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Title: An exploration of teaching assistants' engagement with Foundation degree study
Author: Smith, Paul Henry
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis discusses an investigation into the understandings that school-based teaching assistants had of engaging with Foundation degree study at a new university. The general methodological approach adopted was qualitative. It was informed by aspects of the ethnographic perspective, but does not claim to be a traditional ethnography. The central issues that were explored were learners’ views of their reasons for choosing their course of study, their thoughts on being a Foundation degree student and feelings as they reached the end of their studies. This thesis offers a distinctive approach by addressing these three issues which are not examined holistically in existing research literature on teaching assistants and Foundation degree study. It also highlights the way that a range of circumstances and, crucially, identities inform Foundation degree students’ views of their engagement with study. Specifically, the research underlines the importance that notions of studentship, domestic roles and workplace experiences play in structuring these students’ understandings. This thesis also adds to the body of research that has explored the experiences of student-parents by documenting how learners from this group engage with a sub-degree level programme of vocationally-related higher education. In common with many ethnographers, the investigation’s ontological position was that individuals socially construct the world as they interpret it and act on these understandings. It was informed by the interpretivist perspective that has been developed by sociologists of education. This data was collected over four academic years and covered various points of the students’ studies. Semi-structured interviews with first and second year students were the primary method of data collection. Interviewing was initially conducted in a group format, before a smaller number of individual interviews were undertaken were carried out to further explore emergent themes. Eight group interviews were carried out with 44 participants. These were followed up with 12 individual interviews. Participant observations and documentary analysis of course-related documents were also drawn upon as contextualising sources. This data was utilised to develop the interview schedules which produced the main findings that are reported in this thesis. Fourteen modules were observed to produce supporting contextualising data. The overarching finding of this research was that for those whose views were captured, their engagement with Foundation degree study was often framed in terms of it being part of a complex and dynamic process of identity work. This cut across motives for study, experiences of being a Foundation degree student and the meanings ascribed to leaving their studies. Learners often defined their engagement across each of these in terms of identity transformation and preservation. Personal, occupational, learner and domestic identities were viewed as structuring this process. Employed student-mothers faced particular challenges due to having to manage inequitable experiences that accompanied their domestic, workplace and Foundation degree identities.
Supervisor: Hampden-Thompson, Gillian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available