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Lifelong learning: teaching assistants' experiences of economic, social and cultural change following completion of a foundation degree

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This paper stems from a longitudinal research project that explored the perceptions and experiences of teaching assistants (predominantly women) who have undertaken a foundation degree. It draws upon Bourdieu's notion of habitus and investigates shifts in economic, cultural and social capital for this particular group of educational professionals. 189 graduates were invited to respond to a postal survey that asked questions about the impact of doing a vocational degree on personal and professional lives. The survey was followed up with six case study life history interviews to provide insight into the lived experiences of the teaching assistants. Our findings suggests that whilst there were personal benefits stemming from studying for the degree, such as a perceived increase in self-confidence, remunerated career development opportunities were limited and there was little change in terms of economic capital. There were changes and antagonisms in terms of social and cultural forms of capital. Our research exposed the personal challenges and hidden 'costs' involved in vocationally driven lifelong learning; especially for working mothers. We found that this group experienced a powerful conflict between fulfilling their professional aspirations and their responsibilities towards their families. In this paper we call for a more candid acknowledgement of the complex and shifting positioning of teaching assistants and the potential personal benefits and sacrifices involved in studying whilst working.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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