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"Now we look through the glass darkly": a comparative study of the perceptions of those working in FE with trainee teachers


John Parsons, James Avis, Ann-Marie Bathmaker

Correspondence: John Parsons, Collaborative Links Unit, University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1SB

Paper presented at Fourth International Conference 'Vocational Education and Training Research', University of Wolverhampton, 16-18 July 2001



This paper examines lecturers' understandings of their role, their own capabilities, and those of other colleagues, within the pedagogic, curricular, and policy context in which FE is placed. The research explores the views of three distinctive groups. A group of intending lecturers undergoing a full-time teacher training courses orientated to further education; centre tutors who are responsible for these students teaching practice in the college setting and finally a group of in-service lecturers undergoing a part time teacher training courses. The paper explores the contradictions and tensions in the perceptions within each group, and the different perspectives between groups, arguing that these can, in part, be understood by their institutional location. The paper concludes by drawing out the policy implications of the preceding analysis.


"Now we look through a glass, darkly": a comparative study of the perceptions of those working in FE with those of trainee teachers

'For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known' I Cor 13:12

This paper examines lecturers' understandings of their role, their own capabilities, and those of other colleagues, within the pedagogic, curricular, and policy context in which FE is placed. The research explores the views of three distinctive groups. A group of intending lecturers undergoing a full-time teacher training courses orientated to further education; centre tutors who are responsible for these students teaching practice in the college setting and finally a group of in-service lecturers undergoing a part time teacher training courses. The paper explores the contradictions and tensions in the perceptions within each group, and the different perspectives between groups, arguing that these can, in part, be understood by their institutional location. The paper concludes by drawing out the policy implications of the preceding analysis.



Ever since its emergence from the chrysalis of the training schools in the 1940s, FE has always been a creature which thrived on change, continually re-inventing itself to meet the ever changing demands of its clients and paymasters. However like Topsy it 'just growed' as it embraced the many vocational education and training (VET) initiatives of the 70s, 80s and 90s, resulting in large, multi-sited, institutions with a polyglot of provision that lacked both a coherent national system for VET and a legislative framework spelling out the rights and duties of those in FE (Keep and Mayhew, 1988). This rate of change, and its affect on those delivering and managing the curriculum, has increased since incorporation in 1993 as the colleges apparently took control of their own existence, resulting in the demise of the 'silver book' conditions of service, the growth of managerialism, and the leeching out of professionalism from the role of lecturer as workloads increased (Ainley and Bailey, 1997; Avis et al, 1996).

Despite the 'high profile scandals' that have beset some colleges, for example Bilston, Halton, and the Wirral, and the failure, as evidenced by the allocation of a grade 4 or 5 in FEFC inspections, of other colleges' management to ensure a quality provision, the further education sector would appear to be at the forefront of Labour's education and training policies for the new millennium (DfEE, 1999). Following the Kennedy Report, Learning Works. Widening Participation in Further Education (1997), the lifelong learning Green Paper, The Learning Age (1998), and the 1999 White Paper, Learning to Succeed, the present government has embraced the rhetoric of inclusive lifelong learning, with its underpinning humanistic learning theory (Rogers, 1983) and its emphasis on individual learning plans. (Ofsted, 2001) Paradoxically this is in direct contrast to the behaviourist movement in primary education towards whole class teaching and technical rationalisation (DfEE, 2001). Research has yet to show whether the changes articulated below will engender the learning culture and practices associated with lifelong learning such as empowerment, individualised learning, and learner control. Findings from research into the original GNVQ programmes would indicate that the links with progressivism, although prescribed in the documentation, are illusionary. (Bloomer 1998; Bates, 1998)

Post 16 education, whilst seen as providing the vehicle for lifelong learning, is undergoing significant changes in funding and the inspection of institutions in order to meet its presumed role. Crucial changes also have occurred in the curriculum, in both GNVQ and NVQ, with the former being integrated with A levels into a vocational framework, as part of the Curriculum 2000 initiative (QCA, 1999). In addition there is a commitment to a professional trained lecturing workforce with the introduction of the FENTO standards (Blackstone, 2000).

In our BERA 2000 paper we entered into a discourse about the nature of knowledge, which then impacts on learning and teaching and the perceived role of the lecturer.

