Unintended Consequences?
: The Governance of Modern Foreign Language Learning in Scotland (1962-2014)

  • James David Scott

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In Scotland, modern foreign language (MFL) learning is declining. This thesis provides a new perspective on this issue by investigating the nature and effectiveness of MFL governance from national to school level. I examine politico-educational rationales for MFL, layers, structures and elements of meso- and macro-level governance, the balance between structure and agency, the impact of powerful individuals on a small system and the extent of cooperation and contention among governing individuals and groups. Using a mixed research approach, triangulating findings drawn from existing research, official documents and evaluation reports with statistical findings on MFL qualifications, teaching and attainment and with the outcomes of questionnaires and interviews involving key/elite governance actors, I analyse macro- and meso-level educational governance in Scotland and its effectiveness. I employ Governance Theory to test my findings on the nature and effectiveness of governance.

    I find that MFL governance in Scotland operates within a complex, layered, asymmetric, politico-educational system with linkages of varying effectiveness. Governance has been well motivated but inconsistently successful, having suffered significant difficulties through a combination of inconsistent vision and planning, variable practice, lack of follow-through, political flux and the unforeseen interaction of initiatives. The vision(s) for MFLs experienced varying interpretation by ministers, civil servants, national agencies, local education authorities, headteachers and teachers, thus contributing to the limited success experienced in twenty-one attempts to improve MFL learning in fifty years. Success/failure of previous initiatives has not generally influenced subsequent iterations as governance actors have taken limited account of research, evaluation or previous outcomes. MFL governance has also failed to consistently engage key stakeholders, is intermittently subject to significant agency by elite actors and has suffered significant losses of leadership/support capacity as a result of local and national political change.

    This study identifies trends, issues and factors of use to those engaged in language learning policy, development and implementation across the UK and in the wider Anglophone world.

    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorYolande Muschamp (Supervisor) & Angela Roger (Supervisor)

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