• A Guide to instrumentalism: Initial teacher education in the lifelong learning sector

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (01/01/2011)
      This paper provides a critique of the competence based approach to teacher education in the Learning and Skills Sector. This critique is made at a time of consultation of proposed developments to the current standards, which are due for implementation from 2012 and which will involve only minor changes. The existing, Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) standards were introduced in September 2006 following withdrawal of the old FENTO standards (FENTO, 1999) which had been subject to criticism that they did not meet the needs of trainee teachers and did not adequately reflect the developmental nature of Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The revised standards were intended to reflect this developmental process, and to contribute raising standards and the professionalisationof the sector (DfES/Standards Unit 2004); however, even before their introduction concerns were raised about over-regulation (Lucas, 2004:49). Despite a significant level of investment in the new standards, what eventually emerged has been subject to even greater criticism than the FENTO standards (e.g. see Lucas, 2007; Finlay et al 2007; Gleeson and James, 2007 and Simmons and Thompson 2007). Key features in this criticism have been the narrow concept of learning and skills, and the lack of recognition of both the wider dimensions of professional practice and the importance of knowledge. Contextualised within this literature, this paper argues that the detailed and prescriptive competency based structure of contemporary teacher training in the FE sector, together with wider regulation such as Ofsted and LLUK endorsement requirements, is productive of teachers who are instrumental and conformist but who lack the knowledge to engage with the concerns for social justice which are fundamental to working in the FE sector. In turn, these teachers deliver an instrumental and competency based vocational curriculum which, the paper argues, is complicit with other systems and structures in education in the reproduction of labour and of social class. The paper also draws on literature addressing issues around assessment (Ecclestone, 2010) and professionalism (e.g. Gleeson and James, 2007; Bathmaker, 2006) as well as class based critiques of the FE system which draw on work by, amongst others, Avis, (2007), Atkins (2009) and Colley (2006). The arguments in this paper are also supported by a deconstruction of the current standards. This deconstruction has been used to identify what is and is not supported or promoted by the standards in the context of education and wider notions of professionalism and to problematise them in the context of contemporary literature.
    • An Absence of Policy: Vocational education and special educational needs

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (Routledge, 06/07/2013)
      Vocational programmes at the lowest levels have been subject to significant criticism, not least from Government sponsored reports both before and after the last election (eg. Working Group on 14-19 reform, 2004; Wolf 2011). The Coalition government has, in common with earlier administrations, focussed policy initiatives on higher level and higher status vocational education. This paper explores the tension between this reality and the rhetoric of inclusion which forms much of the narrative of education policy. It considers this in the context of the implications of vocational education policy for the most marginalised young people: those with special educational needs and the poorest post- 16 outcomes, who are engaged with vocational education at its lowest levels and who are ambivalently positioned between mainstream education and special educational provision. The paper suggests that whilst some recent policy initiatives, such as the introduction of University Technical Colleges and the proposed Technical Baccalaureatemay be successful in raising the esteem of some types of specialised vocational education, they will also reinforce different degrees of exclusion and in/equalities within vocational education. It concludes that broad vocational courses at lower levels, held in low esteem and conferring little or no educational advantage, are likely to persist in the absence of any proposals for a meaningful alternative. Finally, it calls for concerted action in terms of both research and curriculum development to which could lead to more meaningful education at this level.
    • Creating feminized critical spaces and co-caring communities of practice outside patriarchal managerial landscapes

      Duckworth, Vicky; Lord, Janet; Dunne, Linda; Atkins, Liz; Watmore, Sue; Northumbria University (Taylor and Francis, 29/01/2016)
      The experiences of five female lecturers working in higher education in the UK are explored as they engage in the search for a feminized critical space as a refuge from the masculinized culture of performativity in which they feel constrained and devalued. Email exchanges were used as a form of narrative enquiry that provided opportunity and space to negotiate identities and make meaning from experiences. The exchanges provided a critical space, characterised by trust, honesty and care for the self and for each other, that enabled a sharing of authentic voices and a reaffirming of identities that were made vulnerable through the exposing of the self as an emotional, politicised subject. Drawing on existing theoretical understandings of critical feminised spaces enabled us to create a pedagogical framework for work with students in further developing caring and co-caring communities of practice that are not alternative to, but are outside the performativity landscape of education.
    • Dis(en)abled: legitimating discriminatory practice in the name of inclusion?

