A study of learner transition and identity in the FE environment

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


The research reported in the thesis is the Learner, Identity and Transition Project (LITP), and makes a contribution to notions and experiences of academic transition and learner identity, both through the collection and analysis of new empirical data and through the development and deployment of a conceptual framework that I call MERITS Plus. The research adopts a case study methodology through the collection of qualitative data in a college of further education in the North of England in the academic year 2014-2015. The empirical data was gathered via semi-structured interviews with 24 learners, 12 of whom were studying A-Levels and 12 studying a vocational qualification in the form of a BTEC, and from a focus group conducted with five members of staff. The project aims to investigate how choices inter-relate with how and why learners narrate their educational experiences and identities, and addresses this through the consideration of four research questions. The first of these asks, “What factors do learners identify as having impacted on their academic choices in deciding to study either A-Levels or vocational qualifications as a level three programme of study?” and explores individuals’ motivations for selecting a particular college pathway. The second considers, “What ideas and attitudes do learners hold about their chosen qualification on entering the programme, and where have these come from?” and is interested in what learners expect from a particular course before starting their studies. The research also considers, “What is the impact of policy and other existing discourses upon the culture and practice of studying a particular programme, and what effect does this have on learner identities?” and “How do students on different academic programmes narrate their educational experiences, and is a sense of collective identity evident amongst different cohorts?” These questions are addressed through the MERITS Plus model, consisting first, a six-element framework (Motivations, Expectations, Reality, Identity, Transition, and Stories and Synthesis) used to analyse the data and second, using Bourdieu’s thinking tools to examine the complexities raised by the data. By doing so, the study directly presents narratives and uses the MERITS Plus model to create eight composite learner profiles drawn directly from the data to illustrate the range of learner types within one educational setting. The study finds that whilst some similarities do exist across the learners in the setting regardless of academic pathway, such as the importance of social transition in maturing as an individual, a greater sense of cohesion was evident amongst the vocational cohort. The data also suggest that transition is a time of opportunity within the new environment, but tensions may exist in the field of 16-19 education. Whilst the A-Level still appears to carry higher levels of cultural capital, the vocational learner narratives suggested a bid for recognition was taking place and that vocational habitus, if it exists, may be a positive rather than a negative disposition to reveal. Thus the study raises important issues about learner agency and educational structures, the implications of which are fully documented and discussed.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & Helen Gunter (Supervisor)

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