• 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Practical matters: What young people think about vocational education in England

      Atkins, Liz; Flint, Kevin; Oldfield, Ben; University of Huddersfield (City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development, 01/06/2011)
    • Qualitative research in education

      Wallace, Sue; Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Sage, 01/01/2012)
      This accessible and practical book is a perfect quick guide for postgraduate researchers in education. Looking at the interdependence of teaching and research, the authors show that a critical and analytical exploration of policies and practices is a necessary part of what we mean by being a 'professional' in education. This co-authored book is structured around a range of methods applicable to educational research and appropriate for use by practitioners at all stages of their professional development. It takes recognisable, 'real life' scenarios as its starting point for each discussion of method, so that readers are able to start from the known and familiar. As well as exploring theoretical aspects of research method, each chapter provides practical tasks and points for discussion and reflection. These approaches, taken together, are designed to build confidence and encourage reader engagement and enjoyment.
    • Smoke and mirrors: Opportunity and aspiration in 14-19 education

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (01/03/2010)
      The policy discourse around those young people who are the focus of the 14-19 agenda is one of negativity which, in its use of language such as non-academic, disaffected, disadvantaged places young people firmly within a deficit model. This model frames these young people as low achievers with low aspirations, routinely dismisses them as non-academic yet claims to offer opportunities in the form of a vocational education which, according to the rhetoric, will lead to a lifelong (nirvana?) of high skill, high paid work, personal satisfaction and opportunity (providing they continue to engage in lifelong learning), something which many young people take on trust. Drawing on original empirical research, and working within a framework informed by Marxist and social justice concepts, this paper contests the assumption that these young people have low aspirations, arguing that falling within a deficit model, constrained by discourses of negativity, powerless to change a system which militates against them and lacking the agency for change their chances of achieving those aspirations are almost non-existent. The paper poses a number of questions: What are 'high' and 'low' aspirations? What is 'non academic'? Why, every year, are nearly half of all young people characterized in this way? What is, or is not, an 'opportunity'? It argues that notions of opportunity are, in fact, smoke and mirrors, a massive deception which enables the channelling of these young people into the low pay, low skill work market in readiness to fulfil government demands for cheap labour as and when it is needed. Finally, it concludes with proposals for change in the 14-19 and PCET systems which could provide a more equitable and effective framework for young people to achieve their hopes and dreams.
    • Social class

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Oxford University Press, 01/01/2009)
      Education is of relevance to everyone but it involves a specialised vocabulary and terminology which may be opaque or unfamiliar to those new to the field. The new UK-focused Dictionary of Education provides clear and concise definitions for 1,250 terms, from A* to zero tolerance, that anyone studying education or working in the field is likely to encounter. Coverage includes all sectors of education: pre-school, primary, secondary, further and higher education, special needs, adult and continuing education, and work-based learning. It also includes major legislation, key figures andorganisations, and national curriculum and assessment terminology. The dictionary features entry-level weblinks, a timeline summary of landmark educational legislation since 1945 and a glossary of acronyms. In addition, there is a useful, fully cross-referenced section of comparative terms used in the US, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. This up-to-date and authoritative dictionary is essential for all students of education, teachers, and lecturers ondevelopment programmes, and it is strongly recommended for governors, classroom assistants, and parents.
    • Social control in practice: the impact of learning employability skills

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (03/04/2012)
      This paper explores notions of employabilityin further education, a concept which is at the basis of much government policy associated with marginalised learners. Drawing on earlier empirical work by Atkins (2009) Atkins et al (2010) and Simmons and Thompson (2011) and working within a framework informed by Marxist concepts of Power and control, the paper problematises the term employability, arguing that in policy terms the term is ill-defined yet associated with a positive rhetoric about high pay, skill work which is in tension with the prospects of the marginalised group of students at whom it is directed. Despite the rhetoric, most employability programmes are far removed from the genuine work experienceadvocated by Wolf (2011:130). They offer little in the way of conceptual knowledge or exchange value, but are resonant with earlier concerns about the structure of vocational PCET programmes as producing users who are socialised to work, rather than as citizens (Tarrant, 2001). The paper argues that employability prgrammes are little more than an exercise in social control which are productive of false hope that engagement with them will offer a route into high pay, high skill employment with the prospect of financial and career security. The paper concludes that this hope obscures the reality that such programmes at best may lead to low pay, low skill work and, at worst, form another stage in the churnof young people who are NEET (not in education, employment or training). The impact of such programmes is unlikely, therefore, to be one of progression to high pay, high skill careers, but rather to be one of class and labour (re) production as students are socialised into particular forms of casual and low pay, low skill employment.
    • Teaching 14-19 learners in the lifelong learning sector

      Peart, Shine; Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Learning Matters, 14/01/2011)
      More and more, teachers in the lifelong learning sector are required to teach the 14-19 age group. This book is a practical guide to delivering learning to 14-19s. It begins by looking at the background to teaching 14-19 in FE and covers current pathways for achievement. Coverage of effective delivery of the new Diploma qualification is included, giving guidance on planning and assessment. It goes on to explore the challenges of behaviour, participation and re-engaging disaffected learners. Finally, it considers the wider context of building partnerships with schools and the needs of industry and employers.
    • Teaching for inclusion: pedagogies for the 'sector of the second chance'

