‘Their defining moments’: Identifying critical influences for progression into post compulsory education in the Arts.

Baines, Martell (2019) ‘Their defining moments’: Identifying critical influences for progression into post compulsory education in the Arts. In: FACE (Forum for Access to Continuing Education) Conference 2019, 3 July - 5 July 2019, Sheffield Hallam University. (Unpublished)


The challenges of widening participation (WP) practice within the field of the arts are presented. Expanding on Bourdieu’s (1973) cultural, social and economic capitals, it investigates how good, democratic (Broadhead and Gregson. 2018), emancipatory (Biesta. 2013) or compensatory education (Bernstein. 1996) can/ cannot/ alone overcome society’s constraints to attain upward social mobility. It is a quandary that has been argued by Bernstein (1970), Gorard (2010) and Coffield and Williamson (2012 p.64). The question for Widening participation (WP) practitioners and practitioner researchers is: ‘Can WP compensate for society?’ The reality of the complexity and messiness of WP practice, to create meaningful change, is in contrast to the ‘should-ist’ approach of policy and regulatory guidance. Practitioners are tasked to deliver WP interventions, targeting specified under-represented groups to create measureable impact. The directives are to create conditions so that progression into and through post compulsory education becomes viable. However the challenges are how to surmount multiple overlapping hurdles that hinder individuals, families and communities attaining the capacity to progress in education. Interventions with groups, identified through single labels of disadvantage, maybe further complicated by other disadvantages being present in their lives. The difficulties faced may be underestimated or overlooked by an uncritical acceptance of the overly simplistic nomenclature. This complexity is demonstrated in the Children’s Commissioners Report (2018). The empirical data had its own challenges of overlapping criteria, limitations of datasets, a ‘toxic trio’ of vulnerabilities and ‘hidden’ individuals who are not counted. To interpret the impact of effective interventions, as a constant iteration, through reflection and refinement of WP, are important parts of practice. This can be achieved through a hermeneutical interpretivist approach, influenced by John Dewey’s (1933) pragmatism. The research method has been narrative enquiry (Clandinin and Connelly 2000) with critical incidents technique (CIT) (Flanagan. 1954). Semi-structured interviews with ‘storytelling prompts’ (Gremler 2004 in Spencer Oatey 2013, pp81-82) of highly engaged arts students, who were involved in WP delivery, provide a series of rich case studies. Emergent themes provide insights into their experiences and tribulations. The accounts reveal an array of factors encountered in their paths into post compulsory education. Their voices shape the design of timely and influential experiences that offer positive learning opportunities for its participants. Outreach pedagogy needs to be bespoke, responsive to its context, at a level that is appropriate for its recipients, at the stage of their education pathway that they find themselves at.

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