'Knowledge is construed as transient and marked by fluidity and is therefore likely to become rapidly obsolete. This sort of argument feeds into two notions. Firstly, knowledge/ disciplinary knowledge loses its authority. Secondly, the process of learning becomes pivotal to educational relations. Thus curricular content becomes less salient than the process through which learners learn how to learn.' Parsons, J., Avis, J., Bathmaker, A-M. (2000) p.7

The result of this change in paradigm calls on lecturers to become facilitators and counsellors, enabling them to develop in their students the skills in learning how to learn and so that they can take control of their own learning (Gibbons et al, 1994). For some commentators, the terms teacher/lecturer are outdated, as evidenced in a discussion involving those at senior level in government,

'... that we stop using the word teachers. The profession would feel at lot better about itself ..if teachers were rebranded as 'learning professionals'' Chris Woodhead (2001)

and that colleges be redefined as 'counselling and guidance colleges' (Guile and Lucas, 1999).

Overlaying this is a patina of the college ethos and management style, which often finds its form in post-fordist rhetoric, but covering neo-fordist managerialism (Brown and Lauder, 1992). Much has been written about managerialism's effect on staff, both real and perceived, and their strategies for coping. (Avis, 1999; Gleeson 1996; Randle and Brady 1997; Gleeson, and Shain, 1999; Bathmaker, Parsons and Avis 1999). Rather than acting as a unifying influence in the face of external threats, college management has exacerbated the divisions resulting from the 'Topsy' growth of the 70s, 80s and 90s, leading to cultural fragmentation, and professional de-skilling. The discussion continues as to whether Helsby (1999), and Hyland (1996) among others are correct in their prognosis that lecturers are being dis-enfranchised, or that there will be a re-professionalisation of the workforce (Shain and Gleeson 1999; Avis 1999). Our own findings (Bathmaker, Parsons, and Avis, 1999) would support the former, with the proletarian sitting alongside the professional appropriation.

The focus of this paper is the nature of professionalism and its fragmentation as seen through the perceptions of different constituencies of lecturer: the trainee, the part-timer, and the staff developer.



The methodology employed has evolved through a series of stages. The initial sample was the cohort (88) of PCET student teachers studying for a PGCE (FE) full-time programme, during the academic year 1999/2000 (intending lecturer group). In the February of their one-year course, the students were divided into three groups and having set their own agenda, embarked on a wide-ranging discussion, about their experiences on Supervised Teaching Experience (STE). A brief questionnaire was also issued to seek more quantitative data. The findings from that research were then fed back later in the year (May) to the students to seek validation and more importantly to ascertain whether their view had changed since the initial questionnaires/group interviews results. The feedback from these meeting confirmed that the students views had not changed, save in that they were more strongly held than before. An analysis of these findings was then reported at the BERA 2000 conference in Cardiff. (Parsons, J. K., Avis, R. J., Bathmaker, A-M., 2000, and Avis et al, 2001 forthcoming)

The research was then extended with the initial findings being shared, with firstly tutors (8) from local colleges who were involved in supporting the full-time students on STE and who also in delivering the FAHE in-service programme, and then with a group (15) of in-service students. These two groups were invited to comment on the intending lecturers' perceptions and then discuss the issues raised in a more general way. As with the original discussions, these were recorded on tape.



Each constituency of lecturer came with its own history/perspective and their interpretation of the present situation within the college was often framed by that perception. We have discussed the results in detail of the PGCE students' findings in our BERA 2000 paper. In summary, these indicated that the students construed the lecturer's role as facilitating learning. When asked in the questionnaire what the role of a lecturer was over half responded with terms such as

'identifying learners' needs;'

'enabling students to learn;'

'encouraging to reach their potential'

A clear distinction was drawn between 'good' and 'bad' lecturers. The former category, in which they saw themselves, were those who embraced the humanist approach, whilst nearly all the lecturers they encountered in the course of their teaching practice were construed as falling into the second category.

'They're not interested, they did not want to know'

'Existing lecturers are only interested in going in, getting the grades

at the end of the year, where's my cheque'

Similar distinctions were drawn between 'good' and 'bad' students, with those who wanted to learn, were prepared to listen, were deemed to be 'good' whereas those who were not responsive were seen as 'bad'.

'There seems a lack of urgency amongst the students. They don't want to take responsibility for their own learning. They want it spoon fed to them constantly. Particularly with mature students. As uphill battle getting them to think for themselves'

They then positioned themselves as at the forefront of change

'As new professionals we need to encourage change. We're coming into it, we expect all the paperwork, we know what to expect. We have to do the lesson plans, evaluations, paperwork, whereas they don't want to do the paperwork.

It is easier for us to change because we are not stuck in our ways.'

