ERG SES E 06, Identity and Education
The Irish Further Education and Training (FET) Sector, as a distinct and official sector of the national education system, came into being in 2013, as a result of the amalgamation of a range of different education and training bodies, institutions and organisations providing programmes, courses and learning opportunities to individuals over the age of 16. Irish FET includes accredited and non-accredited education and training which can take place in both formal and informal learning contexts. Accredited FET programmes lead to awards between Level 1 and 6 on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (which is linked to the European Qualifications Framework) and are not part of the mainstream Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education Sectors. Equivalent sectors and activities exist in various other countries, but may be described by different terms including Vocational, Technical, and Continuing Education and Training.
In order to deal with the amalgamation of numerous and diverse parts into one overall FET sector, a number of significant policy and structural changes were implemented. These changes included: the creation of the Further Education & Training Authority SOLAS, which was given a remit to create an identifiable, structured and professional Irish FET Sector; the re-naming and re-structuring of the key national providers of FET, which involved the merging of 33 Vocational Educational Committees to form 16 Education and Training Boards; the establishment of an updated common awards system; and the establishment of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, which was given the responsibility for the external quality assurance of further and higher education and training.
The newly amalgamated Irish FET sector has brought together numerous and diverse learning and teaching environments and contexts, all of which had developed separately and somewhat organically over a long period. The FET practitioners who work within the sector are equally diverse in terms of their own education, training, professional qualifications, career goals, values and beliefs about learning and teaching, and workplace contexts and ethoses. This has led to much confusion about what FET is and about what constitutes a professional FET practitioner.
The scenarios currently playing out in the Irish context are not unique in the international context and the complexity of Irish FET mirrors that found in comparable sectors internationally, including those in the UK, Finland and Australia. However research on practitioner identities within these complex contexts remains relatively limited: to date (January 2016) there is no published research available on Irish FET practitioners’ identities and much of the limited international research on FET practitioner identities is based on trainee practitioners rather than on more established professionals.
This paper will report on a research project designed to address the gap that has been identified in the research literature with respect to Irish FET. Entitled ‘Further Education and Training Practitioners in Transition – the impact of change on practitioner identities in the Irish FET sector’, this PhD research project aims to examine the professional identities formed by practitioners (teachers, tutors, trainers, facilitators, lecturers etc.) in the Irish FET sector and to consider the impact of recent significant changes to the sector upon those identities. The aims will be achieved through a 4 stage research process to be carried out using a grounded theory approach.
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