Making sense of critical literacy: interpreting and enacting educational policy in one Scottish local authority
Scottish education is currently undergoing a period of significant change, with the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence in early years establishments, primary and secondary schools. This study focused on how educators in one Scottish local authority interpreted and enacted 'the important skills of critical literacy' (Building the Curriculum 3, Scottish Government, 2008). Critical literacy theory foregrounds issues of social justice, challenge, critique and action for transformation of inequalities in language and social practices; however this thesis posits that dominant government constructions of 'information and critical literacy' and 'higher order thinking skills' effectively remove social justice concerns from critical literacy.This study aimed to add a Scottish perspective to the international literature on critical literacy pedagogies, by investigating the knowledge and beliefs of engaged, informed practitioners who experienced a particular model of critical literacy professional development, which was run in partnership between their local authority and the University of Edinburgh. Interviews were conducted with five teachers and one librarian who participated in the first year of the professional development model, as well as one of the university lecturers who designed and delivered the training and the local authority manager who instigated and facilitated it. I used a critical framework which foregrounds issues of access and power to analyse participants' understandings of the terms literacy and critical literacy and what it means to be literate and critically literate; the resources they identified as useful in developing these understandings; their beliefs about what was distinctive or different about a critical literacy approach; and their descriptions of critical literacy practices in their classrooms and contexts. Considerable complexity was evident in participants' declarative understandings of what it means to be literate and critically literate. Participants defined critical literacy as a natural acuity which should be fostered from the early years of education, rather than a 'higher order skill'. They also identified being critically literate as a capacity to protect children from 'being manipulated' by texts, particularly social media, which subverts the notion of certain texts as potentially harmful and instead posits that lack of awareness of how they might challenge, critique and act to transform such inequalities is the real issue. An overview of critical literacy practices identified by participants is discussed within a framework of how they performed their understandings (Perkins, 1998) of critical literacy theory; I discuss in some detail five critical literacy practices enacted by participants, still within the critical analytical framework which gives prominence to intersections of access and power.The study concludes with a reflexive discussion of the research design and process and proposes several implications for policy and practice in light of the findings. I argue that mainstreaming critical literacy in the nursery, primary and secondary sectors requires that we address the importance of critical pedagogical approaches in the early years; embed critical capacity within dominant constructions of what it means to be literate; and reconstruct prohibition, protectionism or censorship of texts as the development of critical analytical skills. I suggest that Scottish policy makers and enactors look to the adult education curriculum in Scotland, in which critical literacy is embedded, as a model of good practice; and that the critical literacy practices which the participants in this research study have developed are shared more widely with other practitioners attempting to make sense of critical literacy. I conclude with a final reflection on access and power as they relate to this research study and to the wider issue of 'the important skills of critical literacy'.