Simmons, Robin (2015) Civilising the natives? Liberal studies in further education revisited. British Journal of Educational Studies, 63 (1). pp. 85-101. ISSN 0007-1005

This paper uses Basil Bernstein’s work on pedagogic discourses to examine a largely neglected facet of the history of vocational education – the liberal studies movement in English further education (FE) colleges. Initially, the paper discusses some of the competing conceptions of education, work and society which underpinned the rise and fall of the liberal studies movement – if indeed it can be described as such. It then draws on data from interviews with former liberal and general studies (LS/GS) lecturers to focus on the ways in which different variants of liberal studies were, over time, implicated in inculcating certain forms of knowledge in vocational learners. Whilst it is acknowledged that LS/GS always represented contested territory and that it was highly variable both in terms of content and quality, the paper argues that, at least and under certain circumstances, liberal studies provided young working-class people with the opportunity to locate their experiences of vocational learning within a critical framework which is largely absent from FE today. This, it is argued, can be conceptualised as an engagement with what Bernstein described as ‘powerful knowledge’.

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