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The teacher as street-level bureaucrat: science teacher’s discretionary decision-making in a time of reform

Hall, M; Hampden-Thompson, G


M Hall


This article explores teacher discretion in the context of the English 2014 science curriculum and assessment reforms. The study positions primary and secondary school science teachers as ?street-level bureaucrats? in which they are not just mere implementers of policy but instead pivotal actors with much agency. Through the analysis of questionnaire and interview data drawn from a sample of 26 science teachers in England, this empirical research advances our understanding of teachers? discretionary decision-making considering policy change and reform. The findings indicate that discretion varied, not simply between the secondary and primary sectors, but within each key stage. With the introduction of the new curriculum, secondary teachers expressed higher levels of autonomy and more discretion teaching key stage 3 than with key stage 4 and key stage 5. Despite this, we argue that it has become more difficult for teachers to circumvent the ?rules? associated with the attainment measures in the ways that were previously possible. We conclude that the embodiment of teachers as street-level bureaucrats is not perfect as the boundaries around teacher?s discretion and decision-making are heavily dependent on the school and national policy context, but it remains a useful theory in advancing our understanding of teacher.


Hall, M., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2022). The teacher as street-level bureaucrat: science teacher’s discretionary decision-making in a time of reform. International Journal of Science Education, 44(6), 980-999.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 25, 2022
Online Publication Date May 13, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Sep 1, 2023
Journal International Journal of Science Education
Print ISSN 0950-0693
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 44
Issue 6
Pages 980-999
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