1. Process models of curriculum Process-based approaches to curriculum theory tend to be focused less on summative activity – the final grades, the end-point assessments, and the grading and achievements associated with them – than with the pathway which learners take though a course.

1. Process models of curriculum Process-based approaches to curriculum theory tend to be focused less on summative activity – the final grades, the end-point assessments, and the grading and achievements associated with them – than with the pathway which learners take though a course.

Where a learner is being supported in an one-to-one situation because of identified specific learning difficulties, there may well be active engagement about what is to be covered in the sessions for maximum impact and usefulness of the support worker as a resource.    

Though there may be a everyday definition of ‘curriculum’ which we might take to refer to the contents of a course, curriculum can shift meaning according to context, and that the curriculum for a given course is open to reinterpretation and to being experienced in different ways, depending on those contexts.  

What are the most prominent models of curriculum?

Curriculum studies is a long-established aspect of pedagogical enquiry, and whole books can quite easily be written about curricula in theory, and how theoretical and philosophical aspects of education interact with the practical aspects of teaching. This section explores the basics of three significant conceptualisations of curricula: curriculum as process, as product, and as praxis.

1. Process models of curriculum

Process-based approaches to curriculum theory tend to be focused less on summative activity – the final grades, the end-point assessments, and the grading and achievements associated with them – than with the pathway which learners take though a course. For process-oriented thinkers, the journey is the chief concern, rather than the destination. 

You may have come across phrases like “”distance travelled”” (a measure of the improvement over time a learner has shown) or “”value added”” (often used in referring to the boosts given to the qualitative aspects of a educational experience) in teaching before (Tummons, 2012). Such terms are process-centric in that they’re associated with learners’ subjective experience of learning, and of qualitative measures of that educational experience. As such, there is, in general terms, a qualitative impetus to process models of curricula which might be contrasted with the more quantitative focus of product-oriented models.

That is not to say that process models of curriculum are not concerned with the end results of learning, but that this is a set of concerns that is placed as being of secondary relevance to that of the actual learning activities themselves. This makes a kind of sense: if you undergo a year-long course, then what is the more important: the final assessment, or the year spent studying to get to that final point? Both are of importance and neither should be dismissed, but there is a logic to the position that the course-long experience is of significance, and should be a priority of focus.

Process models originate with Laurence Stenhouse – in his 1975 book An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, he argued that there were three aspects to curricula:

Stenhouse’s focus was on curriculum development as learner-centric, with an additional focus on the autonomy of the individual teacher in effecting learner development; curricula should therefore be not overly prescriptive, and also have latitude built in to ensure that diverse methodologies and assessments may be used at the educator’s discretion (Stenhouse, 1975). Perhaps naturally, process-oriented conceptualisations are popular within education as they privilege the practice of teaching, and place a value on the professional judgement of the educator, while supporting the cognitive development of learners.

2. Product models of curriculum

Where a process-centric conceptualisation of curriculum enquiry is centred on the holistic experience of the learner, and on the teacher’s role in supporting the pupil and their development, models of curriculum which are product-oriented are focused on destinations instead of on journeys.https://medium.com/@vladimirtrofimov049/3-best-business-essay-samples-89565e1951d8 Indeed, alternative terms for this type of approach include ‘objectives model’; central to product models of curricula are questions related to achievement and to learner competencies after having completed the course of instruction.

A prominent early educationalist who is associated with the development of the product model as a curriculum paradigm is Ralph Tyler. Tyler’s 1948 paper Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction asked four sets key questions which remain the bedrock of product-based curriculum enquiry:

Tyler argued that the more rigorous and clear the curriculum was, the better it could be scrutinised to assess its effectiveness, and the more apparent the issues which might lead to underperformance in assessment terms might be.

There are many positives which can be associated with product models of curriculum. Achievements are important, and clarity in curriculum design, and in aims and objectives which lend themselves to measurable determination of their being satisfied or otherwise means that there can be data-driven analysis of the effectiveness or otherwise of a course of instruction (or of its delivery by a particular institution/teacher). Outcomes-based measurement could be comparatively straightforward, in that an outcome either has or has not been met, or a cohort is above or below the national average, but it inevitably downplays the importance and the detail of a qualitative-informed analysis.

