23 SES 07 C, Education and Employment
Youth educational transitions are one of the main sources leading to the reproduction of social inequality (Tarabini and Ingram, 2018), especially when young people have to make choices between vocational and academic tracks (Shavit and Muller, 2010). Most European school systems maintain a clear distinction between academic and vocational education, featuring different forms of stratification according to different social groups (mainly social class, gender and ethnicity). Traditional inequalities in terms of access are associated with sources of horizontal stratification (related to institutional and course hierarchies) and with the fragmentation of students’ experiences according to the different educational tracks (Furlong and Cartmel, 2009). Moreover, in late modernity, new forms of inequality are emerging as specific ‘ways of being’ and certain kinds of choices and choice-making have become more effective and better rewarded than others (Wyn, 2009: 100). This process is strongly related to the consolidation of a dominant discourse that highlights the centrality of individuals and biographical choices over social structures and institutions in explaining opportunities, trajectories and identities in contemporary societies. There is agreement among scholars that ‘individualization’ is one of the dominant ‘social imaginaries’, (i.e., sets of values, symbols and shared understandings in a given society that constitute the ‘sense of normality’ and the perception of the ‘moral order’) of European societies.
In this context, the main research question of our proposal aims to explore the political and school rationalities embedded in post16 educational transitions, looking specifically on how vocational education is discursively conceived and consequently articulated in specific institutional settings. The specific research questions of our analysis are the following ones: 1) what are the expected connections between vocational education and the labour market and what kind of discourses around ‘vocationalism’ (Bates, 1989; Hickox, 1995) are articulated in this regard? 2) What kind of curricular development and competence-base training (Wheelahan, 2007) is expected for vocational educational and under what rationalities? 3) What kind of knowledge (Young & Muller, 2014) development is assigned to vocational education and which are the discourses framing these association? 4) What kind of youth identities, abilities and tastes are attributed to vocational students and how political and school discourses in this regard articulate and explicit or implicit argument around the ‘vocational habitus’ (Colley, et al, 2003; Vicent & Braun, 2011) of their students?
The theoretical framework of our proposal combines general literature on school transitions and specifically on transitions to vocational education (Atkins & Flint, 2015; Lahelma, 2009); specific literature on vocationalism, its versions and implications (Pilz, 2014); research revolving around the relationships between knowledge, curriculum and competences and social inequalities (Young & Muller, 2014; Wheelahan, 2007); and literature on students’ habitus and tastes (Bourdieu, 1984; Colley, et al, 2003).
The study followed a qualitative approach based on interviews as the main method to collect data. More specifically, the research comprised 28 in-depth interviews with policy makers, unions’ representatives, managers and other experts related to the field and 61 interviews with head teachers, pedagogic coordinators and tutor teachers of 8 secondary schools in the city of Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) offering both vocational and academic post16 education. The schools to conduct the analysis were selected looking for their diversity in terms of the supply (public and private), the social composition (middle classes and working classes) and the kind of post16 educational supply (different kinds of baccalaureate and different modalities of vocational training). A sociological analysis of education politics and policies (Ball, 1997; Dale, 1999; Gale, 2001; Whitty, 1997) is informing our methodological approach, trying to problematize the perceptions, assumptions and reconfigurations of vocational training both in politicians’ and in school actors’ minds. This kind of analysis not only looks to what is said but it also addresses what is un-said, assuming that both noise and silences are relevant for the object of study. Comparisons between policy discourses and school actors discourses are provided and also comparisons between academic and vocational training, and among different modalities of vocational training. All in all, a comparative analysis allows deeper explanations about the connections between social and education inequalities, knowledge and prestige, and between the enactment of the Politics that frame the development of curriculum and pedagogical practices in vocational education.
The analysis expect to identify different discursive constructions of vocational education in terms of its social and economic role, its articulation with the academic training and its expected ‘ideal pupils’. Moreover, the research particularly explores the role of these discourses in the reproduction of social and educational inequalities through the development of specific curricula and pedagogical practices in vocational education. The meaning of vocation in itself is addressed and questioned under the hypothesis that policies and politics are not neutral (Ball, 1997). The definitions they assign to vocation are shaped by different and hierarchical understandings of Knowledge (Young & Muller, 2014). In this regards, the proposal explores the alignments and conflicts between the discourses produced by the selected actors highlighting the potential impacts they may have on the setting of educational unequal trajectories.
Atkins, L., Flint, K.J. (2015). Nothing changes: perceptions of vocational education in England. International Journal of Training Research, 13:1, 35-48 Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press Ball, S., J. (1997). Policy Sociology and Critical Social Research: a personal review of recent education policy and policy research. British Educational Research Journal, 23(3), 257-274 Bates, I. (1989). Versions of Vocationalism: an analysis of some social and political influences on curriculum policy and practice. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 10 (2), 215-231 Colley, H. James, D., Diment, D., Tedder, M. (2003). Learning as becoming in vocational education and training: class, gender and the role of vocational habitus. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 55 (4), 471-498 Dale, R. (1999). Specifying Globalization Effects on National Policy: A Focus on the Mechanisms. Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 14, nº1, pp. 1–17 Furlong, A., Cartmel, F. (2009). Mass Higher Education. In: A. Furlong (Ed). Handbook of Youth and young adulthoot. New perspecties and agendas. New York: Routledge Gale, T. (2001). Critical policy sociology: historiography, archaeology and genealogy as methods of policy analysis. Journal of Education Policy, 16(5), 379-393 Hickox, M. (1995) Situating Vocationalism. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 16(2), 153-163 Lahelma, E. (2009). Dichotomized Metaphors and Young People’s Educational Routes. European Educational Research Journal, 8(4), 497-507 Pilz, M. (2012). The Future of Vocational Education and Training in a Changing World. Cologne: Springer Shavit, J., Müller, W. (2010). Vocational Secondary Education, Tracking, and Social Stratification. In: M.T. Hallinan (Ed.), Handbook of the Sociology of Education New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. Tarabini, A., Ingram, N. (2018) (Eds). Educational Choices, Transitions and Aspirations in Europe: Systemic, Institutional and Subjective Challenges: London: Routledge Vicent, C., Braun. A. (2011). I think a lot of it is common sense. ...’ Early years students, professionalism and the development of a ‘vocational habitus. Journal of Education Policy , 26(6), 771–785. Wheelahan, L. (2007). How competency-based training locks the working class out of powerful knowledge: a modified Bernsteinian analysis. British Journal of Sociology of Education (28) 5, 637–651. Whitty, G. (1997). Education policy and the sociology of education. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 7(2), 121-135 Wyn, J. (2009). Educating for Late Modernity. In: Furlong (Ed). Handbook of Routh and young adulthoot. New perspectivas and agendas. New York: Routledge. Young, M, Muller, J. (2014). Knowledge, expertise and the professions. New York: Routledge
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