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Distrust by Design? Conceptualising the role of Trust and Distrust in the development of Further Education Policy and Practice in England

Donovan, Christina (2019) Distrust by Design? Conceptualising the role of Trust and Distrust in the development of Further Education Policy and Practice in England. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 24 (2-3). pp. 185-207. ISSN 1359-6748

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Abstract

It would be relatively easy, and with good reason, to assume that social trust is a normatively good value to promote within institutions. Trust encourages cooperation between actors, and thus normalises policies, practices and behaviours that tend to work for the social good of all people, rather than just individuals. To assume all of this would also be to assume that trust should, in aspiration at least, be central to public policy design. However, I argue in this conceptual paper that the competitive landscape of the English Further Education sector in the years since Incorporation does not lend itself to the values of cooperation and social good. The extent to which forced competition has become normalised has made concerns over financial health commonplace around the boardroom in FE Colleges. In this context, perhaps the benefits associated with building and maintaining trust in this context are problematic. Perhaps it is important to consider whether in fact, distrust is fundamental to institutional survival? This paper draws upon three key theoretical concepts from the trust literature to conceptualise how the Further Education policy environment could necessitate measures which enlist organisations and individual actors towards objectives which are increasingly linked to competition, centrally devised standards and institutional survival. In this way, I suggest in this paper that strategies of distrust may be of greater use in the design of institutional policy, as the need to establish control encourages self-interested practices which take primacy over cooperation.

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