'A fish in water’ - Supporting transition to Higher Education and Initial Teacher Training

Lisa Murtagh, Karen Morris, Polly Thorpe


The purpose of this paper is to analyse the findings of a study designed to prepare students, from a range of disciplines, to study for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in Higher Education (HE) for the first time. The paper draws upon data from open ended questionnaires with students, interviews with tutors and also on relevant secondary sources to demonstrate the importance of making use of pre-entry communication with students to support their transition. The notion of habitus can serve as a useful mechanism for understanding issues associated with transition. Bourdieu notes that when habitus encounters a social world of which it is the product, it finds itself ‘as a fish in water'. Reversing Bourdieu's analogy, in their initial encounter with HE, some students may feel like a fish out of water. This study involved pre-entry students engaging in a module designed to allow them to begin to experience the new context, both academic and school, in which they would be immersed. It offered the opportunity for them to engage in academic assessment tasks and school based tasks to prepare them for the demands of the first year of their HE ITT degree Programme. The paper concludes that students undertook the module for specific personal and professional reasons and that engagement in the module impacted upon both their academic and school based learning. It raises the importance of students having access, in this case, to both the academic and professional habitus of their chosen degree programme and the paper is of relevance to all providers of HE and ITT.

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