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2017 BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey

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, 2016b, 2016c).

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

Curricular model

Teacher autonomy and workload

Involvement, professional development, and learning

Curriculum implementation


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.

3 https://simplesurvey.com/

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%.

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