The premature end of lifelong learning?

Hughes, Jonathan (2007). The premature end of lifelong learning? In: BERA Annual Conference, 5-8 Sep 2007, Institute of Education, London, UK.

Abstract

Focus of enquiry
The research examines interactions between overlapping policy discourses. The space of overlap in this research is ‘lifelong learning’. The focus is on retired older learners’ experience of lifelong long learning policy. The research was carried out for my PhD within the Institute of Access Studies at Staffordshire University.

Edmund King (Evans, 2003) suggests analysis at three different levels:

• Espoused policy
• Enacted policy
• Experienced policy.

Espoused policy is explored through an analysis of government documents. These are The Learning Age (1998), Learning to Succeed (1999) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000). Enacted policy is considered by analysing interviews with senior further education college managers. Experienced policy is explored through fieldwork with older learners.
Background to the topic
Espoused policies often reflect two important themes in the standpoints of recent UK governments. These themes are globalisation and the primacy of individual choice. Governments adopting a neo-liberal perspective have promoted the benefits of flexible workers able to compete in a dynamic global context. From this perspective, lifelong learning is a policy that is espoused as investment in the human capital essential to national prosperity. In addition, espoused policy has reflected the need to give primacy to individual choice. Harmony between these two strands of neo-liberal thinking depends on individuals perceiving lifelong learning in a similar way to government.
Theoretical frame
The research draws on Foucault’s concepts of archaeology, genealogy, governance, marginality and the subject which illuminate the relationships between older learners and lifelong learning. Foucault’s concern with identifying particular instances rather than grand narratives also frames the research.
Research methods and mapping of literature
The literature highlights that the ‘New Labour’ project aims to reduce social exclusion by including as many people as possible in the labour market. However, aspects of the literature also note that policy is driven by a tendency to assert central government control over those who have to implement policy at the periphery.

The methods used to investigate the interaction of policy discourses are word frequencies and associations combined with narrative analysis. These methods are valuable in exploring texts for previously unspecified discourses. They also act to counter criticisms that discourse analysis only finds what it expects to find.
Research findings and contribution to knowledge
Consideration of the interaction between policy discourses shows that there is a rhetoric of meeting the needs of employers by improving the workforce skills. However, the reality of policy is the importance accorded to developing a framework to ensure that educational providers deliver the stated policy objectives.

The research exposes the nature of the marketisation of FE as one determined by government policy and funding with colleges are obliged to adapt their work in order to comply with governmental direction.

The research finds that older people often agree with the idea that learning should be for those in work. However, they are also aware of how learning can, in important ways, address their needs. These needs fall outside the New Labour project of tackling social exclusion by labour market inclusion. As retired people who have left the labour market they thus present problems for policy implementation. These problems should be communicated back to policy makers so that policy can be adapted. This has not occurred.
Reference
Evans, K. (2003) “Uncertain Frontiers: taking forward Edmund King’s world perspectives on post-compulsory education”, Comparative Education, 39 (4), 415-422.

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