Looking beyond the label: What are the educational experiences of a cross-section of four cohorts of students labelled as ’non-traditional’?

Dodding, Jacqueline orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1956-0086 (2017) Looking beyond the label: What are the educational experiences of a cross-section of four cohorts of students labelled as ’non-traditional’? Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis document]
PDF (Thesis document) - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.



This practitioner research has explored the past and present educational experiences of mainly mature female students who are labelled as ‘non-traditional’ in a College-based Higher Education (HE) establishment in the 13th most deprived borough of the United Kingdom (UK). Semi-structured interviews with 19 student participants labelled as ‘non-traditional’ were undertaken to investigate their experience of compulsory and post-compulsory education. Further data was collected to understand staff experience of teaching ‘non-traditional’ students and relevant college documents were analysed to provide understanding of policy.
This research was undertaken within the interpretivist paradigm utilising elements of the bricolage approach and phenomenography. Student data was analysed using elements of phenomenological methods, I-Poems and Word Clouds, which allowed emphasis to be placed on personal rather than collective experience. The intention of the research was to allow the ‘voices’ of the student participants to be foregrounded in order to portray their individual stories.
This research offers insight into personal educational experiences of students labelled as ‘non-traditional’ and their decisions and choices regarding the pursuit, or not, of HE. The inclusion of analysis of staff participant data and college documents informs this study, setting the educational experiences of the students in wider context.
The primary findings of this study propose that there are often multiple factors to be considered when contemplating progression to HE study by students from lower socio-economic (LSE) groups who are labelled as ‘non-traditional’. Decisions whether to progress to post-compulsory education are often based on personal circumstances at the time, and not because the student is suffering from ‘low aspirations’ as is often suggested in the literature. However, when students from LSE groups do engage with HE study, this is often due to a number of factors such as support offered, diagnosis of learning difficulties, increased confidence, change in personal circumstances and local provision of HE courses.
This research contributes to the understanding of personal motivations of LSE students who are labelled as ‘non-traditional’ when considering HE study and the barriers they may face in doing so. It contends that education is a very personal journey, and policy makers should take a less linear approach to education provision, avoiding the use of language, which detrimentally portrays those who they are attempting to persuade into HE. There should be recognition that there may be multiple factors, which prevent participation in HE, and non-participation should not be treated as being ‘low aspirational’ or ‘deficient’. People may engage later in life when factors conspire to allow them to enter into HE.

Repository Staff Only: item control page