3. Praxis models of curriculum

Praxis, in the sense of critically-informed practice, has long been an aspect of academic and philosophical inquiry into education. Praxis-focused conceptualisations of curriculum focus on the notion that curricula are designed and taught not merely out of unquestioning obedience, or through managerial diktat, but because there are aspects of teaching which accord with the individual’s philosophical or political attitudes to the world.

Teaching is not value-free, and the curriculum may similarly be imbued with social and cultural positions that have moral significance. Sometimes these are more overt than others. A course in religious education may have curriculum elements which foster the respect of all faiths, for example. That is not to say that all teaching is driven by the imperative of setting and reinforcing values encoded into curricula, though there may be an aspect of this to an individual’s teaching practice. Similarly, there may be elements of a course to which the teacher may raise objections of one form or another, and this may influence the ways in which that topic or position is introduced or discussed in the classroom environment. The extent to which this is appropriate may depend on the subject, topic, and context of teaching (Kelly, 2009).

No-one would wish to be taught by someone who does not have some type of personal enthusiasm or other investment in their subject and its communication to learners, and in the support of developing those learners towards achievement in terms referable back to the curriculum.  

Alternatives and synthesis of models

You may feel that the three models of curriculum outlined in this section are not readily separated. There are aspects of product, praxis, and of process which have usefulness to us as educators; each informs the educational journey, underpinning moral and cultural conditions, and outcomes of our learners. However, by separating out different aspects of enquiry into curriculum-related matters, each of these positions seeks to explore them in more detail, as well as stressing the relevance of each aspect to us. These are not either/or choices to create, but approaches which a individual teacher may privilege regarding a specific curriculum may realistically and pragmatically draw from each mode of analysis outlined above.

Why is it important to develop and streamline curricula?

It is perhaps inevitable that curricula will change over time. As an example, in 2016, there was controversy over the withdrawal of some A level programmes including history of art, archaeology, and classical civilisation courses at this level (Weale, 2016). There are several parameters to decisions such as the one outlined above. There is an economic argument on one hand for cutting, and political and cultural arguments on the side of retaining the courses.

The vast majority of curriculum decisions are not made at the level of course removal, of course, but there are multiple variables which may be at play. Some decisions may be straightforward, and reflect new knowledge, or the developing consensus on subject-related content at the time. Political considerations could be invoked; the development of curriculum strands fostering positive attitudes towards diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance in civil society not only reflect contemporary moral values, but also work to ensure that education is compliant with equality legislation. Economic parameters might suggest directions in education; not merely in providing the skills demanded by industry and commerce in the workforce, but the competencies in wider society which foster engagement with the economic realities of the time. Successive drives towards embedding key and functional numeracy and literacy skills into curricula have been related back to industry demands for a literate and numerate workforce at all levels (Gatto and Moore, 2002).

There are also questions of relevance and of making education palatable to learners. Reading lists are often refreshed, and the primary texts studied in English classes at all levels consistently revised to give what is thought to be not only a grounding in literature and popular culture, but also a reflection of society as it exists. Commercial interests may also play a part in curriculum design. More than ever before, learners are conceptualised as customers- the curriculum needs to be attractive to potential students, not least when those prospective learners might be taking on loans to fund their educational experience. 

Curricula are not live documents, but they need to be flexible and responsive over time to the contexts in which that education experience is provided.


Gatto, J.T. and Moore, T. (2002) Dumbing us down: the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling. 4th edn. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

Kelly, A.V. (2009) The curriculum: theory and practice. 6th edn. London: SAGE Publications.

Oxford English Dictionary (2016) Definition: Curriculum. Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/curriculum (Accessed: 12 November 2016).

Schiro, M. (2012) Curriculum theory: conflicting visions and enduring concerns. 2nd edn. London: SAGE Publications.

Smith, M. (2013) Curriculum theory and practice. Available at: http://infed.org/mobi/curriculum-theory-and-practice/#process (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

Stenhouse, L. (1975) An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann Educational.

Tummons, J. (2012) Curriculum studies in the lifelong learning sector. 2nd edn. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Tyler, R. (1948) Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Available at: http://blogs.ubc.ca/ewayne/files/2009/02/tyler_001.pdf (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

UNESCO (2016) Different meanings of ‘curriculum’. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/strengthening-education-systems/quality-framework/technical-notes/different-meaning-of-curriculum/ (Accessed: 12 November 2016).

