of view.  The new skills and values learned were, and continue to be, core to the development of social awareness and offer greater opportunities for a more profound, critical engagement with global issues.

Cite article as: Bracken, S, Dart, G & Pickering, S (2011) 'Evolution or revolution? An analysis of the changing faces of development education in the United Kingdom', Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 12, Spring, pp. 47-65.