Teaching the English Functional Skills qualification to SEN pupils
: a narrative research study of teachers’ beliefs

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Education


The task of teaching English, or literacy, to pupils designated as ‘having SEN’ is commonly dominated by a conceptualisation of deficit in relation to said pupils, and an ‘autonomous’ model of understanding literacy. I examine English teaching in a particular professional context: a SEN specialist teaching service commissioned to deliver the English Functional Skills Qualification (FSQ) to a number of pupils with SEN studying in mainstream secondary schools. This study is positioned to address a gap in scholarship theorising the ideological and pedagogical underpinnings of the FSQ seen in relation to wider trends in educational policy and SEN education. The study is best understood as a contribution in the field of curriculum studies and as a socially-informed investigation of SEN, set in a professional context.

A qualitative approach was adopted to allow the emergence of the voices of participants – 8 SEN teachers – in relation to the way they conceptualise literacy and its relationship to their pupils’ life chances and their curriculum design considerations in relation to textual choices. Acknowledging that the FSQ curriculum as taught in this context is a unique, and to a degree discrete aspect of pupils’ schooling, a narrative approach is used here in an attempt to offer a heuristic view of the qualification from its policy genesis to the point of classroom teaching. The analysis comprises of a narration of the ‘story of the FSQ’; narrative accounts of 8 semi-structured interviews with participating teachers as well as further conversations and correspondences; thematic analyses of the narrative accounts. The analysis carried out reveals that while teachers broadly accept the relevance of the functional literacy paradigm to their work they equally are awake to its inherent tensions and limitations. They, in fact, demonstrated how they enact the curriculum in ways which at times negate or significantly expand upon it.

Tracing a state-sanctioned qualification in literacy from its inception to its delivery allows a vantage point to observe discourse as it is translated into pedagogic practice. The story of the FSQ as it is presented here in a particular professional context shows how powerful linguistic devices which present ‘common sense’ articulations of key social and educational concepts might be vulnerable to interpretations different from those originally intended. This study presents literacy teaching as a complex, often contradictory enterprise; it emphasises – and advocates – the need for practitioners to question its purposes, both educational and social.

This study is to be seen also with regard to my IFS study, which examined similar questions and explored these eliciting the views of pupils with SEN; some of whom were taught by the teachers taking part in the current study.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlan Cribb (Supervisor) & Carla Finesilver (Supervisor)

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