My PhD research aims to explore the impact between social class and the participation and experiences of students in further education (FE) in England and Wales.
Social class is a foundational concept in British Sociology (Savage, 2015) and, despite academic and non-academic attempts to downplay and delegitimise the importance of social class, it still remains an important determinant in life outcomes (Reay, 2017). This PhD focuses on FE for two key reasons: (1) the paucity of research in this area, especially regarding social class (Hodkinson and James, 2003) and (2) the importance of it as an educational sector (House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, 2016).
Where research has explored the relationship between social class and FE it is limited in its scope, both methodologically and theoretically (e.g. Thompson, 2009; Crawford et al, 2011). Moreover, the conceptualisations of social class used are narrow and restricted to only the economic, typically the NS-SEC occupational definition which treats social class as a ‘discrete variable’ (Savage et al, 2014). This is limiting through it neglecting the important multi-dimensional nature of social class, especially the additional social, cultural and emotional elements of social class identity (Reay, 1998; Bottero, 2004; Sayer, 2005). Therefore, I aim use an innovative and broader definition of social class in my PhD to provide an understanding of how social class background impacts on participation in and experiences of FE in England and Wales.
Due to this project being within its preliminary stages of design a discussion of method and design is not possible. However, it is thought that a mixed-methods approach will be used to address the research questions generated.