Pedagogical autonomy in the early career of secondary religious education teachers

  • Thomas McMillan Newlands

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The research investigates understandings and experiences of pedagogical autonomy and the factors inhibiting or enabling it at three key stages in the early career of secondary Religious Education (RE) teachers.

    Utilising a simple understanding of ‘pedagogy’, ‘pedagogical autonomy’ is defined as individual teachers being free to make their own decisions about the teaching strategies they use in their classroom and to draw upon a wide range of these. A phenomenological methodology and qualitative research paradigm are adopted, using semi-structured in-depth-face-to-face interviews with a purposive sample of twelve secondary RE teachers at three key stages in their early career. Using a phenomenological thematic analysis of the data, five factors emerge that are found to inhibit or enable pedagogical autonomy.

    The research questions, literature and analysis of findings are then reviewed, leading to the identification of three interrelated threads or skeins of pedagogical autonomy in the early career of secondary RE teachers. These are: pedagogical autonomy and professionalism; pedagogical autonomy and the allocation of resources; pedagogical autonomy and relationships.
    The three skeins present a rich and complex picture of pedagogical autonomy in the early career of secondary RE teachers. In reflecting on these, three characteristics of an enabling school/RE department climate for pedagogical autonomy are established. These are: an informed and responsible use of pedagogical autonomy as an aspect of professionalism; a manageable teacher workload, appropriately allocated subject time, and a flexible physical learning environment; constructive developmental relationships with people and frameworks.

    The research makes an original contribution to knowledge by: providing an empirical study into the real lives of secondary RE teachers and thereby adding to current research in the field; focusing on the understanding and experiences of early career secondary RE teachers and integrating the distinct areas of pedagogy (in its simple sense) and autonomy through pedagogical autonomy, in a way not found in the literature reviewed; identifying three interrelated skeins of pedagogical autonomy that present a complex picture of it in the early career of secondary RE teachers; establishing three interrelated characteristics of a school/RE department climate for enabling pedagogical autonomy.

    The research has relevance for: schools; RE departments; universities involved in initial teacher training; other subject disciplines beyond an RE context; policy-makers involved in the recruitment and retention of teachers; academics/researchers interested in pedagogical autonomy and the development of early career secondary teachers.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorAvril Loveless (Supervisor), Colin Lawlor (Supervisor) & Tim Rudd (Supervisor)

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