University of Sussex
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Radical learning space: a case of a voluntary A Level English masterclass

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:48 authored by Steven J Hobbs
The argument put forward in this thesis is that as a consequence of the pedagogic and professional restrictions created by managerialism, as reflected in the highly regulated field of current state educational provision dominated by the school effectiveness paradigm, it is essential for the furthering of liberal critical democratic education that freer, but no less legitimate, pedagogic and learning spaces are recognized, established and embedded in mainstream practice. According to this premise, a critical theory position explores both empirically and theoretically how critical democratic pedagogic legitimation, can be made possible in the context of English A Level teaching and learning ractice in a sixth form college. This thesis begins by contextualizing the debate for the need for this possibility in the context of New Labour Policy development during 1999-2003. It then identifies and explores the politico-pedagogic nature of an open learning initiative derived from a voluntary, interdisciplinary English Masterclass. This empirical site is then analysed in the context of a ‘critical’ case study research design, based on the theoretical model of Jurgen Habermas, especially his ideological, political and pedagogic theorization of the concept and politics of a self-generated emancipated ‘lifeworld’ that attempts to re-negotiate alternative practice and identify through self-created and self-legitimized pedagogic method and social relations. This site of research has necessarily involved my research into an exploration and critique of much wider debates. In particular it engages with the nature and role of liberal democratic political theory and ideology and its influence on A Level curriculum modelling, learning experience and constructions of learner identity and teacher professionalism. What has also emerged from this wider study is an exploration of the nature and extent to which learning and teaching within the formal, official A Level curriculum model (Curriculum 2000), based on the learning dichotomy and dual learning sites of ‘modularity’ and ‘synopticity’, has produced not only a learning imbalance of democratic earning experiences and learning identities but also an uncritical learning and professional conformity and passivity inherent in the social construction of consumer-based studentship, professionalism and liberal democratic citizenship. It also engages with debates regarding the extent to which the social construction of consumer learning and professional identity and learning citizenship has been achieved at the expense of the full development and maturity of pluralistic and more active forms of critical studentship, critical citizenship and critical professionalism. As a consequence, this thesis both theoretically argues and demonstrates empirically how the official A Level curriculum and teacher professionalism is a product of the social and political reproduction systems of New Labour’s ‘middle way’ political product and practice which I argue became increasingly more authoritarian and statist owing to its integration of neo-conservativism and neo-liberalism as a redemptive ‘theological-educational’ project. I attempt a more detailed analysis of this redemptive educational project through an exploration of the concept of learning ‘space wars’ as set in the wider context of official learning principles and practices of globalisation. In attempting to theorize this emerging politicization of an empirical aspect of my own professional practice, l have also explored the nature and extent of the influence of the then new initiative of Student Voice and Student Voice work and the ‘Building Bridges’ policy that together offered the potential to encourage, facilitate and legitimate lternative principles and practices and outcomes of more radical open learning spaces. Finally, my argument for attempting to diversify the democratization of official A Level learning is ultimately, therefore, derived from a belief that we need to re-base democratic schooling in general on classical notions of discursive democratic morality, identity and practice. This, I argue, in the context of a developing, liberal democratic state under advanced corporate capitalism, would open up genuine and legitimate curricula, pedagogic and professional spaces for wider opportunities for the cultivation of rational, critical debate of important ethical and political questions relating to what makes a good citizen and what makes a good society, rather than asking more mundane utilitarian questions relating to what makes learning more standardized, efficient, productive and more predictable.


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  • Education Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • edd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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