Behind the Curtain
: An Exploration of Professionalism and Capital in Further Education

  • Paul Tully

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Professionalism is an important issue for FE policymakers in post-16 education because of its
    established links to competence, morale and staff continuity. This study examined concepts of
    professionalism in the English further education sector, how it is strengthened or weakened,
    and the implications this has for workforce planning and management.

    The study adopted a Bourdieusian framework which explains social phenomena such as
    professionalism in terms of three capitals (social, economic, cultural). These capitals operate
    dynamically in a social structure (field) and generate potentialities for social thought and action
    (habitus). The study utilised a survey comprising quantitative and qualitative forms of enquiry
    to investigate both structural and attitudinal aspects of professionalism. The survey contained
    six sections: demographics, employment, subject knowledge, work relationships, motivation
    and professionalism. Perceptions of professionalism were measured using a revised 15-item
    version of the Hall professionalism scale (1968) based on adaptations by Wimmer (2007) and
    Scailes (2003). Measures of cultural, social and economic capital were also constructed. An
    online survey was sent out to teachers, managers and curriculum support staff working across
    the sector with 461 useable responses collected.

    The achieved sample reflected the sector profile in terms of gender, ethnicity and background,
    though the average age was slightly higher in the achieved sample. The quantitative data was
    analysed using descriptive and inferential methods including exploratory factor analysis,
    regression, ANOVA and correspondence analysis. Professionalism was affected by key
    respondent demographics and occupational position. Professionalism was also found to be
    statistically significantly related to the distribution of capital (cultural, social and economic).
    A typology highlighted the way in which the three capitals were distributed in the sample. The
    data yielded three overarching themes for FE professionalism: expertise, service and organisational compliance. Respondents’ location in the FE hierarchy determined which of these themes were perceived as dominant. Of the three themes, expertise was the most important variable differentiating scores on professionalism and work status, but to function as capital it must be recognised by others.

    This study has demonstrated that professionalism is a more nuanced concept than previous studies have suggested. In FE, notions of professionalism vary across the FE field according to job role, committee membership, trade union membership, teaching load and incidences of non-specialist teaching. The findings establish a relationship between people’s position in the field and the way capital is distributed. There is also further evidence, in line with recent analyses by Lobb (2017) and Donovan (2019), that professionalism in FE is being challenged by persistent managerial pressures.
    Date of AwardNov 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorYvonne Hillier (Supervisor), Nadia Edmond (Supervisor) & Mark Price (Supervisor)

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