Weale, S. (2016) Scrapping of archaeology and classics a-levels criticised as ‘barbaric act’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/17/scrapping-archeology-classics-a-levels-barbaric-tony-robinson (Accessed: 13 November 2016).


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Welcome to chapter 12 of the ‘Approaches to Education’ module. By now, you should have noticed that many of the theories we have dissected throughout this module overlap significantly with one another, and that several are underpinned by similar ideas about education. Teaching in a classroom might mean that you are utilising several different theories at one time. This chapter aims to examine where these theories intersect and to provide some discussion about how this can work in practice.   

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By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

Historical Background

In order to have a full understanding of SEN, it is important to have a grasp of the historical background to the definition and attitudes towards those who experience learning difficulties. Educational practice has been influenced by different models of disability, the main two being the medical model and the social model.


The medical model regards disability as a personal issue which has its root in specific conditions, disabilities or ailments which can be improved through medical intervention or some form of rehabilitation measure (Hedlund, 2009), rather than considering the needs of any one or group of individuals who are affected (Burke and Cigno, 2000). Hedlund (2009) observes that this view of disability focuses purely on the problems of each individual medical condition in order to formulate some sort of diagnosis as to how their problems could be improved. This view is rooted in the ideas put forward the 20th century which saw people viewing individuals purely in the light of their difficulties and their limitations. Alfred Eicholz grouped needs into three specific types: mentally deficient, physically defective and/or epileptic and retarded. The education for the ‘mentally deficient’ was provided away from their peers and mainstream schooling, often in the country where they learnt skills concerning practical farm work, in that it was thought that they were less likely to do any harm (Haskell and Barrett, 1993). This treatment is similar to the way in which the containment of any contagion is approached, in that individuals were separated from society ( a form of quarantine) with the issue of disability being contained, thereby reducing any harm (Hedlund, 2009). The ‘physically defective and/or epileptic’ were placed on a strict, medically supervised diet in residential facilities, being taught basic life skills. Those who seemed physically healthy but less able than others were labelled as being ‘retarded’; these individuals were taught in special schools on a day-to-day basis, being provided with teaching and learning exercises which were designed to help them to overcome their issues to facilitate the joining of mainstream schools (Haskell and Barrett, 1993).

This model regards disability as preventing individuals’ ability to function, as a result of health issues or injuries. The very fact that terms such as ‘retarded’, ‘mentally deficient’ and ‘defective’ were used imply that individuals were in some way broken and were in need of repair in order to be ‘normal’. It was believed that the normalising process could be facilitated through training programmes or aids, and that an individual’s situation could be improved by their practising, in order to hone their abilities such that they could make some sort of valid contribution to society whilst protecting themselves against their impairments or issues which were the result of their disability (Beith et al, 2008; Hedlund, 2009). Labelling of this kind continued to be used in the Education Act of 1944. The handicapped were grouped in 11 distinct categories by doctors who used “”… pseudo diagnostic labels such as ‘educationally subnormal'”” (Topping and Maloney, 2005, p.3) in their descriptions of each category. Whilst this Act ensured that individuals who had any form of disability were entitled to special education, it did label them as ‘suffering.’

This model has been the subject of criticism resulting from its emphasis upon the patient and the issues that they face, rather than looking at their abilities and what they are able to do in spite of their difficulties. It precludes any consideration, because of a ‘diagnosis’, of an individual’s potential, and highlights society’s shortcomings with regard to providing opportunities for anyone who has any form of disability.


The move towards challenging these long-held ideas came with a shift in the focus of attention from a deficit viewpoint to one of concentrating on “”… social oppression, cultural discourse, and environmental barriers”” (Shakespeare, 2006, p. 197). In the United Kingdom, the social model of disability has provided an analysis of the social exclusion of disabled people (Hasler, 1993), with this model developing from the work of the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation [UPIAS]. The expressed aim of the group was to ensure that anyone with any form of impairment be afforded the opportunity to live independently and to have control of their own lives through being able to participate in, and contribute to, society. In conjunction with the pressure placed upon government by the Liberation Network of People with Disabilities, the British Council for Disabled People was established in 1981.

The first challenge for the UPIAS was to redefine disability. They argued that disability was something that was imposed upon them, in addition to their impairments, as a result of their denial of access to full and meaningful participation in society. This implied, as far as they were concerned, that disabled people were being oppressed (UPIAS, 1975). They defined disability as “”… the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes little or no account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities”” (UPIAS, 1975 cited in Shakespeare, 2006, p. 198). It is important to recognise that many supporters of the social model attest to the accuracy and validity of the statements and views that were developed by the UPIAS, in the current socio-political climate (Shakespeare, 2006).