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Learning Matters, 01/03/2010)
      This chapter considers the notion of inclusion, and of a 'second chance' education and its associated pedagogies. Presented in four key sections, it begins with an overview of the sector, going on to disucss the concept of second chance in the context of contemporary literature and theories of second chance. It finds a strong association between social class and second chance education. The chapter then moves on to a discussion of different pedagogical theories and approaches currently associated with the sector, again considering them in the context of contemporary literature. It concludes that, in the current climate, second chance all too often means second best.
    • Tears of the phoenix: how nurturing and support became the 'cure' for further education

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (03/09/2008)
      There is rising concern that the uncritical use of therapeutic educational interventions such as circle time or personalised learning in education is leading to a diminished self(Ecclestone, 2004; 2007) - individuals who are disempowered and whose potential for agency is reduced by the well intentioned but uncritical discourse of fragility and the implementation of pseudo-therapeutic interventions in schools and colleges. Existing debates identify a broad range of formal interventions such as those mentioned above, which might be described as therapy based. More informally, this paper, which is contextualised within the emerging literature in this field, (e.g Furedi, 2004; Cigman, 2004; Ecclestone 2004, 2007; Kristjansson, 2007) explores how teacher education, education policy and popular belief interact to generate and perpetuate an uncritical nurturing ethos amongst education professionals and considers its possible consequences for teachers and students. The paper draws on a range of qualitative data from an ongoing exploration of the changing identities of part-time inservice trainee teachers as well as from a recent case study of 30 level one students in two further education colleges. The paper finds a well meaning, nurturing mindset amongst teaching staff, supported not by research but by received wisdom such as the value of personalised learning and a belief in the need to build self-esteem. It argues that this mindset contributes to the pervasive ethos of nurturing and dependence in Further Education which forms the focus of this discussion. Further, it suggests that whilst in concert with current government rhetoric reflected not only in official papers but also in LLUK and OfSTED requirements, this ethos is at variance with the studentsperceptions of themselves as agent individuals working towards goodqualifications. The paper argues that the origins of such a nurturing mindset are two-fold, arising from the nature and purpose of teacher education in the Lifelong Learning sector and also as a consequence of the uncritical acceptance of a discourse of fragility by government and institutions desperate to resolve perceived problems around issues such as retention and achievement. It goes on to suggest that existing teacher education programmes engender an uncritical tick boxuncritical approach to the education of teachers, in which there is no requirement for trainee teachers to be encouraged to question contested concepts such as notions around self esteem, but where some contested concepts are required to be taught as fact. Further, this is compounded by government and institutional endorsement of more formal therapeuticinitiatives such as the use of learning styles questionnaires by integrating them into everyday practice as a matter of policy. In this way, the paper argues, research informed practice becomes indivisible from that based on assumption and guesswork, engendering and perpetuating an uncritical mindset amongst teachers, ultimately leading to a denial of the potential for greater agency amongst professionals as well as amongst students. Despite the rhetoric suggesting that pseudo therapeutic approaches will act in the same way as the tears of the Phoenix in respect of perceived personal and institutional difficulties, the paper concludes that this is not the case, and that the uncritical, nurturing ethos underlying many such initiatives leads not to empowerment but instead to low expectations which are legitimised in the context of often misunderstood notions and (mis)interpretations of inclusion. Ultimately, this limits the potential for agency and denies opportunity, according with Ecclestones concept of the diminished self and raising serious questions about the state of initial teacher training in England, in that such approaches are apparently taught, accepted and implemented as fact in all parts of the education system.
    • Travelling hopefully: an exploration of the limited possibilities for Level 1 students in the English further education system

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (Taylor and Francis, 01/07/2008)
      This paper discusses the findings of a small?scale qualitative study exploring the aspirations and learning identities of three groups of Level 1 students in two English further education (FE) colleges. Emerging identities are explored in the context of classed and gendered dispositions and the educational positioning of the young people. Empirical sections show that the young peoples lifestyle aspirations have a heavy celebrity influence and that their occupational aspirations have an unreal, dreamlike quality associated with a lack of awareness of the trajectories they would need to follow to achieve their ambitions. Further, the paper argues that whilst the young people are developing identities in which learning, leisure, work and domesticity are synonymous, leisure identities assume the greatest importance to them. The paper concludes that this aspect of their young lives is significant since it provides an escapefrom the mundane drudgery of a low?value vocational programme and the inevitability of a future engaged in low?paid, low?skillled work.
    • Visions, dreams and reality: The limited possibilities for level 1 post-16 students

      Atkins, Liz; University of Huddersfield (01/09/2007)
      This paper discusses the findings of a study exploring the aspirations and learning identities of 3 groups of level 1 students in 2 English Further Education (FE) colleges. It gives a brief description of the methodology employed and an overview of each of the three groups. It then summarises the findings from the data, to provide a context for the discussion which considers the key themes arising from the study. Drawing on the data and on relevant literature, the paper goes on to explore the positioning of these young people in the context of class and gender stereotypes, their aspirations and developing identities.