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (Wiley, 23/03/2016)
      This article explores tensions between the policies and practice of inclusion and the lived experiences of disabled young people in education. Drawing on the narratives of two young men who participated in a small pilot study, it utilises theoretical concepts related to disability, structure and agency, and power and control, as it explores the ways in which inclusion can create subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) forms of exclusion. Focusing on the young men's experiences of further and higher education, it is argued that inclusive practices and policies, however well intentioned, can create new and subtle forms of marginalisation through the structures and discourse intended to address exclusion. I conclude by questioning whether, in a diverse and disparate society, in which all our lives are defined by the extent to which we are more or less equal than others, inclusion can ever be anything other than an illusory concept.
    • Disabled voices from the margins : experiencing inclusion as forms of exclusion

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (10/04/2013)
      This paper explores the tension between the policies and practice of Inclusion and the lived experiences of disabled young people in education. Drawing on empirical data gained from a small scale study of young people with Special Educational Needs, the paper utilises theoretical concepts around disability, structure and agency and power and control as it explores the ways in which inclusion can create subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) forms of exclusion. The arguments in the paper are supported by reference to the little storiesof the young people who participated in the study, with a key focus on the experiences of Tom, a young man who has moved in and out of Mainstream education across all phases from nursery to University. The paper argues that Inclusive practices and policies, however well intentioned, can create new and subtle forms of marginalisation through the structures and discourse intended to address exclusion. It goes on to suggest that, in this way, inclusion comes to form part of the complex and multi-layered behaviours, structures and social practices that we refer to as exclusion. It concludes by questioning whether, in a diverse and disparate society, in which all our lives are defined by the extent to which we are more or less equal than others, inclusion can ever be anything other than an illusory concept.
    • Evaluation of premiership rugby’s HITZ learning academy programme

      Defeyter, Greta; Graham, Pamela; Atkins, Liz; Harvey-Golding, Louise; Crilley, E; Northumbria University (Premiership Rugby/Northumbria University, Healthy Living Lab, 2017-06)
      N/A
    • Feminine men and masculine women: in/exclusion in the academy

      Atkins, Liz; Vicars, Mark; Northumbria University (Emerald, 31/03/2016)
      The purpose of this paper is to draw on concepts of female masculinityto interrogate how hegemonic gendering discourses, forms and performances are inscribed in neoliberal narratives of competency in higher education in the Western Hemisphere. Drawing on individual examples, the authors consider how these narratives are omnipresent in the sector, and systematically act to exclude those who do not conform. In doing so, the authors draw extensively on bodies of literature exploring gender/identity, and neo-liberalism. In particular, the paper draws on the work of Halberstam (1998, 2011), and of Drake (2015).There are comparatively few women in senior positions in Higher Education and the authors argue that as gendering institutions they reproduce hegemonic gendering discourses. The authors find that hegemonic gendering discourses are instrumental in maintaining and privileging specific forms and perceptions of masculinity and femininity as inscribed within and reproduced by perceptions of professional competency. There are comparatively few women in senior positions in Higher Education and the authors argue that as gendering institutions they reproduce hegemonic gendering discourses. The authors find that hegemonic gendering discourses are instrumental in maintaining and privileging specific forms and perceptions of masculinity and femininity as inscribed within and reproduced by perceptions of professional competency. This paper examines neo-liberal practices from a more nuanced perspective than some traditional polarised critiques which regard gender as a binary. In doing so, it contributes to debates on masculinity, but more importantly, opens discussions about the implications of gendering discourses for the role of the few women in senior positions in higher education institutions globally.
    • Foundation GNVQ: an invisible cohort?

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Taylor and Francis, 20/12/2006)
      This article considers the implications of current government education policy for those learners within the English post-compulsory sector undertaking General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ) Foundation (level 1) programmes. It argues that within the current policy context, a lower value is placed on young people working towards certain credentials than on others and that this value is determined by the potential economic value of the qualification. Therefore, those young people undertaking Foundation (level 1) programmes are perceived to be of less value than those undertaking more mainstream programmes at level 2 and above. In doing this, current education policy is effectively creating an invisible cohort of young people whose needs are not understood and who, constrained by social, cultural, class and educational barriers, are likely to form the underclass within the 40/30sol;30 society described by Hutton (1995). Finally, this article raises questions about how some of these issues might be effectively addressed and calls for a wider debate on these issues as one means of finding a greater level of esteem for the young people undertaking learning programmes at level 1.
    • From Marginal Learning to Marginal Employment? the Real Impact of Learning Employability Skills

