module specification

ED7122 - Critical Theory and Education (2024/25)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2024/25
Module title Critical Theory and Education
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences and Professions
Total study hours 200
36 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
64 hours Assessment Preparation / Delivery
100 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Individual Presentation 30%   Individual Presentation​
Coursework 70%   3000 word essay applying critical theory to a chosen educational context.
Running in 2024/25

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Evening

Module summary

You will be introduced to a range of significant critical theorists in the field of Education Studies and beyond. These writers will include Marx, Adorno, Althusser, Foucault, Bourdieu, bell hooks and Freire. Although their ideas can be carried forward into all your modules, in this one, they will be considered in relation to the neoliberal context in which the vast majority of education systems operate. In the process of doing so, key issues around the use of schools to deploy disciplinary power and to reproduce pre-existing patterns of privilege and disadvantage will be examined. 


The module aims to:

defamiliarise and problematise common sense understandings of education; 

provide students with a range of theoretical tools with which they can analyse educational systems and outcomes;  

encourage students to develop a holistic understanding of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment, and the rise of capitalism and how these intersected with one another in creating the modern, neoliberal world;  

introduce students to aspects of ontology and epistemology that problematize naïve realism.


The module will begin by contrasting functionalist and Marxist models of society (LO2, 4). It will then look at Adorno and Horkheimer’s critiques of Enlightenment rationality and the ideological separation of truth from myth, both of which will be related to debates around the status of curriculum knowledge (LO.1,2,3,4). After this, it moves on to look at Foucauldian ideas of discourse and subjectivation, relating these to issues around curriculum and assessment (LO.1,3,4). From here, the module develops these debates by bringing in the neoliberal context, its emphasis on realist approaches to educational outcomes, its imposition of subjectivities around homo economicus and human capital, and its instrumentalization of educational relationships (LO.1,2,3,4). After this, Bourdieu is brought in to provide a closer analysis of the functioning of discourse (via habitus) and the use of education for social reproduction (cultural capital and symbolic violence) (LO.1,2,3). Finally, alternative models of education are looked at via Freire, bell hooks and Giroux (LO.1,2,3,4).

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Teaching is delivered via weekly three-hour lectures with workshop activities. Activities include small group discussions of example educational documents (such as a curriculum extract) and small group presentations summarising and/or evaluating taught content. These opportunities for reinforcement of, and reflection on, content also provide opportunities for the airing and addressing of misconceptions. Due to typical cohort needs, session time is also allocated to developing academic writing. Collaborative reflection is also planned into the sessions via students carrying out small group analyses of example essays, doing the same with a student-friendly marking rubric, and carrying over peer feedback work on a draft extract of their essay. Blended learning is planned for via an asynchronous session in which students engage with a set of slides that include video links and individual activities. They are encouraged to undertake this in small groups. On-line tutorials are also offered as many students live outside London.

Learning outcomes

On completing this module, the students will be able to:


LO1 identify and critically evaluate some key issues in contemporary schooling;

LO2 articulate and evaluate key aspects of the impact of the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment and capitalism on contemporary education systems;

LO3 apply some key sociological perspectives to create analyses of educational practices;

LO4 apply an understanding of the problematic nature of ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ to the educational context.