Trainee Skills for Life teachers at the research, policy, practice nexus

Fig 1 Pedagogic subject: constructed by confluence of policy, new learning (diploma), values and beliefs, practice

It doesn’t always fit in. It’s great theory; it’s good. You know, we’ve talked about how to contextualise it and the wheel, all of that.  It was very refreshing. But my [manager], all she’s interested in is, ‘Oh! He failed. Can we get him back in?’ Not, ‘Can we develop this individual?’ ‘Can we get him back in? What do you think he failed on?’ And that’s the environment we’re in. And with the contracts coming up for renewal.                                     
Joseph, Literacy Teacher, Prison

This paper emerges from an ongoing ethnographic study into the ways in which trainee PCET teachers undertaking a specialist University Diploma in Skills for Life (ESOL and Literacy) construct literacy as a pedagogic subject. Joseph, one the eleven trainees to take part in the study, articulates with striking familiarity the contradictions and tensions practitioners often experience when defining their pedagogy. Echoing the conceptual framework from within which this paper is written, Joseph positions himself uncomfortably between the ‘economy of performance’ and the ‘ecology of practice’ (Stronach, 2002)p109. Stronach et al present and then resist the presentation of this tension as a polarity between what policy requires practitioners to do and what in their own judgement they feel the situation requires.  Their use of the metaphor of the tightrope walker captures the danger and dexterity of Skills for Life professionalism but invites further complication with multiple conceptualisations of literacy which is further filtered through the intuitive values, beliefs and commitments that practitioners bring to their role.

Joseph, in the quote above based on a recording and transcription of a tutorial, references each of these tensions and filtrations.  He is refreshed by his learning, and seems to reframe a recently undertaken exercise in assessing literacy using a clock with his own holistic wheel metaphor. He then positions himself as being at odds with is manager – who responds to a student failing a literacy test – in target defined terms.  Her interest, unlike his own, is a distilled interest in identifying the specific core-curricular referenced points required by the student to pass the test. His broader developmental needs are not mentioned. The quote ends with a fragmented sentence. The contract Joseph refers to are those that enable his organisation to deliver literacy in Yorkshire and Humberside prisons. It requires little elaboration. The renewal of the contract is based entirely on performance and the passing of tests.

STRONACH, I. 2002. Towards an uncertain politics of professionalism: teacher and nurse identities in flux. Journal of Education Policy, 17, 109.

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