23 SES 03 C, Policies on Early School Leaving and Participation in Education
This paper considers the moral order at work in classrooms constructed under Australia’s policy decision to effectively extend compulsory education by requiring that students must be ‘earning or learning’ till 17 years of age (Council of Australian Governments, 2009). This requirement is reinforced by ‘strengthened participation requirements’ that restrict welfare entitlements for both the young person and their family until age 21 unless education, training or employment conditions are satisfied.
On one hand, this policy suite could be construed as a prudent social investment aimed at increasing the skills base to sustain a knowledge economy, by investing in education and training rather than welfare. On the other hand, it serves to retain non-academic students in formal educational settings, delay their engagement in the adult world, while it fails to recognise the increasingly precarious nature of work available to them. The policy thus risks creating classrooms full of students that do not want to be there. It offers an educational ‘solution’ to an economic problem by invoking job prospects that may not exist, while winding back welfare entitlements. The work of absorbing these changes in the social contract is not distributed evenly across the society. Rather it falls disproportionately on disadvantaged communities with poor youth employment prospects, their schools, and their Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges, with the greatest impact borne by marginalised families dependent on public welfare.
This paper reports on a project that explored the moral order operating in eight classrooms operating for ‘reluctant stayers’ (te Riele & Crump, 2002, p. 253) in high schools and TAFE colleges across three towns experiencing youth employment stress. It asks how the policy regulating these students’ prolonged engagement with formal education plays out in classroom interactions, to what end.
The theoretical approach has been informed by a synthesis of three layers of sociological thought. Firstly, following Durkheim (1925/1973), mass schooling is understood to be designed to instil shared moral principles, norms and ideals appropriate to the times and context, as much as to impart knowledge and skills. The paper draws on Bernstein’s (1990) elaboration of these Durkheimian principles in his distinction between the instructional and regulative discourses constituting pedagogic discourse.
Secondly, the paper extends Wacquant’s analysis (2009) of the double-handed nature of neoliberal governmentality to consider the ironic prescription of what I will term ‘edufare’ for some in a policy environment championing educational choice for others. Wacquant’s analysis of the burgeoning US penal industry documents how increasingly punitive regimes of ‘workfare’ and ‘prisonfare’ have emerged as the post-welfare underbelly associated with state sponsoring of neoliberal economic deregulation. He argues that the stigmatization of ‘castaway categories’ (p.4) such as unemployed youth, serves to quell more general anxiety about an increasingly insecure world.
Thirdly, the paper couches its exploration of moral regulation in edufare settings in the broader theory tracking the rise of the precariat, a ‘class in the making’ (Standing, 2014, p. xi) distinguished by the lack of collective protections, insecure meaningless work, and depleted citizenship rights that are being eroded under neoliberalism’s ‘tiered membership’ model of society (p. 10).
Bernstein, B. (1990). The structuring of pedagogic discourse - class, codes and control, Volume IV. London: Routledge. Council of Australian Governments. (2009). National partnership agreement on youth attainment and transitions. Canberra AGSP Retrieved from http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/npa/skills/youth_attainment_transitions/national_partnership.pdf. Durkheim, E. (1925/1973). Moral education: A study in the theory and application of the sociology of education (E. Wilson & H. Schnurer, Trans.). New York & London: Free Press MacMillan. Standing, G. (2014). A precariat charter. London: Bloomsbury. te Riele, K., & Crump, S. (2002). Young people, education and hope: bringing VET in from the margins. Journal of Inclusive Education, 6(3), 251-266. Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity (English ed.). Durham and London: Duke University Press.
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