IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Children’s Agency in the National Curriculum

This research project is the first in-depth evaluation of the ways in which England’s national curriculum requirements for primary schools can enable or constrain children’s agency.

Agency, the capacity to act independently and to make choices is fundamental to children’s education and lives. In schools, the curriculum determines children’s daily experiences in classrooms. 

The children’s agency in the national curriculum (CHANT) project will explore three main research questions:

  • How is agency articulated in England’s National Curriculum and associated texts?
  • How do children perceive and exercise agency during the implementation of the England’s National Curriculum in schools?
  • What role do teachers play in mediating the impact of the curriculum on children’s agency? 

The project will run for 40 months from 1 January 2021. 

Aims of the project

The project aims to:

  • critically analyse how children's agency is represented in national curriculum texts including assessment and inspection requirements
  • investigate how the implementation of the national curriculum in schools influences the way children perceive and exercise agency in the classroom
  • examine the role teachers play in mediating the impact of curriculum on children's agency
  • make an original contribution to knowledge about national curricula, theories of agency and education.

The research uses a qualitative research design with two main methods:

  1. a critical discourse analysis of national curriculum and other policy texts relevant to curriculum enactment in schools
  2. in-depth exploration of children's agency through ethnographies of three contrasting primary schools.

Curriculum texts

Texts will be selected for analysis based on their possible influence on children’s agency, for example: 

  • the 2014 national curriculum text
  • requirements for statutory assessment processes
  • texts representing adjustments to policy relevant to the curriculum including during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • significant documents published by the inspectorate Ofsted.


The sample of schools for the ethnographies includes a state school, an academy school, and an independent school, to ensure access to a wide range of possible school-level factors that could influence children’s agency.

In addition to creating whole school ethnographies over two years of data collection, the focus of the research will include perspectives from a small number of case- study children.

The ethnographies will also enable comparison of the subject areas of English/language, science and arts to evaluate the differences in children’s agency linked to different curriculum subjects and areas.