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Bringing practice back in: how practice shapes constructions of knowledge in (general) vocational education Ann-Marie Bathmaker BRILLE, UWE Bristol, UK.

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Presentation on theme: "Bringing practice back in: how practice shapes constructions of knowledge in (general) vocational education Ann-Marie Bathmaker BRILLE, UWE Bristol, UK."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bringing practice back in: how practice shapes constructions of knowledge in (general) vocational education Ann-Marie Bathmaker BRILLE, UWE Bristol, UK

2 Overview 1: Introduction – my interest in the question of knowledge in general vocational education 4: Constructions of knowledge in GVE practice – two examples from English FE 3: Constructions of knowledge amongst national stakeholders 2: shaping the meaning of ‘knowledge’ in GVE and ‘bringing knowledge back in’ (Michael Young, 2008) 5: Conclusions

3 West London Further Education College

4 Birmingham Metropolitan College

5 Pass 6: ‘Theory’ The first question students ask is “how many pass tasks, how many merit tasks, how many distinctions are there?” They’re all driven by the assessment method, they’re not here to learn, they are here to get the qualification, but to get the qualification they need to learn. I think learning is seen as a second bit to it. They’re here to get the qualification not to learn, if that makes sense. (Tutor, Business Studies, City Centre College)

6 What is the ‘V’ in GVE? What is meant by knowledge in General Vocational Education? Is the knowledge in General Vocational Education ‘vocational’ and what does ‘vocational’ mean in the context of GVE for (young) people in initial post-compulsory education?

7 2: Constructions of knowledge in GVE practice – two examples from English FE

8 Science at Outer London FE college

9 Teachers and connections to the world of work  Miss S: a young Asian teacher who taught Science on academic (A level) courses and vocational (BTEC) courses at Levels 2 and 3. She had taught BTEC for 6 or 7 years. She described her ‘speciality’ as Biology.  ‘Purely by chance’ that three staff have relevant work experience in their backgrounds (comment by Programme Manager).  Maintaining employer input is challenging because employers ‘don’t want to be involved’ and there are ‘practical issues about accommodating large groups of students in workplaces.’ (Programme manager)

10 Science teaching room

11 Imperatives shaping constructions of knowledge: anticipated progression routes The prospectus states:  This course [BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Science] is for you if you have an interest in science and would like to develop a career in Laboratory and Industrial Science. You can progress onto university or seek employment in a laboratory as a laboratory science technician. However, according to the Programme Manager  BTEC is seen now as a progression route to higher education. He thinks 90% of the learners go into higher education (not 100% because of circumstances ‘and the application process works against them’.)

12 a type of pedagogy and assessment for a type of student  suits students who are less able to cope with academic qualifications  differences between GVE (BTEC) and academic (A Level) students: I think in maybe ability - I mean I don’t like to say it …they do a lot of group work, they do a lot of presentations. [GVE students] say “OK, what’s the data, explain to me what the data is”. Whereas with an A level they’re just “oh what’s the work, I need to get on with it” and that’s it. (Miss S)

13 Dominance of outcomes criteria in planning teaching and learning I looked at the criteria and on the criteria say they have to have done this and that, and this and that, and then looking at the text book it says that they have to decide for themselves what to do for the practical. (Miss S, planning for level 3)

14 Knowledge in intermediate/level 2 teaching session Fieldnotes: The knowledge is identifying and listing factual information, and relating it (I’m not sure I would call it ‘applying’ or at least not in a cognitive sense) to everyday examples, very briefly and fleetingly. There’s not a sense of sustained engagement with an idea or concept, but an overview of a fields of terms and some specialist vocabulary. There is a smattering of cell biology/structure, eg the facts of cell structure in particular diseases.