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (Sage, 01/01/2013)
      This article explores notions of employability in the context of the experiences of those young people who leave the English education system at 16+ with few or no academic credentials. The article contests the conflation of employability skills' with inclusionin policy discourse, arguing that the real impact of such programmes is to inculcate attitudes and behaviours consistent with low-pay, low-skill work in already marginalised young people. It draws on empirical evidence from two studies which suggest that what young people really want are real, practical skills which are directly transferable to the world of work and which would fulfil the promise of high-pay, high-skill work in a knowledge economy. The article concludes that in a world where many young people are increasingly marginalised in terms of both education and employment, only an education which provides the skills the young people aspire to and which has real exchange value in the labour marketplace can confer any real advantage to them. Current approaches to employability skills education, far from achieving this, are little more than an exercise in social control resulting in new forms of class and labour (re)production, as already marginalised young people are socialised into particular forms of casual and low-pay, low-skill employment.
    • Getting Qualified in Woodwork: Young peoples reasons for choosing VET programmes in the UK

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (NCVER, 10/07/2014)
      This paper reports on a qualitative study carried out in the UK during summer 2010 on behalf of City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD). The study formed part of a wider, international project which aimed to explore young people's perceptions of vocational education and training (VET), and as such is of significance in the Australian context: it also formed part of the evidence for the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education which reported to the UK government in 2011. The study found that serendipity, contingent events and influence of significant others are most influential in choice of vocational programme and that young peoples understandings of possible career paths vary in sophistication, differentiated by age, programme level and subject area. Perceived attractiveness of VET was closely associated with societal perception of their courses (which the young people considered to be negative) suggesting that, in the UK, pre-Coalition policy (before May 2010) has been unsuccessful in addressing issues of parity of esteem, despite considerable policy investment in the VET sector. The paper explores the implications of these findings for the English models of Vocational Education in the context of current Coalition policy. It concludes that whilst some recent policy initiatives, such as the proposed introduction of University Technical Colleges may be successful in raising the esteem of some forms of specialised VET, broad vocational courses at lower levels will continue to be held in lower esteem and to confer little educational advantage on those young people, largely drawn from working class backgrounds and displaying multiple exclusionary characteristics, who pursue them.
    • Going further and higher together

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (06/06/2014)
    • Great Expectations: youth transitions in troubled times

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (BERA, 01/09/2014)
      This paper draws on an empirical study conducted in the UK to explore some of the issues surrounding young people on the lowest level VET programmes and make suggestions about ways in which the learner experience at this level might be enhanced. UK policy perception of young people undertaking low level VET programmes in Further Education (FE) colleges tends to characterise them within a deficit model of social exclusion, disaffectionand disengagement(Colley, 2003:169). Many have special educational needs (Atkins, 2013a). They have been the focus of multiple initiatives in both the context of the New Labour 14-19 agenda, and more recently in the Coalition governments response to the Wolf Review of Vocational Education (2011). These initiatives have largely consisted of the provision of routes through a range of VET opportunities, allegedly to enable young people to engage with the knowledgesociety (Bathmaker, 2005). This paper problematises these notions of opportunity, drawing on the little storiesof four young people to argue that the rhetoric which permeates Government documents fails to consider the significance of young peoples social and educational positioning. Finally, the paper considers the implications of these issues in terms of future practice, policy and research in the UK context.
    • Invisible Students, Impossible Dreams: Experiencing vocational education 14-19

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Trentham Books, 01/09/2009)
      This book explores the aspirations and experiences of the young people who are the real focus of the 14-19 agenda - the 'disaffected', 'disengaged' and low-achieving. Perceived not to have succeeded in traditional academic subjects, they move into low-level vocational education programmes post-16, often failing to pursue or complete 'opportunities' for progression. Based on original research carried out in two large FE Colleges in England's Midlands, the book presents rich qualitative data about the lives and educational experiences of these young people. It contests common assumptions that their aspirations are low, and illuminates the complexities of their lives as they try to make the transition from school to work. The data is presented in narrative form so the voices of the young people are clearly heard as they discuss their lives, hopes and aspirations. The book sets out the implications of the findings for policy and practice, so will be essential reading for trainee teachers who hope to work with 14-19 students and for professionals already involved in the implementation of the 14-19 agenda, whether as teacher practitioners, managers or policy makers.
    • Its in their nature to nurture: a comparison of PCE mentors perception of their role and the emerging national requirements

