Contested Knowledge: A Critical Review of the Concept of Differentiation in Teaching and Learning

Sasha Carine Taylor


This paper explores the concept of differentiation in teaching and learning. It argues that theoretical perspectives, policies, frameworks and the implementation of ideas relating to the technique have become conflated, because of the contested nature of the term. This has led to increased inequality in the classroom, which is the opposite result of its intended purpose. The unevenness of differentiation is most apparent in attempts to improve the attainment of individual students and tailoring the curriculum to meet their needs. Even though differentiation appears to be a successful framework on the surface level, with deeper analysis, it is rather difficult to quantify the real benefits, as non-school factors such as the influence of culture, socio-economic background, gender, ability/disability, language and social class have an effect on the outcome of learners’ educational achievement. Consideration of factors such as these on individual students could provide greater insights and help schools build a platform for more inclusive differentiated learning. This paper suggests that, for differentiation to be successful, teachers should make accommodation for learners’ varied levels, needs and backgrounds. Moreover, this paper highlights the need for more research-led strategies aimed at closing the attainment gap among learners, particularly where differentiation fails to challenge existing learning paradigms.


Differentiation; Gender; Social class; Culture; Education; Attainment

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