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Wednesday, July 3 • 2:15pm - 2:55pm
The diminishing autonomy of vocational education: Teachers' perspectives

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This paper will examine how vocational education teachers respond to reform by utilizing the LCT dimension of Autonomy. Since the 1980s public budget pressures and neoliberal economic philosophy have prompted governments to focus on getting “more for less” [Hood 1991] by increasingly borrowing practices from business to make the public service more efficient. Education policy has not been immune from these transformations. The vocational education sector in Australia has taken these changes comparatively further than most other developed nations [Wheelahan 2014a]. Vocational education has often been the ‘testing ground’ for educational policy reforms in Australia due to its comparatively low status and autonomy compared to the higher education sector [Wheelahan 2014a]. Repeated reforms over the past ten years have put vocational education in a state of flux, resulting in an abundance of academic commentary examining the various reforms. However, this research generally does not include the perspective of vocational teachers – those who are actually implementing the changes and mediating their effects on-the-ground. Teachers similarly felt that they did not have a voice in the policy creation process [O’Brien and Down 2002; Martin 2012], which is problematic as these reforms are ultimately enacted in the classroom. As such this paper aims to bridge this gap by providing a space for teachers to voice these concerns and contribute to educational discourse. To this end, the research forefronts the opinions and experiences of those actually involved in the implementation process and uncovers their effects on-the-ground.

This paper offers insight into how one dimension of LCT, Autonomy, [Maton & Howard 2018] can be used to understand the divergence between how different teachers within vocational education respond to marketization reforms. Positional autonomy and relational autonomy allow us to identify shifts in how the teachers position themselves within the educational field as well as how the perceive the underlying logics of the field shifting due to reforms. Particularly, the concepts of ‘code match’ and ‘code clash’ will be utilized when examining the positions of different groups of teachers in relation to the reforms.

The data in this paper was gathered from interviews with vocational educators from two different departments: nursing and trades teachers. These departments were chosen due to their diverse histories within the vocational education sector. The semi-structured interviews focused on the teachers’ changing roles within vocational education, where they felt the reforms originated from and how they felt the values of the sector had changed in response. The open nature of the interviews allowed the participants to guide the process and fully explain their complex understandings of reforms and how they affected their teaching practice. Further, data from a concurrent survey of teachers from a variety of different sections within vocational education will be provided to triangulate findings from the interviews.

The study demonstrates that the disciplinary orientation of vocational education teachers impacts their attitudes towards reform. Autonomy codes were vital as an examination tool for identifying which aspects of this disciplinary orientation were most important in explaining teachers’ reticence towards reforms. These results highlight the usefulness of autonomy codes when examining changing norms or principles within a sector. Furthermore, these results also provide greater understandings of teachers’ perspectives and responses to marketization reform, an area still largely under-researched. This insight is particularly important in the current context, as changes in vocational education in Australia appear to be acting as a weather vane for similar educational policies targeting the tertiary education sector.


Wednesday July 3, 2019 2:15pm - 2:55pm SAST
Room B48