‘The customer selects what they want, we deliver it to them, and they leave happy and grasping the qualification they selected.’ (Member of a management team speaking to academic staff within an FE college in 2010)
Biesta (2005) indicated that the rise in the language of learning has impacted across Europe on the way ‘we understand and speak about education’. It has led to education being seen as a commodity and the learner as a customer, which in turn has led to a market model in FE; one which has influenced policy decisions, funding and created an audit driven culture (James & Biesta 2007, Hodkinson 2008). To ascertain the impact the language of learning has had upon practitioners’ understanding of education, their practice and their professional identity, semi structured interviews were carried out. Twelve practitioners of differing levels of experience in the FE sector across the North of England were interviewed, from PGCE trainees through to teachers with ten or more years of experience. Thematic analysis and coding of responses revealed a fading professional identity that has been replaced in newcomers and those with up to 5 years experience with acceptance of a role as a service provider. Poor knowledge of educational concepts and theories were wide-spread amongst interviewees with a dominance of pseudo-therapeutic ideas along with some evidence of the acquisition view (Sfard 1998) of learning. More worryingly it would appear that a failure to critically question their ‘teacher’s toolkit’ and an increasingly competitive atmosphere has resulted in blame for poor student performance being externalised onto colleagues and students. This lack of collegiality could hinder attempts to engage practitioners in methods such as Joint Practice Development (Fielding et al 2005) as a means to begin any critical questioning of practice.
The language of learning appears to have resulted in a prescriptive professional teacher’s toolkit being ‘handed’ unquestioningly to trainees as a Balm of Gilead. If as Dewey (1939), Bruner (1996) and others suggest a main aim of education is to bring students ‘into being’, one could argue that if teachers are being told how to ‘be’ rather than ‘becoming’ themselves it should be no surprise if this aim is not achieved.