Applying a social justice agenda within education: A case study looking at experiences, understandings, and enactments of relational (in)equality within a PGCE tutor group

  • Anna Fitzgibbon

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background: Calls for the meaningful enactment of counselling psychology's social justice agenda have emphasised educational settings as a feasible site for social justice work, emphasising transdisciplinary considerations of relational inequality and power as vital within this. It has been argued that existing attempts to redress pervasive educational inequalities, both within educational policy and teacher education, have lacked emphasis on vital relational elements. Further, the perspectives and experiences of student-teachers (STs) and teacher- educators (TEs) have been largely absent from explorations and conceptualisations of relational (in)equality. Aims: This study aimed to explore STs' and TEs' understandings, experiences and enactments of relational (in)equality across two settings: the secondary school classroom and the PGCE tutor group. Further, this study aimed to identify factors participants perceive to be helping and hindering relational equality. Methodology: A qualitative case study design was adopted to explore this phenomenon. Data were generated across two phases using a range of methods, including semi-structured interviews, a focus group and observations. Data were analysed using a reflexive thematic analysis. Findings: 8 main themes were generated: (1) The function of relational inequality in the teacher-student relationship, (2) Relational equality is about community, (3) Role modelling an ethos of relational equality, (4) Reflexivity is key to enacting relational equality, (5) What the 'other' is bringing to the dynamic: the reciprocal nature of relational (in)equality, (6) Identity, privilege and personal power, (7) The role of time in relational (in)equality and (8) Navigating the structures of educational contexts Conclusions: This study sheds light on the complex, nuanced and contextual nature of relational (in)equality within secondary teacher education in England. The findings bring a new perspective and in doing so provide a starting point for a conversation about the applicability and enactment of relational (in)equality within teacher education. Specifically, these findings encourage a transdisciplinary conversation across teacher education and counselling psychology around the points at which unequal power relations are helpful or harmful. Further, this study provides insight into the perceived intrapersonal, interpersonal and systemic barriers to enacting relational equality and potential means by which this may be mitigated. This study offers a transdisciplinary exploration of relational (in)equality, highlighting the relational nature of such endeavours and emphasising the reciprocal learning opportunities for both teacher education and counselling psychology.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor), Laura Winter (Supervisor) & Deborah Ralls (Supervisor)


  • Social Justice
  • Relational (in)equality
  • Counselling Psychology
  • Teacher Education

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