A Case Study of a School Science Department: A Site for Workplace Learning?

Heighes, Deborah Anne (2017). A Case Study of a School Science Department: A Site for Workplace Learning? EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000c5d7


This descriptive and illuminative case study of one science department in a successful, urban, secondary school in the south of England considers the science department as a site of workplace learning and the experience of beginning teachers in this context. Policy change in initial teacher training (ITT) has given schools a major role in the recruitment of trainees and emphasized the schools’ role in their training. Additionally, there continue to be significant challenges to recruit science specialist teachers despite substantial bursaries.

For the purposes of this study, a community of practice of those involved with ITT and beginning teachers was defined: this included six teachers, three beginning teachers, one technician and the University tutor from the higher education institution. Interviews, focus groups, and mentor meetings, field observation notes and scrutiny of relevant documents were used to construct a rich description of the sociocultural milieu.

Two interpretivist approaches were used: an inductive phenomenological study of the lived experiences and a deductive approach using a conceptual framework developed from theories of workplace learning.

Findings show that there is considerable tension in the mentor’s professional life; the role and the learning needs of the mentors were poorly understood; the ‘community of practice – Beginning teachers’ was not as originally perceived because the mentors were not engaged in a joint endeavour; the perceived value of accountability measures for ITT, Ofsted and performativity measures affected the learning environment for the beginning teachers and there is a dissonance between the values and practices of the workplace learning culture. This has been explored through the lenses of balkanization (Hargreaves and Macmillan, 1992), addictive presentism (Hargreaves, 2010) and Hodkinson and Hodkinson’s model of an expansive/restrictive workplace for teachers (2005).

This study may be of interest to those in teacher education and involved with recruitment and retention of science teachers.

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