Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

The Reconfiguration of Adult Education VET Teachers: Tensions Amongst Organisational Imperatives, Vocational Ideals and the Needs of Students

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

The Reconfiguration of Adult Education VET Teachers: Tensions Amongst Organisational Imperatives, Vocational Ideals and the Needs of Students

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

During the last decades, vocational educa- tion and training (VET) for adults in Swe- den has undergone a fundamental restructuring (Andersson & Wärvik, 2012). The restructuring is connected to and driven by discourses of mar- ketisation, to the changing working life that is demanding new competencies, and to the increasing individualisation of the society and the clients' freedom of choice (c.f. Beach & Carlsson, 2004; Lumsden Wass, 2004; Henning Loeb, 2007). One of the implications for adult education is a growing number of competing organisations, that constantly have to demon- strate that they live up to compliance standards stipulated by the tendering processes. Organisa- tions must operate in accordance with national adult education policies. Teachers are expected to act as 'agents of change', and also implement and follow the new standards stipulated by the state and their own organisation. However, as frontline staff, VET teachers are also encounter- ing demands from the students. In addition, VET teachers have over decades developed their own occupational virtues, based on VET adult education traditions and educational ideals of the trade and the working life (Brennan Kemmis, 2007; Berner, 2010; Fejes & Köpsén, 2012). It is therefore reasonable to assume that VET teachers often find themselves at the intersection of conflicting interests. Thus, to understand implications of educational restructuring it is important not only to study the political inten- tions and ambitions of those directing the restructuring per se, but also analyse how these intentions and ambitions materialise in the everyday working life of teachers, especially in their engagement with students (Lindblad & Goodson, 2011).

This article presents a case study of VET adult education teachers, employed by one of the larger providers of adult education in Swe- den, here given the pseudonym Swedvet. Swed- vet has activities in more than 90 locations all over the country and educates around 50,000 students every year. To address the demands of the competitive adult education market, a new quality assurance scheme (QA scheme) has been designed and introduced by the provider, creat- ing a standardisation of educational content and assessment procedures. Standardisation ensures that guidelines, and knowledge stored in rules, are imposed on a work practice (Brunsson & Jacobsson, 2000) and that this implies a kind of soft regulation (Jacobsson, 2004). For the VET teachers, the QA scheme signifies that their own organisation places new demands on them with the possible power to reshape their work and life as teachers.

The aim of the article is to examine the intro- duction of this QA scheme as a regulating technol- ogy that is part of the educational restructuring occurring currently, and to examine the subse- quent tensions in the work of the VET teachers. 'Tension' is regarded in this article as strain put on teachers when confronted with the new scheme, and the consequent demands that arise in their daily work. The research questions are: What assumptions is the QA scheme based on? How do the teachers encounter the QA scheme? What are the implications for the teachers and their work?

The main argument is that teachers' involve- ment in the QA scheme entails connections to an adult education restructuring program that creates tensions in their work, and in particular in their relations with students. However, organisations are not the rational tools of change we sometimes maybe think they are (Brunsson, 1982; Sahlin & Wedlin, 2008). Teachers' work is not just an arena for imple- mentation and materialisation of new ideas. Teachers' work is a practice, a stabilising activ- ity, with its own discourses, norms, material conditions and connections with other prac- tices. Such arrangements constitute and produce the practice but are at the same time constituted and produced by the practice (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008). …

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