Access to higher education : a case study of policy intentions and policy effects
This thesis investigates the relationship between policy intentions and policy effects. As a qualitative case study, the research focuses on an access course developed by teachers in a sixth form college in inner London. The study examines teachers' motives and students' experiences of the course as well as their post college careers over seven years. It draws on a combination of data, including interviews with teachers and students and documentary materials. In order to contextualise the research, four 'episodes' in the national development of access education are examined. Ball's policy cycle provides a theoretical framework and a toolbox of theories and concepts are employed, drawn from feminism(s) as well as structural and post-structuralist perspectives. The empirical study begins by telling the teachers' story of the development and demise of this access policy. The focus then moves to the students and the extent to which they could re-write the policy text and how this changed in different contexts of the policy cycle. At the sixth form college the opportunities for such re-making were considerable, with students characterised as 'receivers', 'rejecters' and the largest group 'recreators'. In higher education and in job seeking their room to manoeuvre was much more constrained. A recurring theme throughout the thesis is that despite the social justice intentions of these teachers some aspects of the policy were stigmatising. Targeting students for special treatment involved drawing attention to their 'difference' in order to justify the allocation of resources. This involved a recognition-redistribution dilemma and may have disadvantaged them further in some ways. This thesis supports former research findings of the mismatch between the ethos and teaching methods of access courses and those of higher education. Despite juggling and struggling with the demands of their degree courses the majority of students were eventually 'successful.' Four students rejected higher education in favour of alternative careers and even those with degree qualifications found these did not ensure graduate employment. The policy cycle approach is developed theoretically by adding explanatory power through the concept of recognition-redistribution dilemmas and by providing some evidence that the model under-emphasises structural constraints. The thesis concludes by highlighting issues confronting the future of access education.