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Some Access students’ views of their courses as sites of transformation of their learning identities Hugh Busher, Nalita James, Beth Suttill University.

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Presentation on theme: "Some Access students’ views of their courses as sites of transformation of their learning identities Hugh Busher, Nalita James, Beth Suttill University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Some Access students’ views of their courses as sites of transformation of their learning identities Hugh Busher, Nalita James, Beth Suttill University of Leicester, UK

2 The Opening Doors Project The small scale study on which this paper is based focused on mature students on Access to Higher Education courses in the Social Sciences / Humanities in three Colleges in the East Midlands of England during the academic year It interrogated the views and experiences of learning of these students and their tutors in order to investigate the nature of Access students' transformations and transitions as learners. This paper discusses some Access students’ views of their courses as sites of transition and transformation of their identities as learners in particular policy contexts Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 2

3 Access Courses Access to HE courses offer economically and socially disadvantaged people a second chance to enter university if they fail to pass other school leaving examinations sufficiently well. Access to HE courses offer a one-year diploma qualification to prepare students for study at university and are aimed at people who would like to study in HE but who left school without the usual qualifications. It is intended to be a course of study aimed at those ‘excluded, delayed or otherwise deterred by a need to qualify for (university) entry in more conventional ways’ (Parry, 1996: 11). recent UK national policy on these courses has shifted from entry being free and inclusive for all adults wishing to enhance their cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986), to entry privileging younger people, said to improve the national economy, and being dependent on paying fees. Access Courses act as sites of transition for their students’ current position (present identities) to change into their future position (identity trajectories) (O’Donnell and Tobbell, 2007). How Access courses are run can support Access learners, and the complex processes that shape their demand for learning. However, there are very few studies that have examined these issues in any great depth Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 3

4 Conceptual Framework Central to understanding access students’ learning transitions is the interplay between individual agency and identity, circumstance and social structure (Wyn and White, 1998). The construction of identities continues through life (Giddens, 1991) as a social project linked to people's memberships of various communities (Lave and Wenger, 1991), through which they learn what constitutes successful technical and membership practice (Wenger, 1998, Andrews and Lewis 2007) These identities are grounded in people’s individual histories, personalities and work-related experiences (Busher, 2005). However, students are confronted by powerful organisational and cultural structures which challenge their existing personal and work-related identities and shape their learning careers and learning identities (Bloomer and Hodkinson, 2000) Being and becoming a student is a process of struggle, resistance and reconstruction (Busher and Cremin, 2012). Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 4

5 Policy Background Widening educational participation in higher education (HE) in Britain has been viewed as necessary for creating a strong economy (DES, 1987, DfEE, 1998, BIS, 2012). Across Europe, higher education (HE) institutions are being transformed by policy interventions to create mass HE that will satisfy the need of European economies for high-skilled labour (Field et al., 2010) in a global market. Under the Lisbon agreement, the European Union has set out to be ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, sustaining economic growth and greater social cohesion’ (European Commission, 2003, 2 in Brown et al., 2008). UK government policy after 2010 focused on raising the aspirations of young people deemed to have the potential to participate in HE despite their disadvantaged background. This was driven by concerns about the creation of a ‘lost generation’ as the number of young unemployed passed the one million mark in November However, new UK government policy discourses, such as ‘Investing in Skills for Sustainable Growth’ (DBIS, 2010) and the new regulatory framework (DBIS, 2012) for Further Education (FE), raise questions about the extent to which people from disadvantaged social groups will now be excluded from Access to HE courses Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 5

6 Methodology This multi-site case study used a social interactionist framework to investigate mature adult students' perspectives of their changing learning identities through developing relationships with their tutors and with each other during their participation in Access to HE courses. In each of these Colleges there are about 70 full-time Access students and tutors who supervised them of which about 20 students were on Social Science / Humanities courses at the start of the year the study collected data from about five self-selecting Access students in each College through focus group interviews on three occasions (November, March and May) as well as individual audio diaries with them and individual interviews with their tutors. The qualitative data was audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed manually using a form of thematic analysis which also tried to take account of participants own constructs of themselves and their experiences in particular contexts to shape the interpretation of the data. the findings cannot be generalised to a wider population than its participants, but the themes that emerge raise questions that need to be consider in other similar institutions and courses nationally. Participants gave voluntary informed consent to participate and were aware they could leave the project at any time, which some chose to do. Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 6

