Building identities in FE : a case study of construction lecturers
This case study focuses upon a group of construction lecturers at Riverford College and
their perspectives on change and working in the Further Education (FE) sector. In seeking
to understand how they create consciousness (both individual and collective) the research
participants' lives are retrospectively traced from childhood to their present posts as
vocational lecturers at Riverford College.
The research shows that their relative 'failure' to engage with the 'literate culture'
(Young 1975) of schooling becomes rebalanced through the process of enculturation into
their trades. Thus, their lengthy apprenticeships provide a set of cultural norms and
professional standards which become the touchstone of their professional identity.
Despite their resistance to the notion of their professional identity being grounded in their
membership of the teaching profession, this group of construction lecturers exhibits many
of the attributes expected of professional educators. This is evidenced through their
strong service ethic, high standards as practitioners, subject knowledge and expertise, and
in their attention to the holistic experience of their students (this is in line with Hoyle's
(1975) 'extended professional').
However, the indications from this research are that the far-reaching effects of
incorporation, accompanied by the rise of a prescriptive professional identity driven by a
control and compliance model of management in FE has led the lecturers to attempt to
resist this process by reasserting their autonomy. This has taken the form of a
reinforcement of the communities of practice of their former trades and the professional
standards they acquired during their time 'on the tools'. Essentially, this has meant a
sloughing away from imposed professional standards towards looking outside the college
for professional reference points. The research argues that the need to retain significant
autonomy over orientation and practice has been neglected by policy makers and
managers with the unanticipated consequence that commitment to college direction and
purpose becomes weakened.