02 SES 07 A, Transitions from VET to Higher Education
This paper will present findings on the selective practices which construct the 'A' level 'B student', with a particular focus on the marginalisation of Btec students and their post-school choices in England.Models of marketised educational provision involving customer choice and competition, and the ranking of schools by academic performance, have been adopted and promoted within the European Union. In the UK this has been combined with the massification of higher education (HE). With participation in HE recently recorded at 49% of all young people in England (BIS 2013), vocational alternatives to university are increasingly being marginalised. A policy shift from widening participation to 'fairaccess' to 'elite' (most selective)universities has resulted in many English schools focusing on students who achieve the 'gold standard' (Archer 2008) of academic attainment. Far less interest is shown in the experiences and aspirations of 'ordinary' (Brown 1987) students with 'unspectacular' (Archer 2008 p.93) academic attainment, and especially in a climate where performance indicators and school league tables influence institutional decisions over the selection of sixth formers in which to invest time. With sixth form funding dependent on student numbers, and the ability to attract students determined by a sixth form’s academic record, many schools use a marketing strategy that relies on the ‘success’ of their higher-achieving sixth formers. The need to attract higher-performing students appears to be creating an unofficial hierarchy of sixth formers, and students taking vocational 'Btec' qualifications are being placed at the bottom.
Research questionsarising from the concerns outlined:
- What mechanisms are used to select and/or to categorise sixth formers?
- Does support for students' post-A level choice-making differ for different types of students and, if so, how and in what ways?
- What advice and guidance is given to students who wish to pursue a vocational route, and how do they experience the support on offer to them?
Theoretical Background: Three primary theoretical drivers inform the research (i) labelling theory in schools (see Hargeaves et al 1976, Wolpe 1988, Ball 1981), (ii) Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, employed as both theory and method (Bourdieu 1993, Reay 2004), to help identify and examine processes of selection and labelling and the construction of student choice, and (iii) over-arching theories of social justice applied to the experiences of different types of students (Archer 2011). While habitus offers a vehicle to relate school selection and labelling practices to wider social, economic and education policy contexts, theories of social justice from which to critically examine the practices that determine students’ post-GCSE routes and choices. Central to the development of a theoretical framework to examine such practices, is Burke’s (2012) critique of the discourse of fair access, and its failure to recognise operations of selection embedded in the cultural values that cause students to be identified as ‘deserving or non-deserving’ (ibid p.127). Important to this area also is Reay et al’s (2001) research on the influence of institutional habitus on HE choices (see also Ball et al 2002b, Reay 1998). Research into ability grouping (see Ball 1981, Boaler et al 2000, Ireson and Hallam 2009) also informs my theorising, as do recent papers on ‘ordinary’ young people (Roberts 2011, 2012, Roberts and MacDonald 2013). As Roberts (2012) points out, there has been little interest in the educational experiences of ‘ordinary’ students who occupy the large and diverse band between the ‘extremes of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ ’ (p.203). Absent from these studies, and seemingly under-theorised, is the experience of the 'ordinary' sixth former who resists school pressure to enter HE and wishes to pursue a vocational route after A levels.
Archer, L. (2008) ‘The Impossibility of Minority Ethnic Educational ‘Success’? An Examination of the Discourses of Teachers and Pupils in British Secondary Schools’ European Educational Research Journal Vol. 7:1 pp. 89-107 Ball, S. J. (1981) Beachside Comprehensive: a case study of secondary schooling, Cambridge: University Press. Ball, S. J., Davies J, David, M. and Reay, D. (2002) ‘ ‘Classification’ and ‘Judgement’: social class and the ‘cognitive structures’ of choice of Higher Education’ British Journal of Sociology of Education Vol. 23:1 pp 51-72. Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice Cambridge University Press Brown, P. (1987) Schooling Ordinary Kids, London: Tavistock Publications Burke, P. J. (2012) ‘Contextualising and Theorizing WP’ in: P. J. Burke (2012), The Right to Education: Beyond Widening Participation (pp. 120-136), Oxon: Routledge. Honingh., M. and Karsten., S. (2007) 'Marketisation in the Dutch vocational training and education sector', Public Management Review, Vol. 9:1 pp.135 – 143 Ireson, J. and Hallam, S. (2009) ‘Academic self-concepts in adolescence: Relations with achievement and ability grouping in schools’ Learning and Instruction 19 pp. 201-213 Lundahl, L., Arreman, I., E., Holm., A-S. and Lundstrom, U. (2013) 'Educational marketization the Swedish way', Education Inquiry, vol. 4:3, pp. 497-517 Reay, D., David, M. and Ball, S. J. (2001) Making a Difference? : Institutional Habituses and Higher Education Choice’ Sociological Research Online Vol. 5:4 paragraphs 1.1 – 8.4
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