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Pedagogies of Hope and Social Justice
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Based on the Transforming Lives research project, this book explores the transformative power of further education.

Outlining a timely and critical approach to educational research and practice, the book draws extensively on the testimonies of students and teachers to construct a model of transformative teaching and learning. The book critiques reductive ‘skills’ policies in further education and illuminates the impact colleges and Lifelong Learning have on social justice both for individuals, their families and communities.

For trainee teachers, teachers, leaders, researchers and policymakers alike, this is a persuasive argument for transformative approaches to teaching and learning which highlights the often unmeasured and under-appreciated strong holistic social benefits of further education.

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A starting point for this chapter is an understanding that the demands of global competition and the development of a ‘knowledge economy’ in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have led to the inception of a new ‘mass’ higher education (HE) service. Alongside this, within all sectors of education in England, there has been a strengthening of quasi-marketisation as a mechanism for improving ‘standards’. Among the pieces of legislation underpinning these policies, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 laid the foundations for a distinct stratification of universities: new universities entered the newly formed ‘market’ to compete with more established (so-called ‘red brick’) universities; with Oxford and Cambridge forming the crust of ‘excellence’. But, while the new massification of HE might suggest increased social mobility and the expansion of middle-class privilege and general prosperity, instead, particularly since New Labour took office in 1997, social divisions appear to have widened and social mobility has stalled (Nunn et al., 2007). Issues of great concern have been expressed in a Cabinet Office report, Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report on the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, which sees improving access to ‘professional’ jobs as a key policy driver in the coming years (Cabinet Office, 2009).

Alongside an entrenchment of social division and privilege, cultural strands of late modernity have emphasised individual/group identities. Theory has opened up new perspectives and brought positive political benefits, but the kind of solidarity that was connected to social class in the first part of the 20th century has fragmented. So, while a sense of who we are and to which social groups we belong has strengthened (in terms of ‘race’, gender, disability, social class origins, etc), this radical awareness has not led to coordinated and collective challenges to policies and structures.

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This paper draws on a longitudinal UCU research project: FE in England - Transforming Lives and Communities to explore transformative teaching and learning in adult literacy education and to argue for the place of research in affirming localised understandings of education that cut across the grain of contemporary educational reform. In the context of the dominance of a ‘skills’ discourse in further education in England, this research project focused on literacy education as a creating a discourse community offering ‘differential space’ (Lefebvre 1991) that is emancipatory for many learners at the local level of family and community. The research data illustrate that adult literacy education can be disruptive of the rigid linearity of a model of ‘learning progression’ that sorts individuals according to a qualification/age matrix. Instead, it can offer organic tools for resistance – through consciousness-raising and transformation by acting as a hope catalyst for changes in learners’ lives and teachers’ practice.

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Chapter 7 will revisit current theorisations of transformative teaching and learning and position our work within that field. Drawing on the heritage of the British adult education tradition, we flesh out a distinctive, contextualised theorisation of transformative education.

We draw on a range of theoretical perspectives as we pull together the themes from the teachers and learners’ chapters and probe the interconnected nature of teaching and learning in transformative education. This involves engaging with the principles of critical pedagogy, the debate around powerful knowledges, looking at symbolic violence and embodiment in educational experiences. The strongly aspects of transformative teaching and learning are addressed by exploring the role of affect, spatiality and the triad of belief, hope, love and care in transformative teaching and learning. Finally, we return to purposes: do we want a further and adult education orientated to maintaining the (flawed) social inequalities of the past, or do we instead need to reimagine it as a space for reimagining the collective personal development and socially just changes that we need in order to face the enormous challenges of the future?

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In Chapter 5, we address the contested meaning of social justice and go on to develop our thinking about transformative teaching and learning and how it connects with a range of connected issues. We explore how the academic/vocational divide in education feeds social division and inequality and further and adult education’s role in reifying as well as challenging that. Drawing on participants’ stories we explore how further and adult education offers a unique and cohesive space in which people from different ethnic backgrounds can forge in-between/hybrid identities in relation to people of other different backgrounds. We also reframe the concept of social mobility through participants’ stories and show how further and adult education can offer hope and benefit mental health and well-being for people caught up in difficult and potentially binding socio-economic circumstances.

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At the heart of the book, Chapter 4 will present the voices of students and teachers from the research as they have recounted their experiences to us but also, where relevant, the voices of parents and employers that sometimes assume great importance within these narratives and the journeys they take both within and outside the classroom. For us, these stories communicate how further and adult education is a force not just for individual development but for addressing social inequality. These are powerful and affecting stories of the triumph of individuals over difficult and often sharp and painful circumstances. They illustrate how transformative teaching and learning has a positive and courageous ripple effect into families and communities. The examples we present highlight the importance of the teacher’s role, how transformative educational experiences connect with parenthood and can take place even areas of provision (like apprenticeships) in which students are structurally and discursively positioned in objectified ways.

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Chapter 6 explores the implications of the research findings for the ways in which leadership and governance play out and are typically conceptualised in further (and to a lesser extent adult) education settings. As part of this, we critique the recent Area Reviews and discuss what they tell us about the breakdown of the architecture of further and adult education. Rather than viewing leadership as the psychological characteristic or property of individuals in senior positions, this chapter conceptualises it as a characteristic of the actions of staff at all levels within colleges. To illustrate this, we draw on teachers’ accounts from the project, showing how a transformative educational experiences depend on teachers building relationships with students in a co-produced differential space that is actively distanced from and buffered against the destructive effects of funding, accountability and performance-driven cultures. Leadership, as the enabled agency of all staff in a further and adult education provider, is necessary if the conditions conducive to transformative teaching and learning are to be met.

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After more than a decade of funding cuts and a never-ending stream of instrumentalist policy interventions, it’s time to re-evaluate the purpose of further and adult education. In England, there are two very different perspectives on this purpose. One view, held by government ministers, civil servants and policy makers, positions colleges and other providers as little factories whose sole purpose is to churn out a flexible, identity-less and objectified workforce of skilled labour. The other view, arising from local contexts and from the embodied experience of teachers and students, sees further and adult education as being about the growth and development of real people with real lives, families and communities. This view asserts its supreme value as an engine for individual, community-based and social change.

This book presents research from the Transforming Lives project: inspirational stories of transformative teaching and learning: educational experiences that have brought positive change to people’s lives and a huge range of wider social benefits. These stories assert the transformative power of education, its important role in bringing about social justice and as a space for nurturing change, love and hope for the future. While we celebrate these transformative stories, the research also illuminates the conditions that foster transformative educational experiences and the factors that hinder. The book argues that changes to funding and governance are vital if the true potential of further and adult education is to be realised.

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Chapter 8, the concluding chapter, suggests what needs to be done to build and strengthen transformative teaching and learning in further and adult education. It offers important re-imaginings of some of the major structural change that is necessary for the potential of post-schooling transformative education to be fully realised.

It proposes the changes to funding, leadership and the influence of local as opposed to central government that are necessary to create the conditions in which transformative teaching and learning can flourish and contribute fully to bringing about a more socially just society.

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Chapter 3 will focus on our use of digital technologies when researching with a methodological approach centred on social justice and in the sharing of our participants’ stories. We provide an overview of the way the project used video (recording and editing), the website and a Twitter account to gather data but also to share it and to broaden the impact of the research with a democratic interactive digital platform. The website in particular we see as facilitating the co-production of a ‘third space’ in which further and adult education can be collectively reimagined by the staff and students who constitute it.

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