23 SES 08 A, Policies of Parental School Choice
Education policy is evidently in a state of change across European countries. The fragmentation of modernity has manifested in a local government reforms, privatisation and agencification, whilst the core executive’s capacity to steer has eroded. A wide variety of endeavours to move away from the firm idea of state-funded, state-controlled and state-provided compulsory education have emerged. Along the pan-European trajectory also the Finnish compulsory education system shifted during the 1990s from one of the most centralised to one of the most decentralised.
Simultaneously, the topic of school choice – i.e. “the ways to increase some parents’ access to current choices or new choices that may arise as a result of the policy” (Merrifield 2008) – has been ascended to political agenda in European countries. In particular, the extent to which parents should have the right to procure an educational advantage for their children, to send them to private schools in parallel educational systems or apply to classes “specializing” or “emphasizing” certain subjects in comprehensive systems, to use the housing markets to access preferred schools – in toto, to avoid local schools in search of a “better” or more “suitable” education elsewhere (Swift 2003).
According to Green, Wolf and Leney (1999), there has been a shift in the emphasis of Finnish education toward “predominance of control at the level of elected local authority within a light framework of central regulation and with some school autonomy.” This has allowed local education authorities to develop local models of admission and selection (with varying scope to exercise parental choice): i.e. the specialization and diversification of schools, and competition between schools and models for the local allocation of resources. (Varjo et al. 2014; Kalalahti & Varjo 2012; Varjo & Kalalahti 2011; Ylonen 2009; Seppänen 2006.) Evidently, alongside of the emergence of school choice, segregative effects on municipal, areal and individual level have appeared. School choice and the enhancement of distinctive school profiles have diverged schools and their neighbourhoods (Bernelius & Kauppinen 2011).
More open parental school choice is a relatively novel issue in Nordic countries, where comprehensive school systems have traditionally intertwined with the Scandinavian notion of welfare state, including strong emphasis of equal educational opportunities. As one of the key elements of the Scandinavian welfare models the comprehensive school systems have labelled with universal, non-selective, free basic education that is provided by the public sector and has adequately good quality to prevent demands for private schools (Erikson et al. 1987, vii–viii). In addition to the regional socio-historical notions of equality of opportunities, the economic and social costs of negative differentiation are commonly recognized: “Reducing school failure pays off for both society and individuals” (OECD 2012, 9).
In this presentation we illustrate urban local spaces for parental school choice by contrasting national responses to the emerging issue of school choice in Finland and Sweden, with special emphasis on distinctive local contexts in Finland. We have two specific research tasks. Our first focus is on segregation and national models of governing the negative externalities of school markets (positive discrimination, for instance). Our second task is to analyse empirically how the social cost of parental school choice is recognized and controlled by analysing the discursive formations of controlling negative and positive outcomes of school choice: restraining segregation, but obtaining quality and excellence, for example.
Bernelius, V. & Kauppinen, T. M. (2011). School Outcomes and Neighbourhood Effects: A New Approach Using Data from Finland. In Maarten van Ham, David Manley, Nick Bailey, Ludi Simpson & Duncan MacIennan (eds.): Neighbourhood Effects Research: New Perspectives. London: Springer, 225–247. Erikson, R., Hansen, E.J., Ringen, S. & Uusitalo, H. (1987). The Scandinavian Model: Welfare States and Welfare Research. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. Green, A., Wolf, A. & Leney, T. (1999). Convergence and divergence in European education and training systems. Institute of Education. University of London. Kalalahti, M. & Varjo, J. (2012). Tasa-arvo ja oikeudenmukaisuus perusopetukseen sijoittumisessa ja valikoitumisessa [Equality of opportunity and admission policies in basic education]. Kasvatus & Aika 6 (1), 39–55. Merrifield, J. (2008). The Twelve Policy Approaches to Increased School Choice. Journal of School Choice, 2 (1), 4–19. OECD (2012). Equity and quality in Education. Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools. OECD Publishing. Seppänen, P. (2006). Kouluvalintapolitiikka perusopetuksessa. Suomalaiskaupunkien koulumarkkinat kansainvälisessä valossa. [School Choice Policy in Comprehensive Schooling. School markets of Finnish cities in the international perspective.] Finnish Educational Research Association. Research in Educational Sciences 26. Swift, A. (2003). How not to be a hypocrite. School choice for the morally perplexed parent. London: Routledge. Varjo, J. & Kalalahti, M. (2011). Koulumarkkinoiden institutionaalisen tilan rakentuminen [Constructing institutional space for the local school markets]. Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu [The Finnish Journal of Urban Studies], 49(4), 8–25. 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. Ylonen, A. (2009). Specialisation within the Finnish comprehensive school system: Reasons and outcomes for equity and equality of opportunity. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
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