7 Findings The next few slides present the emergent findings from this study These draw predominantly on the focus groups carried out in Dec 2011, March 2012 and June 2012, as is shown by the dating of the quotations, and report the views of Access to HE course students on the main questions investigated by this paper: o Why some people seek access to HE after leaving school o How Access students’ perceptions of HE and Access courses are affected by changing government policies o Access students’ changing views on learning and themselves as learners through the experiences provided on the Access courses o Preparing for HE: What Access students think of their courses o Whether senses of community are constructed amongst learners and tutors on Access to HE courses and how these affect students’ engagement with learning Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 7

8 Why some people seek access to HE after leaving school Interest in a subject area/ specific career When I was at secondary school I always wanted to go into psychology, but left sixth form. [did] hairdressing and I still was interested in psychology. I’ve always wanted to do it. So why not just do it? I’m not getting any younger (Coll B Dec) Personal contacts/ reasons / self-fulfilment There’s three reasons I’m going into higher education… to fulfil my own potential and to provide my daughter with stability and [get] a greater pay grade (Coll A Dec) Want to go to HE I want to get a degree. Like all my family’s done it and whatnot and I don’t want to be the one who’s not gone to uni, who’s not done all that. (Coll A Dec) Dislike of current job (opportunities) I’ve chosen to study now because I feel like those jobs are just dead-end jobs really. So I thought maybe it’s about time I started educating now (Coll A Dec) I hit a level where I couldn’t go any further which is why I left because I’d got to supervisor and then you can’t get any further without a degree. (Coll C Dec) Had to choose the Access route [For] a lot of stuff, you need GCSE in Maths and I haven’t. Well I got an E. And I took this by chance (Coll B Dec) No qualifications…Leaving school at fourteen. (Coll C Dec) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 8

9 How Access students’ perceptions of HE and Access courses are affected by changing government policies Covering the costs of Access courses I think it was really rubbish to cut the Adult Learning Grant because all of us have had to cut our hours at work. Although it’s only thirty pound a week, that … could pay towards a bill or even pay for the phone bill (Coll B March) Very difficult to juggle working as well as studying. You’re literally working nights …didn’t realise how rough it was going to be (Coll C March) there is no day off in our working week, whether it’s paid work or work at home, we are all working seven days a week (Coll C March) Access course fees Now I’m quite happy to say that it’s been worth five hundred and whatever quid was, six hundred and twenty (Coll B March) I think putting [fees] up, especially when people on the Access Course probably don’t live with their parents and have to sort of earn money. They’ve got other people to provide for. I think it’s a really bad idea (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 9

10 How Access students’ perceptions of HE and Access courses are affected by changing government policies The recession/ lack of employment There is work, absolutely. Very difficult to find. (Coll C March) I thought it’d be easier for me because I’ve held down jobs …no big gaps in employment. I mean since about sixteen I’ve been working so…(Coll C March) university fees About a year ago I was like, ‘Oh I’m not going to university. Why pay that much for an education?’ But … I didn’t want to be on the dole because there are less jobs, especially in comparison to other cities. Most of the jobs is menial (Coll C June) I know it’s nine grand a year which is a fortune, but I mean you don’t have to pay it back till you’re earning £21k or more. So there have been a lot of people say doing social work or something, might not ever pay it back. So they’ve [government] only helped us in a bad way. I don’t think they meant to, but it’s kind of just half of us aren’t going to pay it back. (Coll C June) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 10

11 Access students’ changing views on learning and on themselves as learners Prior to Access experiences as learners I’ve had no real education since school except some things, little level twos and Prince’s Trust course (Coll A Dec) I failed all my GCSEs. So I don’t have no school qualifications. I didn’t do anything. So I never learnt basic study skills. I tried education after school three times I think it was and I always ended up on the wrong course and left and went back to work (Coll A Dec) I really enjoyed secondary school. 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. The teachers treated you the same like when you were in year seven. (Coll B Dec) I haven’t been in education for over twenty years. (Coll C Dec) I’ve got a BA Honours degree in fashion and textiles. (Coll C Dec) No qualifications…Leaving school at fourteen. (Coll C Dec) I went to university but I quit after a year. (Coll C Dec) Boredom. (Coll C Dec) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 11