      Wallace, Sue; Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (01/09/2006)
      This paper explores the ways in which subject specialist mentors perceive their role and thereby their professional development needs - in terms of their responsibility for the observation of teaching practice in post-compulsory education settings. It suggests that their role as the mentors perceive it is not consistent with, or limited to, that which is implied in the emerging model of post-compulsory teacher training. Its findings further suggest that the training available for professionals undertaking this largely unpaid role is both limited and variable and that there is minimal engagement with the support which is available. The paper argues that a lack of coherence has led to an inequitable situation where students on post-compulsory Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses receive variable support which impacts on their student experience and professional development. The investigation, based on a range of initiatives, resources and approaches developed during 2005/2006 as part of a DfES pilot study involving Nottingham Trent University (NTU), Lincoln College and Stamford College, makes recommendations for developments in local and national practice, and in government policy.
    • Learning on the margins: Experiencing low level VET programmes in a UK context

      Atkins, Liz; Northumbria University (AVETRA, 23/04/2014)
      This paper draws on an empirical study conducted in the UK to explore some of the issues surrounding young people on the lowest level VET programmes and make suggestions about ways in which the learner experience at this level might be enhanced. UK policy perception of young people undertaking low level VET programmes in Further Education (FE) colleges tends to characterise them within a deficit model of social exclusion, disaffectionand disengagement(Colley, 2003:169). Many have special educational needs (Atkins, 2013a). They have been the focus of multiple initiatives in both the context of the New Labour 14-19 agenda, and more recently in the Coalition governments response to the Wolf Review of Vocational Education (2011). These initiatives have largely consisted of the provision of routes through a range of VET opportunities, allegedly to enable young people to engage with the knowledgesociety (Bathmaker, 2005). This paper problematises these notions of opportunity, drawing on the little storiesof four young people to argue that the rhetoric which permeates Government documents fails to consider the significance of young peoples social and educational positioning. Finally, the paper considers the implications of these issues in terms of future practice, policy and research in the UK context
    • Level 1 Vocational Learning: Predestination disguised as opportunity

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (03/09/2008)
      UK policy perception of young people undertaking low level (1 and 2) vocational programmes in Colleges of Further Education tends to characterise them within a deficit model of social exclusion, disaffectionand disengagement(Colley, 2003:169). They are the focus of multiple initiatives in the context of the 14-19 agenda as attempts are made to solve a perceived problem by providing routes through a range of vocational opportunitieswhich will allegedly enable them to engage with the knowledgesociety (Bathmaker, 2005). This paper attempts to problematise the notion of opportunity, arguing that the rhetoric of opportunity which permeates Government documents is merely a deception perpetrated on those young people whose positioning in education and society prevents them from questioning it. The paper discusses the little stories(Griffiths, 2003:81) of Emma, Leonardo, Paris, Rea and Amir, five young people who participated in a recent empirical study exploring the lives and transitions of level 1 students. Whilst acknowledging that the young people discussed in this paper are a small sample, their stories are typical of the 31 young people who participated in the study, and are also reflective of both the exclusionary characteristics experienced by the wider group and of their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future. The paper uses their stories to illustrate the significant limitations of the opportunitiesoffered to young people, arguing that in many cases these are limited to an extended transition, moving from one low level vocational programme to the next. It finds that, whilst apparently buying into lifelong learning and notions of a knowledge society, the young people are rejecting such opportunities,together with their perceived civic responsibility of engaging in lifelong learning, as they draw on whatever capital they have available to them in an attempt to make the transition from education to the world of work. Four of the young people in this study were, or had been, engaged in employment concurrent with their level 1 programme. Whilst this could all be described as low pay, low skill employment some, such as working with children, carried significant responsibility. Three of these young people made a decision to move from education into the world of work at or before the end of their level 1 programme. The paper argues that in context of a low level vocational programme a decision to move into low pay, low skill employment might be regarded as a rational choice since it exchanges immediate financial capital, albeit at a low level, for a vague, insubstantial promise of something better at the end of a much extended transition. The paper goes on to conclude that these young people, despite the high aspirations reflected in their stories, are structurally positioned, partly inevitably, to make choices that are not their own, and to be denied the kind of opportunity which might enable them to achieve their aspirations. Instead, they are predestined to be engaged in low level, busyactivities rather than learning in preparation for low pay, low skill employment. Finally, the paper raises questions about the morality of a Government education policy which creates and perpetuates institutional and societal structures and barriers which effectively deny opportunity to so many young people.
    • No change there then: Perceptions of vocational education in a coalition era