15 Working with ‘knowledge’ in an advanced/level 3 teaching session TASK - DO INVESTIGATION, RECORD RESULTS, WRITE UP Instructions on board: Make sure you - Structure your report Use clear headings Past tense throughout Excellent use of scientific language Reference your data Clear language

16 I have to think of different scenarios, like osmosis, and how can they relate it to the real world. For example we talk about chips, so if they put the chips in water, I mean that’s something that they could do at home…. (Miss S, teaching level 3)

17 GVE perceived as  A progression route to higher education  a type of pedagogy for a type of student knowledge involves:  ‘factual’ theoretical knowledge sometimes used to do practical work (experiments)  Little evidence of links to vocational contexts  Benchmarking of academic and GVE knowledge The cultural norms of GVE in Science

18 Performing Arts (PA) at City Centre FE college

19 Acting students on BTEC programme at City Centre College

20 Level 3 BTEC musical theatre students at City Centre College

21 Teachers and connections to the world of work  Head of Department: ex-professional dancer  Amy (teaching at the college for 15 months): “in the industry for a long time...as an actor and then...as an agent and then....a casting assistant at The Bill [popular TV programme in UK] for 4 years.... And then I got a job at the Brit School in London where I taught Acting and Musical Theatre, stayed there for a year and a half …. Moved here as a sessional tutor, and then I’d been here about a year and I took over the course, the running of the course.  The college facilities represent the ‘workplace’

22 Who are the students?  have not achieved their potential  did not do very well at school, level 2 did not get the grades for level 3, level 3 did not get the grades for academic A level  are not independent thinkers  have “car crash lives” – serious problems or experiences that have affected their lives Comments made by Amy and Phil, course tutors

23 Teaching room: dance rehearsal studio, City Centre College

24 Imperatives shaping constructions of knowledge: idealised progression routes We’re preparing people [through GVE/BTECs] for the future, for their careers, and their careers are within the entertainments industry... if they wish to be an actor or a dancer or a musician, they have to have those requisite practical skills. So high skills levels, really, very important in terms of co- ordination, balance etc etc, being able to sight-read if you want to be a session musician, taking your skill levels right up and beyond Grade 8....we’re looking at world class, sort of pushing them that way. (Head of Department)

25 a type of pedagogy and assessment for a type of student  They are people who need direction, structure to their programmes and classes, they really do need that firmness. (Head of Department)  Saying: “right, go off in your own groups and work” they can’t do it, they need someone there all the time to go “right, let’s do this, what are you doing?” (tutor, Acting level 2)

26 students with weaker levels of literacy skills they should be able to write about it…. But taking written work...it’s like an 11 year old has written it... it’s...really, really bad. And then I say to them “oh do you struggle with your writing, shall we offer you some support?” and yet they got a B at GCSE. (tutor, level 3 performing arts)

27 Importance of outcomes criteria in planning teaching and learning We look at the criteria and then we try and work out the best way of assessing the criteria. Once we’ve worked that out...we go to what they actually say that you should do. We work backwards from the criteria, and then often there are suggestions, like you have to create a 30 minute piece, that is a pre- requisite, and in the acting ones, often you have to perform a piece that is a minimum of 10 minutes long....the acting units I probably know inside out, on the specification.” (Head of Department)

28 Knowledge in Performing Arts “Knowledge...from a teacher’s point of view, is those sort of skills and things that they need to know, the knowledge of...the industry, so it’s...not just teaching them the facts, it’s...the attitude and what it’s like in the industry and what’s expected of them, and....skills but also how to apply them....We can’t just say “right, this is acting, learn that knowledge”. It’s... “this is acting - right, this is how we do it and this is how you apply it”, and I think that’s....what the knowledge is in relation to BTEC. (Tutor, level 2 Acting)

29 ‘ Theoretical’ knowledge in Performing Arts If we’re teaching Stanislaski and naturalism there’s a series of exercises that Stanislaski created and actually prepares, and we run practical classes in the theory of those exercises. So all the theory pretty much is done through the practice of doing, demonstrating how the theory works. (Tutor, level 3 theatre unit) Teaching ‘theory’ includes genres of theatre, approaches of different directors, plays from different eras

30 Differences in knowledge between GVE/BTEC and academic A-level? I don’t think there is. I think the difference is the amount of time devoted to developing specific knowledge and skills across the piece. Vocational students still have to be able to articulate and write about their understanding of composition, analytical skills, dance works, critical appraisal, and in order to get a distinction they have to do it at that A grade A level equivalent standard. But... the proportions of the skill range I think are different. (Head of Department)

