Passmore, Sarah (2016) The learning experiences of BTEC students at sixth form college : an ethnographic explanation. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Sixth form colleges have a long established and valued position within the post-16 education sector in the UK. Despite maintaining a reputation for high quality provision and student success rates, there is very little literature which focuses on this as an institution compared to schools and general further education colleges. Furthermore, there is little research which focuses on students undertaking vocational programmes of study at sixth form, as opposed to the academic A-level qualification which is viewed as its’ ‘staple provision’. This research attempts to address this through an exploration of sixth form college practices and how these serve to shape the learning experiences of the students.
Immersed within the SFC context, the researcher adopted the dual role of researcher and student support assistant. Informed by the interpretivist epistemology of symbolic interactionism the researcher employed an ethnographic methodology over one academic term, utilising the methods of participant observation and interviews. The participants comprise a cohort of BTEC First Diploma Health and Social Care (level 2) students and teachers. The data are presented in a story followed by a thematic analysis. The subsequent discussion of findings is structured according to a theoretical framework which rejects deterministic assumptions of intelligence located within the minds of individuals and instead posits learning as an inherently social, reciprocal process with others. It draws upon Communities of Practice theory (Wenger, 1998) as a way of understanding how participation in learning is enabled or disabled and Vygotskian theory (1978) as a way of understanding the mechanisms of learning. Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model (1979, 2005) provides an overarching and unifying aspect of the theoretical framework, enabling consideration of the complex proximal and distal factors which shape the learning experiences of students.
This research reveals some important considerations for policy makers and providers of SFC. It discusses ways in which college practices and the learning relationships established between students and teachers serve to enable or disable participation in the learning process. Furthermore, it illustrates the complex and intricate web of factors present in the lives of students and how these are shaped not only by the proximal features of their learning community, but by the more distal, wider features of government educational policy.

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