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Beth Suttill, Nalita James, Hugh Busher University of Leicester

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1 Beth Suttill, Nalita James, Hugh Busher University of Leicester
“I don’t think I was a learner”: the transformation of Access students’ learning identities Beth Suttill, Nalita James, Hugh Busher University of Leicester

2 Outline of the Presentation
An overview of the project and its location in terms of policy and literature Research questions Methods and data analysis Initial findings Significance of the findings and the next phase Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

3 Opening Doors to HE? Access Students’ Learning Transitions Project
An on-going pilot study examining Access to HE students learning transitions in 3 FE Colleges in the East Midlands region. The project focus is on adult learners (21 years +) and aims to reveal their discourses and participation in learning, and the life chances such courses offer. Although, anecdotally, Access courses create successful learning experiences for such learners, there is a lack of up-to-date empirical research on the processes of transition that this group of learners experience, particularly in the Midlands. The research will provide evidence about the impact of Access to HE on adult learners' transitions and identities, and of the changes in HE policy on adult learners' chances to participate. The research also has important practical implications for informing Access to HE course development and teaching. Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

4 Current Policy Context: Access to HE
In England, Access to HE courses are viewed as providing a unique route into HE, offering opportunities to those recognised as 'under-represented' in HE, but also to individuals who, from the circumstances of their individual lives, are disadvantaged. Access to HE is also about offering all adult learners the opportunity to enter higher education, as part of the Government’s commitment to widening participation and lifelong learning. Following trends over the last decade, current Government higher education policy is focusing on encouraging young adults into HE because of high unemployment and advantages to the national economy. Access courses are no longer eligible for funding for students over the age of 24. To replace grant funding the government plans to introduce Further Education (FE) loans from 2013/14 (BIS, 2010). Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

5 Literature Review A search of keywords has been done using ERIC from 2005 to present. The findings from this were snowballed to incorporate all relevant studies. Since 2000, 13 studies have been conducted on access students in England. The main themes which this research covers are; identity, community, learning experiences, choice (of HE), risks (barriers) and reasons for returning to education. Most of the research has focused on single colleges in urban areas. All of the research was conducted before the funding changes to FE and HE and therefore the impact of these changes on access students has not been captured. Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

6 Research Questions The main questions we have been addressing in examining Access learners’ transitions are categorised by three themes: Historical Context: Where have the Access students come from? What are their past experiences of participation in education and learning? What is the impact of their social capital (family backgrounds, gender, ethnicity) on their learning? Present Context: What are Access students understandings of themselves as learners as they begin to participate in /progress through the Access course? In what ways do they understand their participation as being part of a learning community? How do they perceive the opportunities offered by Access to HE courses and institutions? Future Context: How do Access students’ views of themselves as learners change during their studies? How confident do they become about accessing HE? How will their engagement with learning be affected by Government policy? Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

7 Methodology Sample: 3 urban FE colleges in the East Midlands region
Methods (data collection in each College completed so far): 2 sets of focus group interviews and interview diaries with students, semi-structured interviews with tutors Final round of interviews to be completed in May The qualitative data gathered is being analysed thematically to: capture the dialectics of agency and structure in the learning experience of adults on Access to HE courses generate new insights and understandings into the students' learning transitions and transformations. explore the unfolding trajectories of participants’ participation in learning (historic experience and current practice) Findings presented today are from FE College A Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

8 Disaffected learners: Being a learner before joining the Access course
“Up to 14 I did okay. Then we went to the upper school and I completely lost interest. I had stuff going on at home and I wasn’t having the best time there either and I just stopped going to the lessons.” “The thing that sort of messed me up was my school, after GCSEs, didn’t really give you any other options apart from staying there to do you’re A-levels. So by the time I’d finished my first year of A-levels, I was sick of the people that I was with ‘cos I’d been with them for the last eight years.” “I’ve always been sort of an average learner because I’ve never really particularly had a lifetime goal, and then after working a while, I sort of figured out what I wanted to do.” “I had such a rubbish time a school and I really didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t ever want to come back.” “[I] have been at college previously. When I was eighteen I did a beauty therapy course.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

