An exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector fe/he institutions in England

Transitions in East Heath College

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Transitions in East Heath College

In the minds and actions of teaching and administration staff, HE and FE provision within East Heath College have been split for some time, with boundaries and divisions between FE and HE work. During the 1997/98 academic year East Heath College took the decision to split its FE and HE provision internally so that teaching and managerial staff no longer worked on both FE and HE courses.

Since this point, fewer and fewer members of teaching staff have taught on both FE and HE courses. One member of staff who was involved in the delivery of Media courses at the time reports that following the split, staff who had previously shared staff rooms no longer did so (and indeed the staff rooms may be in quite separate locations). Similarly, posters would advertise events as being “only for HE students”. One of the tutors on the Foundation Degree in Early Years commented that prior to the split she had taught on both FE and HE courses but now, although she would like to teach on FE as well, she is not allowed to.

The impact of the structural division of FE and HE at East Heath College appears to have a negative effect on transitions within the institution. Communication between FE and HE tutors within the same subject area is limited: there is no formal facility such as a subject area group for sharing information. For Janet, the course leader on the National Diploma Business, the lack of a positive interest in the FE students as a ‘captive audience’ by HE tutors and management is strange.

A lack of communication between FE and HE staff is characterised in Sports Science by a poor match between the content of the National Diploma and the Degree course. Laura, course leader on the National Diploma Sport (Sports Development and Fitness), commented in her interview that the Degree course offered at East Heath College focused too closely on sports science and that the students leaving the National Diploma course tended to be more interested in sports management or sports development.

In fact, it is clear that although progression routes do exist through the East Heath College course provision, they are not necessarily encouraged. Examples of possible routes include progression from the National Diploma Business to either the BA Hons Business Management or the FdA Business Management; for students on the National Diploma Sports, students could progress to either BSc Sports Science, FdSC Sport, Health and Exercise or the BSc Science (foundation year). These routes, although available to students, are not preferred in the sense that students are neither explicitly prepared for transition onto these courses nor are these options actively promoted to them.

Staff attitudes are reinforced by the use of space within the College. Teaching rooms are typically designated as being either FE or HE – “FE” teaching rooms are much more likely to have Smartboards in them than rooms used for teaching HE courses. Similarly, the administration of similar courses has become physically separated with FE Business and HE Business run from offices in different buildings.

As a result of these various factors, East Heath College may be characterised as displaying two different cultures or habituses: one of FE study and one of HE study. The stratification laid out in the education system is reinforced by staff and student attitudes, physical separation of teaching and administration spaces, and a lack of clear strategic commitment to promoting internal student progression. These habituses further complicate internal progression, requiring that students make the transition from one to another as they move from FE to HE within the College.

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