Democratic citizenship, critical literacy and educational policy in England: a conceptual paradox?

Chloe Ashbridge*, Matthew Clarke, Beth T. Bell, Helen Sauntson, Emma Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article identifies a conceptual paradox between recent educational policy in England and a social-democratic understanding of critical literacy. Recent political events including Brexit, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, and the Coronavirus Pandemic reiterate the need for pedagogies that equip students to critique information circulated online. After setting out critical literacy’s genealogy as a democratic educational model, the authors situate these theoretical approaches within the context of English secondary education reform. The article then draws on teacher agency research to consider the practical barriers to implementing a critical literacy pedagogy capable of navigating the present political landscape. Addressing gaps within literary education and digital media research, the overall argument is that educational policy in England since 2010 has served the priorities of a neoliberal state system. In this context, enacting the democratic, social-justice orientated critical literacy demanded by the challenges of communicating in the twenty-first-century is both daunting and urgent.

Original languageEnglish
Article number291-307
JournalCambridge Journal of Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Critical literacy
  • democracy
  • digital literacy
  • media literacy
  • neoliberalism
  • teacher agency

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