ERG SES D 12, Vocational Education
The globalised economy of the late 20th/early 21st century has variously and increasingly seen education espoused in public policy as intrinsically linked to economic progress across the developed world. Indeed, particularly during times of economic instability, education is brought sharply into focus, where it seems to be unproblematically positioned by governments as both the cause of, and solution to, economic instability and productivity. Nowhere is this more the case than in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Indeed, there have been attempts by the European Union to play an increasing role in the design of VET policy in order to protect the economies of member states. This trend in Europe, and indeed amongst many capitalist societies across the globe to view VET purely for economic gain encourages the view that it is ‘not as a form of education which is a ‘political act’ or as an activity which serves to initiate young people into ‘a worthwhile form of life’ but primarily as a source of ‘work-ready’ human capital’. Researchers such have argued that this reductionist approach to VET has been damaging to the sector, and in particular for disadvantaged and marginalised groups as attempts to steer policy in this way has had no impact upon the ever-increasing income inequality gap in England.
The unprecedented levels of competitiveness and individualism imposed upon the English vocational education sector through instrumentalist government policy has had a lasting impact upon organisational culture, which continues to be fuelled by self-interested and risk-averse practices. This has a considerable impact upon how trust relationships are constructed within educational institutions. As the government has funnelled policy further towards an increasingly economic agenda, its relationship with the FE sector has become underpinned by a ‘strategic trust’ relationship. This encourages colleges to foster working relations which are based upon a weak form of trust, which is strategic and conditional, rewarded only on the basis that rigid targets are met. This has reinforced a ‘trap’ of weak trust over time, which has led to ever-tighter accountability policies from central government, and placing greater conditions for trust within organisations.Trust is central to establishing healthy levels of cooperation on both an institutional level (employer-employee relationship) and a political level (relationship between government policy and the institution). Without healthy levels of trust, there is a greater risk of relationship breakdown within institutions. This research project aims to understand how perceptions of trust manifest themselves on a personal, and interpersonal, level in an organisational context. This is explored in the context of a single case study, looking to examine how dispositions towards trust influence the construction of relationships between staff, students and the wider institution
This research project has three phases of data collection in total, in January, May and November 2017 respectively. The three phases were designed to capture transition points for the students at the mid-point, end of course and destinations. Each interview was centred around a 'card sort', which was completed at the initial and final stages of the project, which indicated to the researcher what the participants' disposition was towards trust. The card sort was used as a basis for all of the interviews. Each participant's transcript was analysed individually, and then across samples to look for significant relationships amongst the participations. The data were analysed using Dialogical Narrative Analysis (DNA). DNA explores how storytellers make sense of themselves in relation to others through their engagement with and interpretation of the narrative resources that are available to them. It contends that all stories are composed of fragments of a multitude of voices which are ‘artfully arranged’ by the storyteller, but never original. In this sense, stories are not told by us; instead they act upon us. Thus, the kind of stories we tell about who are, are determined by the range and genre of stories that we have access to. The extent of our narrative resources can therefore determine who we align ourselves with, and who we are in opposition to; our familiarity with or estrangement from narrative shapes our identity, and how we perceive others. The DNA framework was used to determine each participant's disposition towards trust by looking at how the stories they shared about themselves influenced who they felt they could trust, and why.
The study is in its early stages of analysis. However, early findings already suggest that dispositions towards trust from a student perspective could have an impact upon retention. For example, those with a distrusting position are more likely to experience relationship breakdown, struggles in maintaining positive relationships or leave the institution). Conversely, those with high trusting positions tend to grow in confidence over time, constructing stronger relationships with fellow members of staff and other peers. The staff interviews have yet to be analysed in the same level of depth, but there seems to be a similar relationship in disposition towards trust and institutional working relationships.
FRANK, A. 2012. Letting Stories Breathe: a socio-narratology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ROTHSTEIN, B. 2005. Social Traps and the Problem of Trust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ROTHSTEIN, B. 2013. Corruption and Social Trust: why the fish rots from the head down. Social Research. 80 (4) pp. 1009-1032 USLANER, E. 2002. The Moral Foundations of Trust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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