In terms of education, the initial impact of the social model was seen in the Warnock Report (1978), which fashioned the fundamental principles of the 1981 Education Act. Warnock’s document considered a child’s individual needs whilst still providing general classifications covering their particular issues and problems. Learning issues were separated into four categories – mild, moderate, severe and specific – with these being suggested in order to help inform educators and Local Education Authorities (LEA) as to the best means of supporting children during the educative process. This aspect of the report was critical in that it stated that the majority of children with SEN would need to be identified and provided for in mainstream schools. Furthermore, the Warnock Report (1978) claimed that up to 20% of all children would need some form of support during their time at school, hence the emphasis on the implementation and monitoring of the 200+ recommendations contained within it.

The Education Act (1981) was a watershed in terms of providing a definition for special needs. This were defined as “”a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made”” (Education Act, 1981, 1.1). Special educational provision was defined as learning opportunities that were arranged in addition to the activities provided by the LEA. This Act placed the responsibility for the education of those with special needs in the hands of mainstream schools, who were to be provided with additional help via additional monies and/or materials and support (personnel) through Statements of Special Educational Need.

The strength of this model is in its simpleness – it is easily explained and understood, and generates debate as well as demanding social change. Through this debate, it identifies many of the social barriers which need to be removed, with Oliver (2004) commenting that it is not merely a theory but an effective tool with which to generate change. It is a model which focuses upon social oppression and the moral responsibility of society to change itself, in order that disabled people are able to engage more with it. In addition, the social model has had a positive impact on the self-esteem of disabled people which allows them to make a personal contribution to society.

Its weaknesses include the fact that there is no acknowledgement that an individual’s impairment does have a direct effect on a disabled person’s life. In addition, it makes a clear distinction between the impairment (medical) itself and disability (social), the differences between which are much more difficult to differentiate in real life. The concept also fails to recognise that, no matter how much change is initiated, a barrier-free life for those who are disabled is impossible to put into operation in its entirety; for example, everybody needs to be able to read and write to a certain extent in order that they are able to participate in everyday life (Shakespeare, 2006).

Learning Issues, Strategies and Inclusion

The following section aims to discuss learning issues in order to provide a better understanding of some of the difficulties faced by anyone who has special needs and how educators support them in their development and learning.

Employing different and/or separate strategies with SEN pupils ensures that they have equality of opportunity (Equality Act, 2010) to the curriculum which promotes a more inclusive environment in the sense that they are able to access exactly the same material as their peers, albeit in a slightly modified form. Different approaches allow children to develop their communication and discussion skills, which are enhanced by being in mainstream education. The inclusion of those with learning issues in mainstream schools also provide opportunities for improvements to be made with their social skills – the other children also benefit from discussion with people who have issues, in that they are able to develop a sense of empathy for his or her problems and embrace their differences which promotes a sense of unity and equality. It should also be noted that many of the approaches which can be adopted with SEN pupils can also be used to good effect with other students.

The drive for inclusion of all children is evidenced within documentation produced by the DfE and the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). The DfE (2014) specifically state that teachers should, in all their dealings with pupils, be aware of the equal opportunities legislation which covers race, sex, disability, belief or religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, and pregnancy and maternity. It has also recently updated the SEN Code of Practice (DfE/DoH, 2015) to ensure that all children and young people have access to the support they require from their early childhood right through until the age of 25, which also provides links to the Children and Families Act (2014) and the Special Needs and Disability Regulations (2014). Ofsted make its contribution through ensuring, as a part of their inspection of schools, that the needs of those designated as having SEN are being met, inclusive of case studies involving pupils with disabilities and SEN. Clearly, there is a commitment to providing the best possible start in life for those who experience learning difficulties of any sort.

This commitment also extends to placing anyone who has special needs in the correct place: it will not always be the case that their needs are best met through mainstream schooling through limitations in budget, staffing and the physical environment. Where an individual’s condition is particularly severe or requires more specialist support, provision within a special school might be more appropriate for them. Inclusive practice involves finding appropriate solutions for each individual pupil, by treating them as an individual and placing them at the heart of the educative process.


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