Higher apprenticeships and the shaping of vocational knowledge

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Higher apprenticeships are celebrated in current policy discourses as an alternative to traditional higher education, with the claim that they will prepare higher apprentices for their future careers and enhance industrial productivity through higher skill levels. This paper aims to scrutinise these claims using notions developed by Bernstein and related work in the sociology of educational knowledge, identifying how the formulation of higher vocational knowledge will affect how apprentices work, learn and access knowledge. It is suggested that the socio-epistemic processes through which ‘regions’ of professional and vocational knowledge are constituted, and the manner in which knowledge is recontextualised, give rise to specific knowledge articulations and curriculum decisions. Drawing on an analysis of the structure of apprenticeship frameworks and their associated qualifications, as well as interviews with professional bodies, the research will demonstrate how certain types of knowledge are foregrounded as a result of sectoral and professional dynamics and the imperatives of knowledge structure. In some sectors and professions, key concepts associated with disciplinary knowledge may be downplayed or obscured, reducing what Wheelahan and others have described as ‘epistemic access’, with a potential impact on progression opportunities for apprentices and the ability to provide valuable input in the workplace. In others, higher apprenticeships may continue longstanding traditions of higher vocational formation, involving educational institutions, employers and practitioners in constituting productive vocational knowledge and practice, albeit within a macro-context that may not promote practitioner influence over the circumstances of formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-34
Number of pages18
JournalResearch in Post-Compulsory Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2015


  • higher apprenticeships
  • professional associations
  • professionalisation
  • regions
  • vocational knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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