School choice in a new market context: A case study of The Sheylbyville College
English, Rebecca M. (2005) School choice in a new market context: A case study of The Sheylbyville College. QUT.
Since the 1990s in Australia, education policies have created an environment in which competition among schools has increased and parental choice of school has been encouraged. This has been coupled with practices of corporatisation, marketisation and performativity, which have led to the proliferation of a new type of independent school, which operate in the outer suburbs of large cities, target a specific niche market, and charge low cost fees.
This study examines the reasons parents are making the choice to send their children to a new, non-government schools in preference to other alternatives and the role of promotional material produced by the school in that choice. The case study of one such school, The Shelbyville College, involved in-depth interviewing of parents at the College as well as a Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough) of the College’s prospectus and website which act as performative tools to measure the school’s effectiveness in the market.
Using Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital, the study showed that parents interviewed were choosing this type of school to increase the educational and social status and career prospects of their children as ‘extraordinary children’. Through such discourses, parents as consumers of particular schooling products and their engagement with the promotional activities of the College are produced as ‘good parents’. Seeking and engaging with promotional material helped remove any dissonance that may occur from a long and expensive relationship with the institution. In choosing this particular school, parents were seeking ‘good Christian values’ and the freedom to actively engage in their children’s education.
The College, through its promotional efforts, promises to build on familial habitus and inculcate valued cultural capital in order to make students more successful academically and socially than their parents. The promotional materials of the website and prospectus emphasised the co-curricular involvement in music, speech and drama and invite parents into a discourse of success through the College’s educational offering which creates ‘extraordinary children’. The uniform mandated by the College is another ‘text’ in the production of extraordinary children as outlined in the prospectus and website and is an important site for identity production. The uniform demonstrates, not only the disciplinary regime and preparation for professional dress, but also the prestige and esteem derived from the consumption of high status products such as non-government schooling.
It is expected that the findings of this study will have relevance for government schools that are the primary competition for new, non-government schools and will lose funding if they continue to lose students. The study will have some implications for CEO (Catholic Education Office) schools that have traditionally provided a low-cost alternative to the government sector. Parents in the study reported choosing the new, non-government school because of differences in values, and perceptions of safety and status improvement offered by these schools. The continued success of the new, non-government schools is also likely to have broader effects on social and educational inequality in Australia through their effects on the government school sector.
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