Exploring Place: Further Education, Working Class Women and a Foundation Degree

Attwood, Megan Elizabeth (2016). Exploring Place: Further Education, Working Class Women and a Foundation Degree. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ef87


In May 2010 a newly elected coalition government inherited a concern about widening access to higher education in the United Kingdom. As far as widening participation within higher education is concerned, research indications are that while overall participation has increased, the rate of participation from under-represented groups has remained at a consistently low level (UCAS 2012a, ESRC 2012).

My study is motivated by these disparities in participation rates and by a desire to critique the assumptions made within policy. I view widening participation policy as problematic in its negative portrayal of working class students as having low aspirations (Dearing 1997, DfES 2003a).

An interpretive method of enquiry was adopted to develop a qualitative case study approach. This drew on data gathered between 2011 and 2015. Eighteen semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with four women studying on a foundation degree.

Key documents including the Robbins Report (Robbins, 1963a), the Dearing Report (Dearing, 1997) and The Future of Higher Education (DfES, 2003c) were selected to discuss the assumptions that circulate in the government in order to explore how these might have shaped successive thinking. I suggest that there are implications for practice as attitudes towards education are shaped by factors which filter down from policy such as access and curriculum design.

Findings from my study suggest that working class women possess future aspirations, have some support mechanisms in place and in part study ‘to increase knowledge and understanding for their own sake’ (Dearing, 1997, p. 72. ) despite living multifaceted lives. Fluctuating levels of self-esteem and issues of engrained gender roles and conflict as the women attempt to combine family life and study are also evident.

A move towards a transformative model of education where a more student-centred approach to curriculum design and delivery is developed is required. The long term benefits of such will remain unrealised as long as the economy remains the government’s focal driver of societal change.

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