However such a strong position did not allow for the subtleties demanded by such a complex situation, so that in their responses little attention was given to the history or cultural decomposition experienced by the existing lecturers. By cultural decomposition we have in mind the way in which lecturers work is being re-organised in the current conjuncture (Avis, 1999). Also there arose inconsistencies between the intending lecturers attitudes to learning which were sympathetic to learner needs and which stood in contrast to their experience of students where they drew on conventional explanations of apathy, laziness, and lack of discipline rather than recognising such responses could be evidence of social deprivation and previous negative learning experiences. In responding to these perceived negativities they perpetuated a reinforcing negative cycle of criticism which may have resulted in de-motivation, thereby undermining their erstwhile sensitivity to learner need and social justice. At times the intending lecturers appeared to pathologise learners, that is to say construed learner dispositions as leading to educational failure. They also implied that these inadequacies could be remedied through the use of appropriate teaching techniques - rather than considering the whole person, and the context.

The overall impression presented by the intending lecturers was of a group alienated against existing staff room cultures, and not accepted as equals by the present staff, whom they regarded as a set of 'dinosaurs', out of touch with contemporary educational thinking.

These findings were then shared with a group of in-service PGCE/Cert Ed students. Most of these were part-timers, teaching in one specialist area, whereas intending lecturers taught across a range of programmes in a department. Also they were employed on a variety of contracts, fractional full-time, hourly paid, and through a contract agency. From conversation with the group it was evident that in some cases they felt totally isolated and discriminated against by the employers, with part-time agency staff feeling most aggrieved. This surfaced itself through reference, among other things, to a lack of a desk or pigeonhole in the staff room, lack of training, and lack of support on a day-to-day basis.

Despite their clear concerns as to their status and entitlement they were generous with their support for existing lecturers. Whilst they recognised the features identified by the intending lecturers both relating to the staff and students, they did not feel apart from that culture in the way that was expressed by the intending lecturers. Yes, staff were de-motivated, and some of the students difficult to teach, but given the difficulties within colleges, the in-service students felt that not enough credit was been given to the staff by the intending lecturers. They were prepared to accept the 'dinosaur' model of some teachers but felt it not to be the barrier to learning that the trainee teachers made out.

'We all understand the ethos of empowerment ... look at our own experiences of how we were taught which could be classified as the dinosaur model - but the fact that we have got this far....'

However they did draw a distinction

'There are teachers and there are those who are employed to teach - who go into teaching because they can't do anything else - and they earn 16/hour as opposed to 6/7 in the private sector.'

They were far more interested to share own life stories and the freedom that learning brings and the major effect that their own lecturers had upon their development.

'Twenty years ago, I was a student at X college. There was a teacher who inspired me and was the only reason why I went on to do a degree - I had left school at 15. He continues to teach. He is still inspiring young people....'

'I came on a short typing course and so enjoyed learning that I have been doing it ever since!'

In terms of the technicisation of teaching/ learning, that is the reductionism of learning to a set of symptoms which can be treated by appropriate techniques rather than considering the whole person and the context, the in-service students, whilst enjoying the opportunity presented by the PGCE programme to explore the different teaching strategies as identified by the theories of learning, expressed a strong commitment to adopting a holistic approach to teaching their students with the emphasis on personalities rather than theories and models

'I came from an Access course background [as did several of the intending lecturers] and was totally inspired by my experience. So much so that it led me to want to become a lecturer to see if I would ever be able to do this for anyone else.'

The contradiction held by the intending lecturers as to what constituted a good or bad student was missing from the in-service responses, where they were far more accepting of students, recognising the significant social, educational, and personal problems and difficulties that made the students behave as they did,

'I don't like the idea of a good or bad student - they come with their own agenda - may not want to learn, rather be diverted'

'A student is a student'

'I want to pick up on that point that they [intending lecturers] did not want to teach young people with attitude. I thought that was the challenge. That's what we have come into teaching for - to teach people with attitude and inspire them and make them into powerful people'

and seeing within them reflections of their own learning journey.

'....that's what I hope I can give to my students... never forgetting that I have once been in their place.'

Similarly the alienation from the culture of the staff room was missing. Those who were part-time felt undervalued and unsupported by management but there was no expression of the 'them' and 'us'. Rather they believed they were undergoing a journey of enculturalation (Lave and Wenger, 1991), which would one day lead them into being full-time lecturers, with those further along the journey prepared to help others:

'I was a part-time - felt totally isolated - pull everything out of the hat myself, and rely on myself. Then I was taken in on a full-time position and I now have visiting teachers - thought about that and reflected on how I felt - and I have started having regular meetings, sending them all little notes... regularly updating them....'

