An inquiry into the constructed meanings attributed to the notion of 'excellence' in a VET college professionalisation programme

De Kock, Sander

November 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Sander De Kock. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The thesis aims to investigate the meanings given to the notion Excellence as used in the name “de Excellente Docent” (The Excellent Teacher) given to a professionalisation programme in a VET college.

Based on the understanding that meaning is constructed in social situations where language is used, data were gathered from social situations belonging to the professionalisation programme. Five different social situations were identified and labelled as units. This resulted in a data corpus consisting of more than 80 documents that together captured the professionalisation programme’s discourse across the five units.

A discourse analytical approach was used in a total of six separate analysing rounds or iterations in order to sort, filter and examine the data corpus. The first three analysing rounds utilised content analytical tools to generate a manageable amount of data from across the five units. Subsequently, informed by the analytic tools of James Paul Gee (2014), the last three analysing rounds focused on obtaining an in-depth perspective upon the discourse that remained in the data corpus. Applying both approaches facilitated finding meanings given to the word ‘excellence’ at the surface and also at a deeper level. Gee’s manner of conducting discourse analysis provides the researcher with the possibility of understanding the use of the notion excellence across different occasions and by different agents.

In the end the surface meaning of excellence as used to denote ‘the excellent teacher’ is about the extent to which an individual teacher is an investigative, entrepreneurial and inspiring educational professional. The notion acts as a slider on a scale to indicate to what degree a teacher participating in the programme is excellent. Hence it provides a qualitative meaning to the notion. At a deeper level, the focus is less upon the individual and more on the meaning given to excellence in keeping with neo-liberalistic assumptions about education that relate to an organisation’s interests. This provides the notion excellence with a more economic meaning. In the discourse there are links to the striving for continuous improvement of the educational practice and a focus on how individual professional development can add value to an educational team, school and in the end the overlying organisation. Both continuous improving and the adding of value can be seen as concepts belonging to the neo-liberalistic culture. It is through looking at a deeper level at the discourse that this insight was revealed.

Department of Education Studies, The University of Hull
James, Fiona, Ph.D.
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