An illusion of choice: The lived experiences of non-traditional students
AuthorsHopkinson, Sharon C.
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AbstractStudents with a combination of A levels and BTEC qualifications make up a small but significant number of students entering higher education (HE) in England. There has been limited research into how these students make the decision to study a combination of qualifications or how they feel the combination has supported the transition to university. This study uses Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to explore the in-depth lived experiences of three students who entered HE at the study university with a combination of A level and BTEC experiences. The study considers the agency the participants perceive they had during decision-making at 16 and 18. It also explores how assessment methods have acted as a structure limiting agency in decision-making. The study considers how the participants’ combination of qualifications has supported their transition to university. Analysis of the participants’ lived experiences identifies three key themes: the impact of assessment type on the students, an exploration of the structures affecting decision-making at 16 and 18, and how post-16 qualifications affect their academic identity. These themes are embedded within the academic/ vocational divide present within the English education system, where academic qualifications are given greater symbolic value, especially for entry to HE. The study uses Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of doxa, symbolic violence and social reproduction to identify structures that impact on the participants’ agency in their decision-making. It highlights the doxa of A levels as ‘gold standard’ in post-16 education. The study also provides supporting evidence for the continued academic/vocational divide in English post-16 education, through which symbolic violence is enacted on the participants. Symbolic violence is also identified in the government’s policies on assessment, where a focus on examinations reduces the participants’ agency. Indeed, recent changes in assessment in BTECs may limit future students’ opportunities to enter HE through this route. The thesis argues that government policies on assessment serve to reinforce the academic/vocational dichotomy and this may lead to social reproduction rather than widening participation to HE.
CitationHopkinson. S. C. (2022). An illusion of choice: The lived experiences of non-traditional students [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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