Terry, Rachel (2021) Learning in institutional contexts: A case study of recently qualified in-service teachers in English further education. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis investigates the learning of recently qualified teachers in Further Education (FE). It seeks to establish what former in-service trainees (FTs) learn in their first year after qualifying through the everyday practices of their work, and how this learning is shaped by institutional and policy contexts. The study is situated within existing research into workplace learning, conceptualised with reference to Lave and Wenger as a situated activity, involving the negotiation of meaning necessitated by participation in practice. A materialist ontology is adopted, rooted in Dorothy Smith’s Institutional Ethnography (IE), which seeks to explicate social relations through people’s lived experience. The bridge between the FTs’ learning and their institutional and policy contexts is formed through the concept of reification, which connects Wenger’s social theory of learning with Smith’s IE: texts are scrutinised for the regulatory role they play in co-ordinating practice across contexts.

A qualitative case study design enables an in-depth exploration of the learning of eight FTs within six organisational settings. The participants all achieved a higher-level initial teacher education (ITE) qualification through the distributed provision of one university. Semi-structured interviews were carried out near the start and towards the end of their first year after qualifying. These incorporated the use of the Pictor technique, a Visual Elicitation Method which was found to contribute strongly to the quality and extent of the data generated. Documents relating to the settings were also analysed, and managers responsible for the learning of staff in three of the organisations were interviewed. Critical Discourse Analysis was applied to the analysis of documents, and thematic analysis to the interview data.

The study finds that the learning of the FTs is powerfully shaped by their institutional contexts, through which policy is also enacted. Texts produced at a national level, most notably Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework, generate institutional texts which co-ordinate the practices of the FTs across local settings. The FTs’ learning is contingent on the practices in which they participate, and the degree to which these practices prompt meaning-making. The monitoring of student attendance and progress forms a primary area of activity for the majority of the FTs, involving mediation between the complex needs of the students and the requirements of a performative workplace; teaching, and the development of subject-specialist pedagogy, are mostly side-lined. Development activities which allow FTs to make sense of their experiences and to integrate new ideas within their own subject and context are most highly valued as learning opportunities, although individual barriers to such development exist.

The study contributes to new knowledge in providing detailed insights into what and how individual FTs learn within contrasting institutional contexts. These insights may be of relevance to practitioners, employers and policy makers, as they obtain wider relevance through the generalising power of the institution. The study also makes methodological contributions in developing a theoretical framework that could be applied to the investigation of learning within other institutional contexts, and in showing how visual and graphic techniques may be productively employed.

FINAL THESIS - Terry.pdf - Accepted Version
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