12 Access students’ changing views on learning and on themselves as learners How being a learner on Access course is different from school But I think that’s probably cos I’m not used to studying and being in this environment… it’s been about four-five years since I’ve been working and not studying … getting back into that routine is a bit hard sometimes (Coll A Dec) We actually listen now. That’s the difference. [General laughter] When I was younger I never used to listen. I just used to sit at the back of the class and just mess around. But now you listen and everything makes sense (Coll A Dec) Everyone that’s here wants to be here. Everyone that’s here knows what they want to do and there’s just a massive amount of focus in our class. The teachers are great. They can sympathise with you and … respect you more. (Coll B Dec) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 12

13 Access students’ changing views on learning and on themselves as learners As a learner at the start of the Access course I was really rubbish. All my assignments were like really rubbish. I was getting passes all the time. Now I can expect to get like merit or distinction (Coll A March) Not a very good one …, I hated school anyway. I wasn’t particularly enjoying it the first couple of months we were doing it either just because it was getting trying to (Coll B March) I was really enthusiastic because being a mature student I was sort of determined to do well in this course (Coll B March) As a learner after 3 months on the Access course The course is going okay so far. I’m finding it a bit difficult in places but obviously there’s help out there for me. (Coll A Dec) I really enjoy coming to college and I love learning. But the problem with access course is it’s aimed for mature students, but there’s no financial help. (Coll B Dec) As a learner after 6 months on Access course I feel like I’ve just got better and more intelligent actually. (Coll A March) So now it’s like we understand a bit more, you know, the new ways, the way everything works and stuff now. I was a bit rusty before. (Coll A March) now we’re this side of the Christmas holiday, I’ve felt much better about it and I enjoy it now. (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 13

14 Preparing for HE: What Access students think of their courses Helping students to develop competence and confidence in learning You get a mark but you also get comments at the bottom of your work pointing you in the direction that maybe you should have gone down or things to try and improve that grade. (Coll B June) Like at the beginning … They go through essay plans with us and they kind of weaned us off essay plans and they stop marking drafts and stuff. Like yeah. I think that was really helpful to be honest. (Coll C June) Becoming independent learners I’m a lot more confident like in my academic skills than what I was when I started. Like I never really had much confidence in my writing but now I just don’t worry about it. (Coll B June) I think that in terms of planning essays and like study skills and stuff I think that I’ve got better. Like I can now do smart plans and stuff and timetables (Coll C June) Changed you personally It’s a big deal to come out of your comfort zone isn’t it? (Coll B June) I’ve got a better understanding of society. So it’s sort of taken the blinkers off a little bit. Well it’s changed me as a person. (Coll B June) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 14

15 Preparing for HE: What Access students think of their courses Prepared you for university I feel pretty well prepared for university. Far more confident going forward than I would have had I not done the Access Course I presume obviously (Coll B June) Compared with A levels It’s a lot more intense [than A levels], but they’re [tutors] very flexible as well (Coll B June) More about learning than remembering like A-levels. Have to remember it all for one exam [there], whereas here you build on it (Coll B June) It does teach you a lot better. A-levels, despite they say it’s independent learning, you get spoon-fed a lot more than on this course (Coll C June) I suppose the plus point of the access course because it does all the study skills and essay plans and it’s stuff like that, that A-levels don’t give you because you just have your subjects and there’s very actually little coursework to do at A-level [compared with] here. It makes you more prepared for university work but A-levels have the benefit of exams (Coll C June) It just helps you with everything. Like just the regular assignments, you know, because you have deadlines. You’re used to them. Whereas A-levels, deadlines don’t mean anything. You’re not penalised at A-level, whereas here you learn the consequences... [late assignments] are capped at a pass [laughter] (Coll C June) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 15

