“Older and wiser than the schoolkids on the bus”: the impact of academic transition on learner identity in an FE setting (Transitions from school and beyond special issue)


Gregory, E. (2023). “Older and Wiser than the Schoolkids on the Bus”: The Impact of Academic Transition on Learner Identity in an FE Setting. International Journal of Educational and Life Transitions, 2(1): 2, pp. 1–13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/ijelt.39



You can listen to Dr Liz Gregory providing an overview of the article.

Transcript of the podcast

This article addresses how different qualifications are viewed as carrying different values, and how an awareness of this might affect the way that students narrate their experiences of educational transition. In particular, the article considers the transition from level two study of GSCEs at secondary school to level three study of A-levels or BTECs in a college environment. The article draws on data gathered in a college of further education in England, in which semi-structured narrative interviews were conducted with 24 learners aged 16-19, all in their first year of studying an A-level or a BTEC programme.

In England, choices for level 3 study for the majority of learners are restricted to A-levels, seen as the more “academic” option, or a vocational qualification (currently most likely to be a BTEC). In theory, these qualifications are equivalent; in practice, a divide remains between academic and vocational qualifications in which the latter is represented as the less desirable option for able students. The study presented in this article uses Bourdieu’s thinking tools to consider this inequality in the field of 16-19 education, and why different qualifications are perceived to carry differing levels of capital.

My findings illustrate that whilst negative perceptions still exist, more positive narratives around vocational qualifications are beginning to emerge. The majority of the BTEC participants showed awareness that their course was perceived as being less academic and therefore less desirable, and many of the A-level participants spoke of being told by parents and teachers that they should choose A-levels because they were “clever”. However, all participants spoke of the growing maturity, confidence and independence they had experienced as part of the transition process, and ten of the twelve BTEC participants had plans to go on to university. Thus, the article concludes that perceptions of vocational qualifications are beginning to change.

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