The English further education (FE) sector caters for young learners who are regularly defined as at risk due to a range of economic and social challenges, as transitions from youth to adulthood become more protracted, and inequalities amongst young people and between generations persist and deepen. At a time when policy places increasing responsibilities on governors and leaders to balance college performance and cost‐effectiveness against FE’s long‐standing social justice mission, this article analyses how this tension plays out through the discursive construction of young learners by two English college governing boards. We use a critical discourse analysis approach to connect how young learners are ‘talked into being’ through the micro‐level processes of governing within the wider context in which college governing operates. We argue that, despite a wider drive for governors to interact with learners, their understanding of learners is dominated by data, through which young learners in particular are constituted as a risk rather than at risk. We explore the discursive constructions of young learners that ensue in this data‐dominated context, and the social practices governing boards use to manage the risks posed by young learners. We highlight the different positionings of governors and college senior managers within these constitutive practices, arguing that the ways young learners are discursively constructed is revealing of a central tension in college governing practices—that between the high‐performing and the socially just college.
- further education colleges
- social justice