The policy and practice of mathematics mastery: the effects of neoliberalism and neoconservatism on curriculum reform.
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This paper explores how the twin processes of neoliberalism and neoconservatism work together on, and through, curricula and their associated pedagogies. It bridges the gap between policy and classroom practice, focusing on the particular example of the school subject of mathematics and the notion of mastery, operationalised in the English education system as Teaching for Mastery (TfM). From this context it develops a theoretical argument using Dean’s analytics of government as part of a broader Foucauldian frame, to analyse how TfM is constructed as a particular policy truth. It then shifts the analysis from a wide, social one to the individual classroom level using a psychological argument to critique TfM in its own terms, examining the onto-epistemological nature of mathematics as a subject. In doing so, it explores ways in which mastery might be problematic in classrooms, even whilst appearing to offer a solution at policy level to long-standing problems in English schooling. The aim is not to suggest that TfM has nothing to offer, but to point to ways in which it draws on the psychology of teaching and learning in a very particular manner, inscribing pupils with very specific mathematical subjectivities. By providing this insight into how neoliberal policy positions play out at practitioner level via curricula and pedagogies, the paper raises questions which are philosophical, political and ethical, regarding the potential effect of TfM on teachers’ and pupils’ experiences of mathematics in schools, including implications for equity of this experience amongst the latter
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