The second constituency of lecturer with whom the intending lecturers' views were shared, were the centre tutors. These were middle managers in their institutions who, being involved in staff development activities, had the specific responsibilities of running the in-service PGCE programmes, and looking after the intending lecturers whilst they were on teaching practice in the institution. Collectively they had a wealth of experience of both teaching, and observing others teach, across different departments/faculties.

The approach adopted was the same as for the in-service students. During the presentation of the original findings, expressions of pain about an 'ageing work force' but no condemnation or rejection of those findings.

The tutors acknowledged that there were those in their institutions who could be classified as 'dinosaurs', but rather than attributing the characteristics as being inherent within the lecturer, they pointed to the number of changes that college staff have experienced:

Maybe people are de-motivated due to college changes - sit around and moan - spiral - we moan because we a depressed and become more depressed because we moan.

the interaction between the intending lecturer and the lecturer:

'I find that the older staff feel threatened by the young bright eager things. They feel inadequate and so loose self-confidence.'

and to the fact that, in their opinion:

'I think there is a problem teaching younger students - shared by existing lecturers. We all like to teach mature responsive groups. Difficult to know how to cope with those immature students who do not want to be there - discipline problems etc.

I also think that there is a problem in the curriculum design for these students in that it is inappropriate. Teachers don't understand what a curriculum is because it is invisible - yet key. The 16 -18 curriculum inappropriate in that the theories and principles are missing. The students struggle with it. Student teachers don't have the experience - the lecturers don't understand the principles.'

They were also aware of their own privileged position in being centre tutors, working with a wide variety of in-service lecturers some of whom had had very difficult experiences.

'During the first 10 minutes of the session we talk about critical events - some of the things that come out... horrendous things - and I am standing there thinking 'God how would I cope....''

' You know - a lot of lecturers don't have the luxury of teaching what they like teaching, mainly due to the fall in enrolment numbers - they are told 'We will take you to teach key skills' - but they don't have the training...'

In terms of their own role Centre Tutors lecturers regarded themselves as overworked due to excessive administrative demands being placed upon them:

'I am drowning in paperwork'

'Red tape. Excessive paperwork - Yes. We said excessive paperwork. The fact in colleges there are increasing numbers of admin staff but they don't seem to be taking any of the burden off us. In fact they are creating more admin work for us to do.'

'Extra tutorials, Liaison with agencies, Marketing, Parents, Information evenings, Open evenings ...'

'Excessive and repetitive. We have to do things again, again and again that you think the information (that's right) system should be able to give you (quite right).'

and that such demands got in the way of professional development and academic planning.

'It detracts from your ability to teach'


'Because you are spending so much time sorting out bits of paper.'

'The one thing I'm involved in a lot - constantly writing action plans on everything'

'Action plans - yes, I agree'

The final comment above draws out the distinction between what preoccupies more established practitioners and intending lecturers. The former are concerned with quality systems, action planning, and the demands of the Senior Management Team, FEFC and other external agencies. The intending lecturers on the other hand see paperwork very much as student records, lesson plans, and evaluations.

For the Centre Tutors the perceived excessive administrative demands by an aggressive management on their time appeared to work against their professional commitments and created a duality in their lives:

'I have two lives - life of the teacher in the classroom with students there - happy/ motivated. Outside the classroom - feel devalued and worthless.'

'When I am in the classroom I hope that none of my students would ever pick this [de-motivation] up - I tell them that the teaching profession is wonderful - give them the impression that I am a highly motivated individual'

'Being with the students gives you a rationale for being in it [education]'.

'What we went into teaching for was to teach not to be administrators...'


A discourse on perceptions

Teaching, being highly practical, person-centred, profession, presents the individual lecturer with a complexity of interaction at many different levels where knowledge alone, whether subject or pedagogic, is insufficient for understanding (Hatton 1994). Reflection, as espoused by Schon (1987), is seen as key in many teacher training programmes when used within the Kolb (1984) learning cycle to produce the model of the 'reflective practitioner' where

'ones knowledge, understanding and practice will be examined and developed in the light of

- one's own experiences and prior expertise,

- the experiences and expertise of the tutors,

- extant theory and practice, recorded in case studies and research literature'

Wolverhampton University PGCE Award Guide 1999 p3

But such an 'examination' can, and often does, fall short of the total 'perspective transformation' (Mezirow, 1991) which