31 GVE perceived as  A practice-based route, which is preparing for future employment in the entertainment industry (actor, musician, dancer; or behind the scenes work)  a practice-focused pedagogy for a type of student Knowledge involves:  Learning about what the industry is like, what is expected, learning skills and how to apply them  Applying ‘theoretical’ ideas to practice  Strong location in authentic performing arts contexts  Similarities in academic and GVE knowledge The cultural norms of GVE in PA

32 Teaching for progression  Although employment in the entertainment industry is defined as the main goal, the college strongly promotes HE courses in Performing Arts  Progression from level 2 and 3 likely to be on to more education and training, possibly practice-based courses

33 3: Constructions of knowledge amongst national stakeholders in England

34 Who defines knowledge in GVE in England? UK policymakers and stakeholders Knowledge in Vocational Education Project found:  Complex mix of stakeholders involved in design and regulation of qualifications at national level  Dominant role of employers  Qualification awarding bodies have default responsibilities. Difficult to discern who took responsibility for knowledge beyond qualification awarding bodies  Absence of certain constituencies: HE subject specialists, teachers (Bathmaker et al, 2011a, 2011b)

35 UK policymakers and stakeholders’ constructions of knowledge in GVE Our study found  blurring of pre-vocational preparation, general vocational education, work-related learning, work-based learning  complicated and unstable state of knowledge in general vocational education (GVE) and associated qualifications  Lack of consensus amongst stakeholders about the purposes of GVE  uncertainty about the role of GVE as preparation for both work and further study  Challenges related to dual goals of progression to employment or higher levels of education – preparing for and developing higher levels of cognitive understanding may not work well with developing skills and knowledge for general employment, specific occupations and roles

36 4: Shaping the meaning of ‘knowledge’ in GVE and ‘bringing knowledge back in’ (Michael Young, 2008)

37 Normative discourses that form the background to general vocational education (GVE) provision  Notion of a ‘knowledge society’ and the need for higher level knowledge and skills for individual and national economic prosperity, and international competitiveness  Core, key, transferable, generic skills are the most important forms of ‘knowledge’  Achievement of outcomes and credentials are essential for institutional league tables for international benchmarks for individuals to ‘exchange’ in the education and labour market  Prolonged participation in education and training is essential as a means of achieving social mobility and economic prosperity  Vocational Education and Training (VET), including GVE, is a means to increase and widen participation and to raise achievement.

38 Increasing participation in education and training In the UK 1.64 million year olds were in education and training at the end of 2010, representing 84.4% of year olds, with 70% in full-time education. (DfE, 2011)

39 Participation in f/t education increasing in WBL and employer-funded training decreasing Source: UK Department for Education (2011) p.21

40 How many taking ‘vocational’ qualifications? In % in full-time education included:  21% taking a ‘vocational’ qualification 14.2% at level 3 6.8% at level 2  34% taking an ‘academic’ qualification 32.9% at level 3 1.5% at level 2 (includes a number of ‘applied’ ‘GVE’ subjects)

41 ‘Knowledge’ shaped over time by the role of GVE in England 1980s: end of ‘old’ apprenticeships, increasing ‘staying on’ in the ‘new FE’, expanding GVE routes (Banks et al, 1992; Bates and Riseborough, 1993) 1990s: new GVE qualifications (such as GNVQ) – taken mainly by lower achievers (Bates, 1998; Bloomer and Hodkinson, 1999, 2000; Hodkinson, 1998; Wolf survey for FEDA, 1997) prolonged staying on, riskier transitions (Furlong and Cartmel, 1997 end of 1990s: diverse routes and pathways, young people not wanting to commit themselves yet, living for the weekend* (Ball, Maguire and Macrae, 2000) (*Marginson, 1997) 2000s: FE learning cultures vary between different learning sites: in vocationally-related courses there are often ‘no substantial employer links or even work experience.’ Successful students ‘learned how to be good students of business studies, not how to be business employees.’ (James, Biesta et al, 2007: 77/78)