16 Constructing community on Access courses? With tutors The thing is, we’re all adults and they tell us we’re going to treat you like that and they do treat us like that. They’re adults. We’re adults with adult lives (Coll A Dec) [What makes him a good teacher?] Cos he just tells you straight (Coll A Dec) He’s one of the teachers that we can learn lots from (Coll A Dec) And it’s kind of like you can have your laugh and your joke with him, but he’s got this tone about him which is a serious tone (Coll A Dec) Anything you need. Like he’ll manage to answer everyone’s questions and help everyone out (Coll A Dec) the teachers help us out as much as they can (Coll B Dec) 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. [Here they think] we’re able to succeed. We want you to succeed in your goal as much as you want to succeed (Coll B Dec) There’s no sort of barriers between teacher and student, although there’s mutual respect (Coll B March) I see [tutor] as a teacher, but she’s there for a lot more support than previous teachers have been (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 16

17 Constructing community on Access courses? With other students: practical help If anyone wants my help … then I don’t mind. I would like their help as well in return. If we work together, like if there’s an assignment that needs to be done … it’ll all get done much quicker than one person struggling on their own (Coll A Dec) Occasionally [use a mobile phone]. If I’ve missed a day and I’m not sure about something (Coll B Dec) 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. (Coll B Dec) Advice. Guidance. Moral support. (Coll B March) There’s a lady in IT that was really upset one day and I’d already done the work. So I just sat with her and went through everything (Coll C Dec) I gave someone a lift I think the other day. (Coll C March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 17

18 Constructing community on Access courses? With other students: senses of community Like obviously loads of people have got like kids in the class and stuff and, you know, it’s like it’s nice though cos I don’t feel like left out or anything. So I feel a part of the group. (Coll A Dec) Like everyone gets on with each other now. So it’s so much more nicer. I think relationships have grown naturally (Coll A March) It’s good ‘cos you’re all in the same boat. So you can pull together and help each other out (Coll B Dec) it’s nice to be able to talk to some people and as a mother of two kids, you don’t get that at school (Coll B Dec) We’ve sort of got mutual respect. (Coll B March) I like to think there’ll be some kind of social event organised before we all go our separate ways. (Coll B March) There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie (Coll B March) actually it’s been the best learning experience I’ve had … Because of the support, the focus, the group (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 18

19 Constructing community on Access courses? With other students: scepticism about community We do support each other, but I think like there’s a few individuals who like to just get on with it themselves, like … not interact with the group. They’re just really like bothered about themselves. So I don’t think they really help their like classmates (Coll A Dec) if people are struggling, they aren’t offering enough so they’re having to ask other students or they don’t feel comfortable enough to approach the teacher. They have to come and ask other students. I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving advice (Coll C Dec) It’s difficult, it’s developing…In the sense that everybody’s got, you know, their own responsibilities out of school. So again, time pressure. (Coll C Dec) Probably not as important to us. I think we’re all here for a reason to get a job done. We’ve all got outside pressures. So when you’re here it’s nice. (Coll C Dec) It’s acquaintances probably isn’t it rather than (Coll C Dec) I think everyone does work on their own. You’re right. We all do (Coll C March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 19

20 Conclusions Access courses for students were sites of transition: to achieve entry to university through raising their qualification levels despite previous depressing experiences as learners. Social processes were mainly thought valuable when helping to achieve this qv. Lave and Wenger (1991) and processes of learning communities Students’ transitions were facilitated by their tutors who constructed cultures and relationships of support and respect and course structures of frequent assignments to promote incremental achievement qv. Wyn and White (1998) Access courses were sites of students’ transformations: o Initially many had little confidence in themselves as learners and had evidence of poor prior achievement particularly in examinations o They ended their courses with experiences of learning success, with a range of offers of university places, and beliefs that they were becoming competent independent learners able to tackle the next stage in their learning journey. In doing so, their learner identities shifted as a consequence of their learning careers on Access course qv. Bloomer and Hodgkinson (2000) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 20

21 Opening Doors Project Contacts Hugh Busher, School of Education, University of Leicester, UK, E: Nalita James, Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester, UK, E: Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 21


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