An analysis of parental engagement in contemporary Queensland schooling

Macfarlane, Kym Majella (2006) An analysis of parental engagement in contemporary Queensland schooling. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines an instance of the failure of a parent-led bid for a new local school in Queensland at the end of the last millennium. This parent-led and school-endorsed initiative failed despite a policy climate that appeared actively to encourage such initiatives from government funded school communities. The work shows that the parents of Sunnyvale College, (a pseudonym), were both encouraged by the policy environment and discouraged by the response given to their new schooling initiative, from being full educational partners in the process of the schooling of their children. The unanticipated failure is investigated as a case study of parent engagement set against a background of relationships between government and particular educational stakeholders in that time and place. It examines how these relationships are played out in this context and what the implications of this are for contemporary relationships of this type.

Because the approach to the case study is not based on any assumption that the " failure" was the outcome of a pernicious state, the investigation acknowledges the discontinuous nature of such educational relationships and thus, refuses notions of linearity and continuity. The case study approach draws on poststructuralist scholarship, in particular the work of Michel Foucault (1979-84), who is the key theorist informing the investigation. Foucault's theories relating to truth, power and governmentality, are of particular interest and are used as a basis for argument and analysis.

The case study is conducted in three key parts. First, the study brings together an overarching framework of interpretive and theoretical bricolage, which works to allow multiple theoretical perspectives and understandings to inform the process of investigation. Second, there is an acknowledgement of the importance of history and also, of historical contingency, in the production of events such as this failure. Thus, there is an historical account of the establishment of schools in Queensland, particularly in the 1990s, and an exploration of the differences in the establishment process across this decade. This exploration is undertaken by working backwards through relevant archival documents and other data in order to highlight the discontinuous nature of such processes. This means that parent/school relationships are historicised, using a macro and micro analysis to understand how such relationships have been produced over time. The case in question is situated within this historicising, allowing for an exploration of its nature and setting, its historical background, the roles of particular individuals, and the processes and procedures that were important in the development of the case. The third part of the study involves re-theorising parent/school relationships in contemporary contexts.

The main argument of the case study is that there was a shift in the discursive constitution of schooling that was taking place at the very time that the initiative was undertaken in 1997. It is argued that the school community in question was working out of a set of assumptions about school partnerships, which had already been substantially reinscribed by a new discursive system. This new system reframed " choice" and " community" in terms of the " performative" rather than the " democratic" school.

The main arguments and findings in the case study are then used to re-theorise parent/school relationships in post-millennial Queensland, particularly in relation to policy reform. This re-theorising is conducted in the form of a discourse analysis of current federal and state government policy and other types of data, which are relevant to schooling in contemporary contexts. Various interpretive and theoretical perspectives are used in this process of re-theorising, including notions of performativity (Ball, 2003a, 2003b, 2004), responsibilisation (Rose, 1990, 1999, 2000) and pedagogicalisation (Popkewitz, 2003). Such notions are employed to build on the lines of inquiry that develop as a consequence of the use of Foucauldian theory in the earlier part of the study. These concepts are also used to develop new epistemological understanding of parent/school relationships in contemporary contexts. The work of Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 2001) further assists in the conceptualisation of parent engagement in schooling as a game played on the field of schooling.

As a consequence of this re-theorising, it is argued that parent engagement in schooling is a focus of increased attention on the part of educational stakeholders and is increasingly demanded by way of increased levels of responsibilised participation. This trend raises questions about the levels of fatigue and anxiety that could result for parents as a consequence of such demanding levels of performance. Additionally, an argument is presented that " performative" parenting is a prescribed set of activities, not an open invitation to leadership and high-level decision-making. Thus, as previously mentioned, choice is always already framed, as " proper" parents make " informed" choices with regard to their children's schooling. This thesis concludes that " performative" schools offer new and problematic subject positions for " performative" parents, which are inviting more engagement but constraining the type of partnership that is possible between parents and schools.

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ID Code: 16322
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McWilliam, Erica & Meadmore, Daphne
Keywords: case study, genealogy, bricolage, discourse, truth, power, governmentality, discourse analysis, performativity, propriety, pedagogicalisation, responsibilisation, Foucault, Foucauldian theory, poststructuralism, Bourdieu, habitus, capital, field, game
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Kym Majella Macfarlane
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:01
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:46

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