What were the main aims of the initiative?

This study sets out to explore how mentors can act as change agents for social justice by looking at the role of mentors in initial teacher education in the lifelong learning sector (LLS). The example considers how inequalities can be challenged through critical and emancipatory approaches to education that widen participation and inclusion, and engage in research with a strong social justice agenda.


This example presents a literature based argument to address the following questions:

  • What roles do mentors in the LLS (lifelong learning sector) in the UK currently adopt and to what extent does this take into account social justice?
  • What could be done differently? How can critical spaces be opened up that enable mentors to enact their roles and engage in critical pedagogy that promotes social justice and learner empowerment?


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

This example conceptualizes the term ‘social justice’ as both a philosophical positioning, ideology and a tool to challenge inequality in the context of educational practice.

Duckworth (2013, 2014, 2015) identifies that fostering social justice does not simply mean exploring difference or diversity. Rather it uncovers and addresses systems of power and privilege that give rise to social inequality, and encourages educators to critically examine oppression on institutional, cultural, and individual levels in search of opportunities for all, regardless of the communities they are born into.

Policy discourses around the mentoring of trainee teachers in the UK focus on the development of subject pedagogy and assessment of trainee teachers’ practice. Less attention is given to the role mentors could play in preparing teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners, including the underprivileged and minorities (Duckworth and Maxwell, 2015).


What issues/challenges does the example address?

The study attempts to address the omission in policy, research and practice of the potential for mentors to promote social justice. The model and training approach set out here could be used across all phases of education.



How was the Initiative implemented?

Two thematic literature reviews were undertaken - one in UK context and one of international studies. Bourdieu’s concepts of capital, field and habitus (Bourdieu, 1986) were used as tools to explore mentors practice and the possibilities for increasing the flow of ‘pedagogical capital’ between mentors, trainee teachers, learners and communities, to enable mentors to become agents for social justice.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

Most teachers in the LLS undertake initial teacher education (ITE) on a part time in-service basis alongside their first teaching job. All LLS teachers undertaking an ITE qualification are expected to have a mentor in the workplace (for in-service trainees) or placement (for pre-service trainees). Mentors typically teach the same subject as their mentee. The approach to selecting mentors varies across LLS organisations: mentors may volunteer, be directed to undertake the role, or incorporate the role within their line management responsibilities. Mentors are vital in supporting the development of trainee teachers’ practice, yet the role is not clearly defined. For example, policy reforms (DfES, 2004) have imposed a model of mentoring that emphasises subject support and the assessment of teaching competence. This ignores the complex nature of the sector (Lucas, 2007) and has led to judgemental rather than developmental approaches to mentoring (Ingleby and Tummons, 2012; Tedder and Lawy, 2009), aligning with Hobson and Malderez’ s (2013) conceptualisation of “ judgementoring” in the schools sector.

Neither policy nor research on LLS mentoring focuses on diversity for social justice, for example, it is not explicitly addressed in the ITE inspection framework (Ofsted, 2014).

The author of this example argues that both mentors and mentees are captured by the current dominant discourses and practices which are oppressive and unjust; they do not work towards challenging the growing inequality in society (Dorling, 2014). In this age of globalisation and neoliberalism, whereby under the premise of a “knowledge economy” education and the curriculum are products of market driven changes and viewed as commodities, the most significant drivers are to provide a flexible, adaptable and skilled workforce and to make countries competitive in the globalised economy.

So what can be done? The role of the ITE mentor proposed here potentially provides a critical space for offering resistance against the neo-liberal curriculum and in doing so challenges the inequality of choices learners face. We suggest that class still matters and is manifested in the choices or lack of choices learners have in their trajectory through education. This aligns with Skeggs (1997), Reay et al. (2005) and more recently Duckworth (2013, 2014), who challenge the trend of academic dismissal of class and labour.

Mentoring in the UK and a number of other countries is dominated by an assessment-focused approach. Social justice is marginalised. The social justice mentors proposed in this example establish collaborative, democratic mentoring relationships, create space for critical reflection and support trainees to experience different cultures, develop inclusive pedagogies and act as advocates to foster social justice both in the classroom and community.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

No information provided


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

Recently, Duckworth et al. (2016) researched widening participation and access to teacher training, positioning it as most effective when it starts early - during compulsory education and other forms of pre-tertiary education. HEIs are providers of pre-service and in-service teacher education, and therefore have the potential to ‘join the dots’ between teacher education and widening participation.

Two approaches are identified: recruiting more diverse cohorts of students to teacher education through targeted, relevant and engaging pre-entry experiences in schools and communities with low rates of progression to HE; and preparing all teachers to better support the tenets of widening participation through their professional roles in schools, colleges and communities.


What are the main learning points?

  • Need to re-shape role of mentors to provide space for dialogue and reflection
  • Bound mentoring and teacher education to social justice
  • Recognise and value learners’ histories and biographies within the learning environment, to make diversity and difference a positive contribution to learning, rather than a challenge to be overcome
  • Actively engage pre-service and existing teachers to be generators of knowledge and practice through action research - to enable them to be advocates for WP, rather than recipients of a pre-determined education programme.
  • Challenge trainee’s dispositions, develop role as change agents - confidence
  • Develop inclusive pedagogy
  • Shift from deficit Language
  • Challenge inequality in communities


Are there further information about supporting materials?

Duckworth, V. (2013) Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners. Monograph,·Educational Research. London: Routledge Ebook (available at Amazon)


Free access to chapters from book


Papers on promoting empowerment

Duckworth, V. and Maxwell, B. ( 2015) Extending the mentor role in initial teacher education: Embracing social justice, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 4 (1)··4-20

Duckworth, V.··and Brzeski, A (2015) challenges to Neoliberalism:··Literacy, learning and identity, Research in Post-Compulsory Education and Training,··20 (1)··1 - 16

Duckworth, V., Thomas, L and Bland, D. (2016) Joining the dots between teacher education and widening participation in higher education, Research in Post-Compulsory Education and Training, Taylor and Francis


Contribution to The BERA Blog, Research Matters

Literacy not just a skill: a critical lens and tool to expose and challenge symbolic violence and poverty 03.12.15


Recent books

Duckworth, V. and Ade-Ojo, G., eds. (2014) Landscapes of Specific Literacies in Contemporary Society: Exploring a social model of literacy. London: Routledge Research in Education

Ade-Ojo, G and Duckworth, V. Adult Literacy Policy and Practice: From Intrinsic Values to Instrumentalism (Palgrave 2015).


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