' more than purely intellectual learning, personal development and the learning of technical skills (though each of these has an important place within any vocational education). Rather, complex changes in beliefs, cognition and emotion are required, 'empowering' people to act differently within their social worlds.' (James 1995, 292)

Such a transformation is required if the neophyte lecturer is to break from his/her past experiences and beliefs of education, and not perpetuate the habits, prejudices, and idiosyncrasies or his/her teachers. What Mezirow (1991) and James (1995) have found is that

'Individual reflection, while valuable for some people, becomes particularly powerful when affirmed, and sometimes challenged in a spirit of friendship, by others' (James, 1995)

Each of the three constituencies of lecturer participating in the research exhibits different aspects of a 'perspective transformation', and the influence of others, in their attitudes to the role of lecturer; their colleagues and students; and their own emancipation.

Using the categorisation of the different types of reflection articulated by Grundy (1987),

Technical = 'know how': related to efficiency;

Practical = 'know what I ought to do': related to enhancement; and

Critical = 'know why': related to self and social awareness

Table 1 draws out the differences of attitude as expressed by the three groups of lecturer. At one level the validity of such an exercise can be questioned in that inferences are being drawn that were not explicit in the data gathering events, but at a deeper level it can be argued that such responses provide a 'truer' perspective than direct questioning could in that the 'apple for the teacher' syndrome would then come into play, with the lecturers giving the answers they think the researchers, who were also involved in their teacher education, would want to hear.

It is not the writers' intent to associate a value judgement to the attitudes expressed. Fashions change in education with increasing rapidity and views are held with increasing forcefulness and intolerance of any dissent. Neither has there been an attempt to seek to contextualise the attitudes into the socio-political-economic environment in which education finds itself. The effects of the environment are real, as a Centre Tutor said:

'Key to the student's perspective is not employed by the college. Being employed provides a very different perspective. My background is in industrial relations and I am aware how being employed affects the way you view things. Possibly the students did not see the effort we do in the background. The activities that lecturers undertake because they are employed. Students far more focussed on the classroom processes rather than on the background structural base. They have only a partial picture. But it is also true of employed staff who have a partial view because they are employed. Each has a biased view, employment creates an invisible line but has a real effect.'

 Table 1


Elsewhere (Bathmaker, A-M, and Avis, J., Parsons, J. 2001) we have discussed the way that trainee lecturers feel alienated from the community of practice they find on teaching practice. As 'strategic compliers' (Glesson and Shain, 1999) being prepared to work within the conditions in which they find themselves in the hope of a good reference and the possibility of future employment, they found themselves at odds with negativity expressed by the incumbents and so felt marginalized both in the staff room and the workroom.

Linking these findings to the present discussion, implications can be drawn for FE teacher training both through the pre- and in- service routes. Firstly, if it is accepted that a perspective transformation is desirable then the curriculum needs to be such as to encourage 'deep' reflection rather than just superficial technical reflection that occurs in post lesson evaluation and student portfolios, and in a way that the multiplying factor that peer support and positive criticism brings can be brought into play. Secondly, that the way trainee lecturers are inducted and supported within the colleges whilst on teaching practice to reduce the sense of marginalisation that they feel needs to be addressed if they are to feel part of a community of practice. Being part of a community of practice is not something that can be taught, it is experienced. This is true for both neophytes and part-timers. The approach adopted by government to introduce recognised teaching qualifications for FE lecturers (Blackstone, 2000) through the use of the FENTO standards does not appear either to support a reflective approach, or to acknowledge the need for continual professional development for all lecturers beyond the first two categories of reflection; the Technical 'know how', related to efficiency, and the Practical 'know what I ought to do', related to enhancement. The Critical = 'know why', related to self and social awareness appears not to be of importance in a culture of results, outcomes, and efficiencies. Such an emphasis on practice can lead to atrophying of the underpinning theories.

The rhetoric that surrounded the introduction of the TVEI and GNVQ developments talked of the new type of lecturer and a new management of learning (Gleeson, 1987; Bloomer, 1998; Bates, 1998), but it is evident that many of the 'old' type of lecturer and old styles are still in place, and will continue to co-exist with the new as long as the cultures and management styles in colleges fail to recognise the importance of 'professionalism' in its widest sense and the value of communities of practice.

The government is committed to lifelong learning, and is using the tools of new funding and inspection regimes to drive it forward. However questions still remain over the compatibility between this initiative, the professional deliverers, the learning and teaching cultures, and the management styles with FE.



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This document was added to the Education-line database on 05 July 2001