Smoke and Mirrors: Opportunity and Aspiration in 14-19 Education

Liz Atkins

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

The policy discourse around those young people who are the focus of the 14-19 agenda is one of negativity which, in its use of language such as non-academic, disaffected, disadvantaged places young people firmly within a deficit model. This model frames these young people as low achievers with low aspirations, routinely dismisses them as non-academic yet claims to offer opportunities in the form of a vocational education which, according to the rhetoric, will lead to a lifelong (nirvana?) of high skill, high paid work, personal satisfaction and opportunity (providing they continue to engage in lifelong learning), something which many young people take on trust. Drawing on original empirical research, and working within a framework informed by Marxist and social justice concepts, this paper contests the assumption that these young people have low aspirations, arguing that falling within a deficit model, constrained by discourses of negativity, powerless to change a system which militates against them and lacking the agency for change their chances of achieving those aspirations are almost non-existent. The paper poses a number of questions: What are 'high' and 'low' aspirations? What is 'non ? academic'? Why, every year, are nearly half of all young people characterized in this way? What is, or is not, an 'opportunity'? It argues that notions of opportunity are, in fact, smoke and mirrors, a massive deception which enables the channelling of these young people into the low pay, low skill work market in readiness to fulfil government demands for cheap labour as and when it is needed. Finally, it concludes with proposals for change in the 14-19 and PCET systems which could provide a more equitable and effective framework for young people to achieve their hopes and dreams.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010
EventDiscourse Power and Resistance Conference - Greenwich
Duration: 1 Mar 2010 → …

Conference

ConferenceDiscourse Power and Resistance Conference
Period1/03/10 → …

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