Context: Curriculum change in BC
British Columbia is in an intensified period of curriculum change that is taking place on an unprecedented scale. Initiated by the provincial Ministry of Education under then Minister of Education George Abbott in the fall of 2010, revisions have been
undertaken since 2013 by teams of teachers that were appointed by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the Federation of Independent School Associations BC (FISA), and the First Nations Schools Association. Teachers began implementing
finalized versions of the K–9 curriculum in September 2016. The 10–12 curriculum is in draft form and is optional for 2017–18. The 11–12 curriculum will also be optional for the 2018–19 school year.
We understand curriculum as a contested, relational, and situated practice (Chambers, 2012; Kanu, 2012; Pinar, 2015). Curriculum change, in turn, refers to both explicit and implicit shifts within a historical moment as to what is
taught (e.g. curricular content) as well as how teaching happens (e.g. increasing reliance on technologies).
Throughout this process, the BCTF has actively gathered feedback related to the redesigned curriculum. While members have diverse perspectives and experiences, feedback has consistently highlighted shared concerns. It has also exposed a crucial gap in
understanding the process of curriculum change from teachers’ perspectives. To address this gap, the BCTF Research Department is leading a multi- year research conversation on teacher-led curriculum change in BC.
The process of curriculum change is about policy and practice. For example, while the province mandates a curricular framework, it is the right of teachers to make pedagogical choices in response to the learning needs of students as well
as specific learning and working conditions.1 Furthermore, the revision of the curriculum at all grade levels and all subjects (a first for this province), is only one of many educational initiatives that were initiated by
then Minister Abbott. These include: reviewing and/or changing graduation requirements, the Provincial Student Assessment Program, and reporting regulations; encouraging technology use in classrooms; implementing a new electronic student database
system; and heavily promoting particular pedagogical approaches which, while not new, were outside of the ministry’s usual scope of responsibilities. This has led to substantial confusion among teachers and the broader public (e.g. public messaging
about “curriculum change” that was really about “pedagogical change”). This confusion, and related challenges, have been exacerbated by the change over between different ministers of education and deputy ministers since 2010, each of whom have
had a different approach and understanding of the curriculum change process.
The complexity of these issues means that the question of whether curriculum change is “working” cannot be reduced to discrete measures such as graduation rates. These measures are important but they fail to position curriculum change within the
historical, political, social, and economic context. This includes crucial factors such as: teacher involvement in curricular change processes (e.g. Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, 2017), teacher autonomy in selecting instructional and assessment
approaches and tools (e.g. Erss, Kalmus, & Autio, 2016; Parker, 2015), and how teachers understand key principles such as personalisation (e.g. BCTF, 1968; Ehrcke, 2013), inclusive education (e.g. DeRoche, 2013), and meaningful engagement with Aboriginal
ways of knowing (e.g. Donald, 2009; Kanu, 2011).
The BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey
The BCTF Research Department, working with the Professional and Social Issues Division (PSID), conducted a survey of BCTF members from August 22 to October 2, 2017. The aim of the survey was to develop a deeper understanding
of the state of curriculum change across the province and shape the Federation’s priorities for supporting members in relation to curriculum change. The survey objectives and questionnaire were developed by the Research Department in consultation
with PSID and advisory groups of BCTF members, such as the Professional Issues Advisory Committee (PIAC). The survey also drew on previous BCTF research and member feedback related to the redesigned BC curriculum (BCTF, 2014, 2016a,
Sampling was done by census of all active BCTF members. The survey was conducted in two phases: Phase 1 ran from August 22 to September 1 and was targeted at provincial and/or local leaders. The survey was extended to all members in Phase 2
(September 18 to October 2).2 Potential participants received an email with the survey description and a link to the SimpleSurvey platform.3 There were 2,344 respondents. Respondents could skip questions,
which means that some results are based on smaller groups of respondents within the survey. All responses were anonymous and confidential, and participants’ IP addresses or other identifying details were not collected or made available to the researchers,
the BCTF, or any other persons or organizations. The online survey results are stored on a Canadian server. Comments were coded using MaxQDA, a qualitative data analysis software.
Survey participants come from
57 districts,4 the largest percentage
of participants are from:
- SD 36 Surrey (16%)
- SD 39 Vancouver (12%)
- SD 41 Burnaby (4%)
- SD 43 Coquitlam (4%)
- SD 35 Langley (4%)5
Participants are classroom teachers (80%) and/or hold positions such as:
- specialist teachers (15%)
- elective or special area teacher (8%)
- teachers teaching on call (5%)
- district co-ordinators or district helping teachers (2%)
- local union officers (2%)
87% of participants have taught Kindergarten to Grade 9 in the past year. All subject areas are represented with the most participants teaching:
- English Language Arts (64%)
- Social Studies (64%)
- Mathematics (62%)
- Science (61%)
- Arts Education (53%)
43% of participants have taught Grades 10 to 12 in the past year. All subject areas are represented with the most participants from:
- English Language Arts (32%)
- Social Studies (30%)
- Science (24%)
- Mathematics (22%)
- Applied Skills (14%)
The majority of participants have between 11 to 20 (37%) or 21 to 30 (29%) years of teaching experience.
This report summarizes results in four key areas. These areas are based on the view that “the implementation of the curricula be viewed as an ongoing, long-term process, rather than an event” (BCTF, BC Ministry of Education, BCSSA, & BCPVPA, n.d.). The
results illustrate that, while “implementation” is important, the direction of curriculum change is inseparable from teachers’ perspectives on the curricular model, the perceived impact of change on teacher autonomy and workload, and opportunities
for involvement in and learning about curricular changes.
Results: Four Key Areas
Teacher autonomy and workload
Involvement, professional development, and learning
1 See: http://bctf.ca/IssuesInEducation.aspx?id=5638
2 36,672 teachers (580 in Phase 1; 36,092 in Phase 2). This excludes teachers who are retired.
4 There were no respondents from Central Coast, Vancouver Island West, or Stikine.
5 Percentages in this report are rounded to the nearest whole number, unless the percentage is less than one (1). Because of rounding, some results might not add up to 100%.