Knowledge is constructed socially through the uses of power by influential groups of people and individuals. Foucault (1975) points out how knowledge is constructed in different ways at different times and in different places, usually drawing on new technologies to legitimate changes in the construction of knowledge. A good example of this is how definitions of what should be taught to students in schools in England and Wales changed between the late 1960s and the early 1980s as various influential and powerful factions asserted their values for education by reshaping the national discourses about education. Eventually, in the early 1980s, these factions gained access to the legislative powers of central government and implemented a new definition of the school curriculum that ousted the power that teachers had wielded to construct it and assert their values since the 1944 Education Act.
As in many countries, such as the example of Saudi Arabia given in Chapter 2, the National Curriculum of England and Wales, set up in 1988, defined the purposes of education and what knowledge and skills school students should be taught as well as what counted as appropriate knowledge for them to be taught. In doing this central government heavily constrained what teachers could teach in schools. Since the early 1990s, through the programme of school inspection, and in the early twenty-first century, through the National Literacy and Numeracy strategies, central government has also tried to define how teachers should teach key elements of the formal academic curriculum in schools.
The National Curriculum is defined in terms of both academic subjects and personal and social criteria for students' development. The Education Reform Act (ERA) 1988 asserts the importance of two goals for a balanced and broadly based curriculum: