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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Stand Like a Boxer: In Defence of Vocational Education

Enda, McBrien (2021) Stand Like a Boxer: In Defence of Vocational Education. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)


“Vocational Education is a great thing…. For other people’s children”. Coughlan, 2015.
This thesis explores the existence of a vocational-academic divide. The works of Hyland (2018) and (2019) are used to introduce key issues in the debate. Hyland traces the origins of a vocational-academic divide, back to Ancient Greece, the social class stratifications and political, cultural and power relations which prevailed there and how these continue to influence Vocational Education in the UK and elsewhere today. Carr (1995) points to how the acceptance of this false divide has led to the construction of another questionable division … the separation of theory and practice. This study examines accounts of lived experiences of vocational education through the close observation of two particular apprentices, their actions and interactions. It considers how a construction craft skill is taught, learned and developed in context. In this thesis, the focus is upon the lived experiences of these students of Vocational Education as well as my own experiences in vocational education contexts. The research builds upon a previous study and contributes to a larger study. Both studies were completed as part of the ETF sponsored customised MPhil Practitioner Research Programme. The work of Hyland (2018:19) is helpful in drawing attention to important issues in the debate, including the social class stratifications and political, cultural and power relations which continue to influence Vocational Education in the UK today. Through accounts experience and observation, as well as data collected from questionnaires, a key purpose of this thesis is to bring to life how the development of craft skills and theoretical knowledge are perceived by those learning and teaching them. The cases which form the central focus of the thesis, are explored in considerable depth. These cases aim to tell the story (if not the whole story, then at least some of it) of two construction craft students studying plumbing at different times and stages in their development. One, a 1st year full-time Study Programme student, the other a 4th year apprentice student. The above works of Hyland alongside the works of Sennett (2008) and Biesta (2010) are used to remind us of the embodied nature of vocational education and the dignity of work throughout history. The processes underpinning the acquisition and development of craft from the Middle Ages to the 21st century are also explored. Questions of what we mean by ‘good work’, what we mean by theory and what we mean by practice, are also considered. In addition, this thesis critically examines our understanding of the nature of a practice, the processes through which a practice improves and the stages through which a practice develops.

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Depositing User: Veronique Laniel


Item ID: 14695

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Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2022 13:37
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2022 13:37


Author: McBrien Enda

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Faculty of Education and Society



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