Author Identifier

Loan Vu

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Supervisor

Anne Thwaite

Second Supervisor

Bill Allen


A recent development in language policy research is a focus on teacher agency and its role in reform implementation. Teacher agency is considered a lens through which to understand the interplay between policy and practice. However, it remains an underexamined research area, especially in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts, despite a small number of recent studies, and in Vietnam.

To advance the limited knowledge in the literature, this qualitative case study research aimed to examine how primary EFL teachers in Vietnam exercise agency in response to the national English language education policy. With a focus on dynamic bottom-up language policy practices, this research provides narratives and analyses of teachers’ classroom practices to show how individual teachers exercise agency in their teaching of English. Four primary EFL teachers from different schools in one province in Vietnam were selected as the case study teachers. Data were collected from multiple sources, including interviews, classroom observations and documents.

The findings showed that the Vietnamese primary EFL teachers had great space to exercise agency within the curriculum, which was considered to be prescriptive. They could assume great freedom in teaching the ways they wished due to the lack of support for, and supervision over, their work. However, teacher agency was not synonymous with reform implementation. It was exercised for both beneficial and non-beneficial purposes. In addition, teacher agency was situation- and context-specific. The case study teachers exercised agency in different directions, and to different degrees, depending on the meanings they gave to the curriculum requirements and the resources they could mobilise from their specific working contexts.

The findings, as mentioned, have been further developed into a model to theorise teacher agency in the context of English language policy enactment. The model represents how different factors at the workplace and professional characteristics of a teacher affect the direction and the degree of teacher agency. In the primary-school EFL context of Vietnam, as shown in this study, the special status of English and its teachers seemed to allow EFL teachers greater freedom to exercise agency. However, how, and to what extent, each teacher exercised agency depends on the individual teacher’s perspectives and commitments.

As a result of teachers exercising agency, the curriculum was found to be enacted in different ways in each of the teachers’ classrooms; nor was it being delivered as expected; due to personal and contextual constraints, it was not fully implemented by any case study teacher. Therefore, hindrances to the innovative pedagogy promoted in the curriculum have also been revealed in this study. These include teachers’ misunderstandings of the new pedagogy’s principles, resistance from the teachers and other socio-contextual constraints.

The findings from this study suggests many implications for policy makers, Education Department managers and school leaders. For policy makers, this study proposes that teacher agency should be taken into account when making policy. It also provides educational managers and school leaders with suggestions on how to promote positive teacher agency for successful reform implementation, which has so far not been achieved in Vietnam.

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Available for download on Sunday, December 01, 2024


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