Transition and acculturation : changing expectations in the move between A level and University
This study concentrates upon students making the transition from sixth form to university English Studies. In recent years, this is an issue that has come under increasing scrutiny within the higher education sector and to a lesser degree within the sixth form sector. It is apparent from a growing body of literature that lecturers in higher education are unsatisfied with the relationship between A level and degree level manifestations of subject and with the ability of in-coming undergraduate students to bridge the gap between the two. It is equally clear from the literature that for many students, the experience of moving from A level to undergraduate study is a problematic and often painful process. This thesis considers matters of academic transition and pedagogic encounter within English Studies from the perspectives of both students and teachers. In exploring these issues, a central focus is teachers' and students' expectations and how these are established within the variously constructed learning fora of the sixth form and of higher education. The interaction of these contrasting and sometimes conflicting expectational schemas at the academic borderlands of transition is explored through a detailed consideration of pedagogy and views of pedagogy amongst both teachers and students. The difficulties attendant on creating mutually conducive learning environments, operating to the satisfaction of students and teachers alike, are considered in the light of philosophical frameworks developed out of the writings of Pierre Bourdieu and Lev Vygotsky. The thesis also considers recent and current political developments. The direction of policy-making under New Labour, addressing both 14-19 school education (DfES, 2005) and higher education (DfES, 2003a; DfES, 2003b) witnesses significant changes in the shape and purposes of post-compulsory and higher education. It also signals the advent of further changes, and as such highlights the need for a fuller consideration of the interaction between sixth form and higher education. The widening participation agenda in particular resonates with this thesis' focus on transition, being a factor that may serve further to complexify and problematise the already strained relationship between A level and higher education. By means of surveys of sixth form students, sixth form teachers, first year undergraduates and university lecturers, this thesis draws out the experiences and expectations of teachers and learners on both sides of the A level/university divide. Data arising from these surveys provides a background for more localised data collection conducted through observation and interviews undertaken over the course of one academic year within a large pre-1992 university English department.