Encouragement, Enticement, and/or Deterrent: A Case Study Exploring Female Experience in a Vocational Education (VET) Initiative in Northern England

Title: Encouragement, Enticement, and/or Deterrent: A Case Study Exploring Female Experience in a Vocational Education (VET) Initiative in Northern England
Authors: Parris, Sandra A.
Date: 2013
Abstract: This case study examined how a group of young girls at a secondary school in northern England made sense of their participation in a gender specific vocational education initiative designed to encourage female interest in skilled trade education and professions. The investigation consists of a qualitative case study that included ‘practical’ and historical components. On the practical side, the study looked at a gender specific initiative (girls only) aimed at Year 9 students (12-14 years old) at Garden Road Community and Technology School. The one-day sessions were held at local area colleges or vocational education and training (VET) training facilities and covered skilled trade fields that are traditionally male-dominated (e.g. automotive, construction and engineering). My methodology for the study consisted of two data sources, interviews and a review of public VET policy-related documents. The data was gathered using two methods, with individual and group interviews as the primary one, and public VET policy-related document analysis as the secondary one. In total, 13 current, 2 former and an additional 2 formerly registered (now graduates who decided to pursue non-traditional vocational education and professions) students at the school were interviewed. Beside former and current students, interviews were conducted with 2 instructors and 1 senior administrator at the school. The selection of government policy-related documents covered 2002 to 2011. The study is framed by a feminist informed genealogy that invokes Foucault’s (1990) notion of ‘biopower’ and Pillow’s (2003) notion of the ‘gendered body.’ Meanwhile, Ted Aoki’s (2003) concepts of curriculum-as-plan and curricula-as-lived are used to analyze and discuss the review of UK government policy-related documents and participant narratives. The theme-based presentation of student narratives centred on the girls’ understanding and experience of: the session process and content; gender; non-traditional VET as educational and occupational options; and the impact of the sessions on their educational and professional choices. The student narratives suggest several things that relate to their understanding of gender and non-traditional VET. First, the sessions proved to be both interesting and informative and students expressed an interest in taking part in more (and) varied gender-specific sessions. Second, traditional constructions of gender and gendered behavior are commonly used in job-related discourse as evidenced by the use of the terms ‘boys jobs’ and ‘girls jobs’ among the students. In addition, students had limited opportunities for exposure to non-traditional VET education and professions; and what knowledge they do have is generally dependent upon family knowledge and experience in the area. From a document review standpoint, the findings show that government commitment in terms of interest and financial backing for VET has been inconsistent. Resultantly, schools are left to identify and maintain a range of community-based partnerships that may not always see gender segregation in VET as a major concern. The significance of this study rests in the presentation of the girls’ ‘lived curriculum’ and ‘gendered’ experiences as points that can offer insight into what transpires within vocational education initiatives and settings. Furthermore, from a feminist perspective the research also highlights the continued need to work with schools on how gender is presented, discussed and understood among students. Failure to consider the gendered nature of discourse about education and professional options that takes place within school and class settings limits students’ perspectives about what is available and possible.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/26295
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