23 SES 06 D, Inclusive Education and Parental School Choice
Paper Session continues from 23 SES 05 D
Elite and excellence has been one of the salient issues in the literature of education policy and the sociology of education for a long time now. Education excellence has been linked with issues around equity and quality (Alan, 2007; Astin,1982), and with the effects of a commonly used competitive examination system, which has in turn fuelled the massive expansion of tutoring through which wealthy families are being favoured (Ball, 2003; Bray, 2011∙ Van Zanten, 2003; 2009). In addition to this, due to the autonomy that elite schools enjoy regarding students’ admissions, and despite the big steps towards “the transition from an almost direct translation of social position into educational advantages, to the selection of talented individuals by educational institutions” (Van Zanten, 2009, p. 336), the reproductive role of education (Bourdieu and Paserron, 1977) is still pursued through the elite schools. Within a global neoliberal socio-political context where “individual entrepreneurial freedom and skills” (Harvey, 2005, p.2) are being nurtured and where financialisation and marketization have pervasive effects in every aspect of society including education (Ball and Yoοdell, 2007), the discourse of “choice” creates the necessary conditions for the emergence and development of these schools aiming at as well as promoting elite and excellence.
Relevant policy initiatives have been pursued in other European countries, following a similar rationale. The Manifesto of the Conservative party in the UK in 1983 argued for “Schools: The Pursuit of Excellence” highlighting the rationale that “Giving parents more power is one of the most effective ways of raising educational standards. We shall continue to seek ways of widening parental choice and influence over their children's schooling.” Three decades and many reforms later, in 2011 in the middle of the economic crisis the Model Experimental Schools are introduced in Greece with a double objective: on the one hand, to build “cores of excellence” that strengthen the high skills of some students and, on the other hand, to produce innovative educational practices in order to promote them to the other public schools. However, this was not a totally new policy initiative. As a matter of fact, that was a further institutional change to the heretofore called Experimental Schools where student recruitment was the outcome of lottery. Since 2011, student recruitment is based upon exams (skills tests), whereas the criteria of teacher recruitment include special skills and advanced qualifications. Our interest in the present study draws upon the fact that these schools develop practices which vary according to the reputation they are interested in cultivating with regard to the academic or modernised educational principle as well as the position they aim to occupy within a competitive educational system.
In this context, the evolution of an education policy in favor of elite and excellence is heavily dependent on the engaged actors (parents and teachers), and in particular on the educational imaginary that each one of them enshrines. An attempt to illuminate the educational imaginary of the Model Experimental Schools will allow us to adumbrate the social imaginary significations (Castoriadis, 2005) which underpin the emergence of the elite through the contention between the academic tradition on the one hand and the neoliberal modernisation on the other hand.
Were we to adumbrate our research questions, they place emphasis on how respondents rationalize their choices in order to highlight the educational imaginary of excellence which defines this rationalization. In this respect, we want to point out: a) parents’ rationalization system of ‘Model Experimental Schools’ choice and how do they perceive the intensified practices that these schools employ, and b) how do teachers perceive and rationalize these schools as “cores of creativity and excellence”.
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