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (BERA, 01/09/2012)
      This paper explores the findings of a qualitative study carried out in summer 2010 on behalf of City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD), which explored young peoples perceptions of vocational education. The participants, drawn from schools and colleges across England, were pursuing a broad range of vocational programmes. Data were gathered using a series of focus groups and individual interviews and analysed using a thematic approach within a Bourdieusian theoretical framework drawing on notions of structure and agency, field and habitus as well as on the extensive body of literature exploring vocational education and school to work transitions for young people. The field work for the study was conducted at the time of the General Election and this analysis also contextualises the findings in terms of the Coalition response to the Wolf Review of Vocational Education (2011). The key findings of the study suggest that serendipity, contingent events and influence of significant others rather than Careers Education and Guidance (CEG) are most significant in choice of vocational programme and that young peoplesunderstandings of possible career paths vary in sophistication, differentiated by age group, level of programme and subject area. Further, their perceptions of the attractiveness of vocational education and training are closely associated with the value they place on their courses and wider societal perception of those courses which they consider to be negative, suggesting that pre-Coalition policy has been unsuccessful in addressing issues of parity of esteem. The paper discusses these findings in the context of contemporary educational structures in England which inhibit transfer from vocational to academic routes and ongoing issues around parity of esteem, and explores their implications for the most marginalised young people particularly those who are engaged with vocational education at its lowest mainstream levels and those who are NEET - in the context of current Coalition policy. The paper concludes that whilst some recent policy initiatives, such as the proposed introduction of University Technical Colleges for 14-19 year olds may be successful in raising the esteem of some types of specialised vocational education, broad vocational courses at lower levels, and those short courses associated with employabilityand reengagement, are likely to continue to be held in lower esteem and to confer little educational advantage on those young people, largely drawn from working class backgrounds, who pursue them.
    • Nothing changes: Perceptions of vocational education in a coalition era

      Atkins, Liz; Flint, Kevin; Northumbria University (Taylor and Francis, 25/06/2015)
      This paper explores young people's perceptions of vocational education and training (VET) in England. It draws on interview and focus-group data from a funded project. Parallel studies were carried out in The Netherlands, South Africa and England. This study reports on the English project. It found that serendipity, contingent events and influence of significant others are most influential in choice of vocational programme and that young peoples' understandings of possible career paths vary in sophistication, differentiated by age, programme level and subject area. Perceived attractiveness of VET was closely associated with societal perception of their programmes (which the young people considered to be negative). The paper considers the implications of these findings in the context of recent major policy initiatives in England. It concludes that, while some recent policy initiatives, such as the introduction of University Technical Colleges may be successful in raising the esteem of some forms of elite and specialized VET, broad vocational programmes at lower levels, and short courses associated with 'employability' and 're-engagement', will continue to be held in lower esteem and to confer little educational advantage on those young people, largely drawn from working-class backgrounds, who pursue them.
    • The odyssey: school to work transitions, serendipity and position in the field.

      Atkins, Liz; Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.; Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (Taylor and Francis., 2016-02-15)
      Little work on the significance and implications of decision-making has been undertaken since that led by Hodkinson in the 1990s, and the experiences of young people on vocational programmes and their reasons for undertaking them remain under-theorised and poorly understood. Drawing on two narratives from a study exploring young people’s motivations for undertaking vocational programmes, this article explores the relationship between their positioning in fields and career decision-making. The article argues that social positioning is significant in its relationship to decision-making, to the way in which young people perceive and construct their careers and to the influence of serendipity on their transitions. Drawing on a range of international studies, the article explores the implications of these findings in terms of young people’s future engagement with the global labour market, giving consideration to (dissonant) perceptions of vocational education and training as contributing to economic growth whilst addressing issues of social exclusion and promoting social justice.