9 Disaffected workers: Returning to education
“….I think it was more a case of eight years of shift-work. Well a very real glass ceiling to my earnings…Well it’s not a glass ceiling. It’s a concrete ceiling cos you’ve no qualifications to see past it … just wanting to do something different and something where it feels like you’re progressing as opposed to turning up, grinding your life away, and going home and going to sleep wondering why the hell am I doing this.” “…. I mean I saw it as a way of bettering myself. Not necessarily that I’d enjoy it kind of thing if you know what I mean, cos I’ve never done.” “There’s a lot on this. I changed my life a lot for this. Well I gave up a job that was quite a good job. I was happy in.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

10 Being a learner on the Access course
“It’s done me a favour actually because I’ve done loads of rubbish jobs and you start to think you know better than the job. Do you know what I mean? I never thought I’d apply to university or anything like that, but now I’ve had offers and stuff.” “…just before Christmas, the workload, it sort of doubles and you suddenly think, ‘Okay. It’s gone from I can do this to why am I doing this’, I think has gone through my head quite a few times. To at the moment thinking, ‘Well I’m half-way through. I’ve paid out for this course.’... It’s almost like a gritty determinism now.” “It’s quite strange coming from like the initial position was will I be able to do the Access Course…And then once sort of our competencies have been affirmed if you like, you’re looking to the next step up to university and it’s the same thing again.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

11 Being at college “…it is hard to come back to College where everyone’s younger, other than the access course, and you kind of feel quite out of place.” “I like coming to college. The only thing I don’t necessarily like is the fact that being mature students, we tend to mix with a lot of younger people that aren’t as focused, which can be quite annoying. Like the library. You can’t go in there to study because you’ve got idiots messing around all the time.” “...just being back in a learning environment I suppose has changed me. It’s nice to be in a learning environment and away from all the other rubbish that’s out there. Sort of I come here and I’m a different person to being at home and being at work.” “Drop the mum. I’m a different person. I feel like Worzel Gummage as they would say...I put on a different head. I become a different person at college. And I hope to develop that person at university and get a chance to do that.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

12 Sense of community: Being a ‘mature’ student
“So as a group we get on really well, but there is also your own friendship groups within the group. There’s age down to, you know, the mums kind of stick together. Us younger ones, we stick together. And it’s personalities as well...” “Age is not a problem…they’re a really nice group of well, you know, they’re quite mature in attitude. I think it’s because they’ve all got a goal. They know exactly where they want to be. So they’re very focused and that’s the element I like about it.” “We’re a really focused group. Everyone knows that, you know, we want to be in university this time next year, you’ve got to raise your standards. And, you know, we all work together. We all help each other out and the teachers help us out as much as they can. It’s nice to be in a learning environment where everyone wants to be there.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

13 Support from tutors: Being treated like an adult
“…. You respect your teacher and she gives us the same respect back. She treats you as an individual on the same level as her almost. There’s none of that I’m your teacher.” “There’s no sort of barriers between teacher and student, although there’s mutual respect.” “They understand you’ve got a life outside of college. If there is a problem they take it on-board.” “Like they know you’re older …They treat you like an adult.” Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

14 Conclusions Major push factors driving people out of school with few or poor qualifications: Poor teaching; overloaded curriculum focused on external examinations; lack of respect by teachers for young adults in the mid to late teens; low sense of self esteem as learners. Major pull factors for entry to Access courses: rubbish jobs; a determination to make something of their lives; desire to ‘complete their education’. Enthusiasm for the Access course: respectful teachers personally and in their pedagogy; teachers who appear to really want to help and support them; growing sense of confidence in themselves as learners; working with other strongly focused learners; becoming a different person/ developing a new identity. Building on Phase 1 of the project in the East Midlands, we now have funding to carry out a second phase of the project with 6 Colleges serving a variety of urban and rural communities and with Access students on a broader range of access courses. Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012

15 Opening Doors project team
Acknowledgement: We are very grateful for support from Open College Network (OCN) East Midlands, and from the University of Leicester for funding. The project team are all based at the University of Leicester: Nalita James, Centre for Labour Market Studies, Hugh Busher, School of Education, Beth Suttill, School of Education and Centre for Labour Market Studies, * for copy of PowerPoint presentation Identities in Contemporary Education, Brunel University 19/04/2012


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