“Who your teacher is does matter”
: The lived experiences of history and citizenship teachers in Northern Ireland and the consequences for pedagogical practice

  • Marie Clare McAuley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


There is a general acceptance that education, through the formal school curriculum, can make a valuable contribution to promoting social cohesion in deeply fractured societies. In order for education’s socially transformative potential to be realised, systemic synergy between the vision of educational policy-makers and the teachers responsible for implementing curriculum policy in their classrooms is a prerequisite; yet there is a much evidence to suggest that individual teachers’ mediation of policy can lead to a refashioning of requirements to reflect self-preferred pedagogical practice and positioning. This practice of ‘curriculum by proxy’ is visible in classrooms across Northern Ireland as the curriculum requirements to teach controversial and sensitive issues related to ‘the past’ are met with avoidance by some teachers yet embraced by others. Through a series of in-depth narrative interviews, this thesis deconstructed the personal biographies of eight teachers who, as teachers of History and Citizenship, are positioned by policy requirements as both curriculum agents and ‘agents of change’ in a contested society. The study explored the lived experiences of these teachers in relation to how they actualise the curriculum and their approaches to teaching about difference. Findings reveal that growing up in a contested society has consequences for teachers’ pedagogical positioning and their engagement with ‘the past’ since it is a ‘past’ that is personal to them. In light of this, it is concluded that opportunities for teachers to critically reflect on ‘who they are’ and their lived experiences is necessary if the transformative potential of both curriculum policy and of all teachers is to be realised.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsCouncil for Curriculum Examinations & Assessment & Ulster University
SupervisorCaitlin Donnelly (Supervisor)


  • Teacher decision making
  • Curriculum
  • Northern Ireland Curriculum
  • History
  • Citizenship
  • Teacher biography

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