23 SES 08 A, Policies of Parental School Choice
In Finland there has traditionally been a stable support for Scandinavian welfare model attached to extensive believe in equal educational opportunities. This principle has been manifested in a strong ethos of uniform and standard comprehensive school system. In European context Finland has had one of the most equal and high-quality comprehensive school systems, with good learning outcomes and fairly low effect of the family background to the educational achievements.
Since the 1990s, reforms based on principles of decentralisation and deregulation, have reduced direct state control. Along with individualisation and societal changes the legitimacy of the universal education system has been questioned and more individualised models, like free parental school choice, been introduced. As a result, for example, the local education authorities have developed distinctive policies concerning models of selection and admission with diverse possibilities to exercise parental choice.
Novel emphasis on selective policies and practices in education, have questioned the universalism as an ideological principle of comprehensive school. Nevertheless, our previous research has revealed that the ethos of selectivism in comprehensive education is much weaker than universalism among the parents: only 14 per cent of all parents see that Finland should have more private schools and 27 per cent call for more specialisation within the comprehensive school. Especially the association between the common comprehensive school and equal society is strong: 61 per cent of parents agreed with the statement “a common standard comprehensive school ensures an equal society”.
Education is an important definer of social standing, a basis for income disparity and an enabler of privileges; it has always been distributed unevenly among the population. As a general rule, families in upper social classes are more able to utilise the changes in education policies – like increased parental school choice, competition and diversification of schools – than families in lower social classes. Studies in several countries have highlighted the segregative consequences of the new school choice policy (e.g. Adler et al. 1989; Ball 2003; Ball et al. 1995; Gewirtz et al. 1995; Lauder et al. 1999; see Silvennoinen et al. 2012).
Grounding to our analysis we argue that the differences on educational strategies are built on the social class of the families also in Finland. Upper social classes are more aware of and willing to use their right to choose school for their child. But interestingly also in a contradictory manner: they exercise parental choice the most despite the fact that they do not openly call for free school choice. They are most concern about the unintended and unwanted outcomes of competition and specialisation. Furthermore, the lower social classes use their school choice possibilities rarely, but are more willing to increase the individualistic choices. (Kalalahti et al. 2014 forthcoming; Varjo 2014; see also Raveaud & van Zanten 2007; Swift 2003.)
In this presentation we focus on this contradiction between social classes, attitudes and actions. We analyse the attitudes, school choice strategies and the socio-economic composition of parents against school choice. First, we describe the Finnish school choice mechanism, which is mainly based on selection to (municipal) schools/classes with emphasis on certain subject(s) by aptitude tests. Second, we focus on the families that have the most extreme attitudes against school choice. We seek to profile their school choice strategies (whether they have made an active school choice or not), their attitudes (whether there are some specific issues they oppose) and their socio-economic background (what is their position in the societal hierarchy). Our specific research questions are: How extensive is the opposition of school choice? What kind of educational strategies these families against school choice use? What socio-economic characteristic they possess?
Adler, M., Petch, A. & Tweedie, J. 1989. Parental Choice and Educational Policy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Ball, S. J. 2003. Class strategies and the education market: the middle classes and social advantage. London: Routledge Falmer. Ball, S. J., Bowe, R. & Gewirtz, S. 1995. Circuits of Schooling: A Sociological Exploration of Parental Choice of School in Social-Class Contexts. The Sociological Review 43:1, 52-78. Gewirtz, S., Ball, S.J. & Bowe, R. 1995. Markets, Choice and Equity in Education. Buckingham: Open University Press. Kalalahti, M., Silvennoinen, H., Varjo, J. & Rinne, R. 2014, forthcoming. Parental school choice, social class and equality of opportunity. Edited Seppänen, P, Carrasco, A., Kalalahti, M, Rinne, R. & Simola, H. (eds.). In Contrasting Dynamics in Education Politics of Extremes: school choice in Finland and Chile. Sense Publisher. Lauder, H., Hughes, D., Watson, S., Waslander, S., Thrupp, M., Strathdee, R., Simiyu, I., Dupuis, A., McGlinn, J. & Hamlin, J. 1999. Trading in Futures: Why Markets in Education Don`t Work. Buckingham: Open University Press. Raveaud, M. & van Zanten, A. 2007. Choosing the local school: middle class parents' values and social and ethnic mix in London and Paris. Journal of Education Policy, 22(1) 107–124. Reay, D. 2006 The Zombie Stalking English Schools: Social class and educational inequality. British Journal of Educational Studies 54 (3), 288-307. Reay, D. & Ball S. J. 1997. ´Spoilt for choice´: the working classes and educational markets. Oxford Review of Education 23 (1), 89-111. Silvennoinen, H., Seppänen, P., Rinne, R. & Simola, H. 2012. Yhteiskuntaluokat ja kouluvalintapolitiikka ylikansalliselta paikalliselle tasolle ulottuvassa tarkastelussa. [National and Local Realization of Supranational Education Policy: The Case of School Choice.] The Finnish Journal of Education, Kasvatus 43(5): 502–518. Swift, A. 2003. How not to be a hypocrite. School choice for the morally perplexed parent. London: Routledge. Varjo, J., Kalalahti, M. & Silvennoinen, H. 2014. Families, school choice and democratic iterations on the right to education and freedom of education in Finnish municipalities. Journal of School Choice 8(1), in print. van Zanten, A. 2003. Middle-class parents and social mix in French urban schools: reproduction and transformation of class relations in education. International Studies in Sociology of Education 13 (2), 107-123.
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