42 ‘Bringing knowledge back in’ The phrase used by Michael Young (2008), who argues for a ‘social realist’ theory of the sociology of knowledge (see also Leesa Wheelahan, 2010; Rob Moore and Johann Muller, 1999) a) knowledge is socially constructed in that it is constructed by people at a particular historical moment BUT b) knowledge also has an objective base in representing what we know about the world at a particular time e.g. from atoms to quarks to the Higgs Boson particle (the ‘god’ particle)

43 The importance of context-independent ‘powerful’ knowledge  ‘Knowledge based on experience alone provides only a limited basis on which to generalize and can easily degenerate into mere opinion or prejudice.’ (Young, 2008: 165)  Context independent knowledge ‘can provide a basis for generalizations and explanations that go beyond specific cases’ (Young, 2008: 166)

44 Michael Young’s key concerns and argument now  Powerful knowledge (2008) vs  Knowledge of the powerful (1971) the distribution of educational opportunities is related to the ‘capital’ available to different social classes (the ‘cultural capital’ that fits or does not fit with formal education) leading to a) arguments for recognition and valuing of alternative forms of capital OR b) ‘compensatory’ education to give disadvantaged people (working- class, minority ethnic etc) access to the knowledge of the powerful (see for example, Power, 2008)

45 Knowledge in GVE: vocational knowledge? Michael Young:  Providing access to the knowledge that is transforming work (based on subject disciplines or broad occupational fields)  Learning job-specific skills and knowledge – which tend to be equated with ‘everyday’ knowledge  Learners need to understand the different internal structuring, contents and purposes of theoretical and everyday forms of knowledge, so that they grasp the relation of the two forms to one another  Learning the generic skills now required in the workplace

46 Knowledge in GVE: ‘applied’ knowledge? Term used by Richard Pring and the Nuffield Review of Education in England (Pring et al, 2007) e.g. Applied science  understanding scientific knowledge and methods of scientific enquiry which are embodied in techniques used by scientists.  developed through authentic work-related contexts  focus on the people who apply the scientific techniques and knowledge, looking into the thought processes and skills involved (e.g. questioning the theoretical and practical limitations of a given technique that determine its application to different problems).  providing opportunity for practical problem-solving, emphasising ability to use techniques, skills and knowledge for tackling science- related problems (Nuffield Applied Science, 2008)

47 Caveat: knowledge in ‘work-based’ vocational education and training Research into work-based knowledge raises additional and different issues concerning knowledge to those emphasised in GVE research. For example:  Tacit knowledge (Eraut, 1994)  Knowledge and skills required for workplace performance (Billett, 2006)  Processes of relating theoretical and practical knowledge (Guile, 2006)  Knowledge as social practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991)

48 Conclusions (1)  Knowledge in GVE and the quality of GVE are shaped on the one hand by constant interventions from policymakers, and on the other, by the practices of teachers and students involved in GVE, resulting in:  slippery and elided meanings of knowledge  implicit cultural ways of doing and being are seen as ‘normal’ and therefore unproblematic In particular:  association of GVE with lower achievers and/or types of pedagogy and assessment, leading to a particular approach for ‘these sorts of students’  Aspirations for work futures that do not necessarily match reality of student progression or labour market opportunities

49 Conclusions (2) – Knowledge in GVE The ‘V’ about knowledge in GVE in practice appears to vary from ‘applied’ approaches to studying a subject, where the ‘subject’ may (but is not necessarily) located in a broad occupational field, to practising knowledge and skills, in authentic (but not necessarily workplace) contexts. So what about workplace knowledge? GVE is also used as a form of ‘compensatory education’, enabling students, who for various reasons have been unable to succeed in the traditional academic system, to stay in education and possibly succeed by following an alternative route. So how do we address the fact that these students often find ‘theoretical’, ‘abstract’ knowledge challenging, difficult and de-motivating?

50 Conclusions (3) ‘Knowledge’ in GVE is a significant issue. To make productive use of renewed interest in the question of knowledge, we also need to consider how knowledge is formed and reformed at the micro level of practice.

51 This presentation is based on the Knowledge in Vocational Education project ( ) Research team Ann-Marie Bathmaker (UWE, Bristol) Sandra Cooke (University of Birmingham) Kathryn Ecclestone (University of Birmingham) Contact


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