Reflective activists? Exploring student teachers’ emerging practice in Northern Ireland: a Bourdieusian analysis

Connolly, Mary Claire (2019) Reflective activists? Exploring student teachers’ emerging practice in Northern Ireland: a Bourdieusian analysis. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[img] PDF
Download (2MB)


‘Class’ has become increasingly invisible in contemporary society, with teachers reluctant to discuss or acknowledge it (Reay, 2006; Hall and Jones, 2013). This can lead to inequality as the education system continues to disadvantage working-class children while advantaging their middle-class peers. In this study, I focus on two aspects of this problem. First is the impact on education due to the perpetuation of class-based inequality and, secondly, the (in)ability of teachers to recognise and/or address this inequality within the system. This research set out to explore student teachers’ perceptions of social class and academic selection which, I argue, exacerbates and perpetuates unfairness in education in Northern Ireland. My concern is that student teachers, having themselves been through processes of selection to gain a place in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and generally having come from socially ‘privileged’ backgrounds, may find it challenging to move beyond their own experiences to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils.

Consistent with an interpretivist paradigm, this research acknowledges that meaning is socially constructed through interaction with others. Data was collected initially through a survey of 128 students in their third year of ITE in a single institution. This was followed by three focus groups and then semi-structured interviews with ten student teachers. The methodological design and data analysis were informed by Bourdieu’s signature concepts of habitus, field and, to a lesser extent, capital, thus exploring students’ perceptions of practice. Drawing on the data collected through focus groups and interviews, five themes emerged and these are analysed and discussed in relation to both current literature and with reference to Bourdieu’s theoretical understanding in three sections based around the facets of habitus. The findings indicate that social reproduction is likely to continue if the student’s habitus is reproductive.

The student teachers in this study, who have not been challenged either by experiences or in their thinking, tend to misrecognise the current education system as fair and effective, and often (in common with findings from Reay, 2006; Dunne and Gazeley, 2008; Hall and Jones, 2013; Archer et al., 2018) attribute underachievement to the home background of the pupil. It is only when students encounter failure or disruption within the field, or are asked to stop and consider inequalities, that the habitus’ transformative potential might encourage them to question the equity of the system and to play a part in seeking amelioration. The conclusion to this study offers some proposals that might encourage student teachers to being to reflect more deeply about the ‘purposes and consequences of education’ (GTCNI, 2007:9) and promote reflective activist practitioners. Although this is a small-scale study, and I articulate its limitations, its findings lead me to suggest that until ITE equips students to recognise and challenge their own assumptions and to better understand the complexity of our education system, inequalities and symbolic violence will be perpetuated.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Teacher education, student teachers, reflective activist, educational inequality, social class, academic selection, Northern Ireland, GTCNI, reflective practice, Bourdieu, misrecognition, habitus, reproduction in education, transformative habitus, field, capital.
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Hedge, Professor Nicki
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Mary Claire Connolly
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75162
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2019 13:37
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2022 14:11
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75162

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year