14 SES 07 B, Students, Families and Dynamics of Choice
Education is a strategic asset in contemporary Western societies. The extension of compulsory schooling to higher levels of education reflects a political consensus about the benefits of providing advanced training for all. More education would contribute to more inclusive and less unequal societies.
However, the long-term enrolment of a larger number of students with different needs and expectations brings new challenges to schools, now facing contrasting demands. How to combine education for all with the need to meet the singularity of each one?
Territorialisation appears as the solution (van Zanten 2004; Barrère 2006). The relevance of the local territory in educational policies is one of the factors that promotes the differentiation of the school world. If each school is supposed to deal with specific challenges, its educational project should be distinct of all the others. This structural change puts schools under pressure and plural “principles of justification” of the school world (Derouet, 2000) arise. In addition to those associated with the “civic world” (equal opportunities, education for all), which inspired the development of public education systems, other principles based on values such as expressiveness, effectiveness, and market have emerged in recent decades (van Zanten 2004, 51-52).
Following a larger international trend, market-based values have also penetrated the Portuguese educational system, promoting competition between schools (Afonso 2010; Almeida & Vieira, 2017; Antunes 2008; Quaresma and Villalobos 2016). Quality of education matters increasingly more as a distinction device, and choosing a school that brings success has replaced the quest for access in the new educational markets.
School choice (and in particular, upper secondary school choice) is a decision based on several factors. Rational criteria, but also subjective aspects, carry increasing value among families of all backgrounds. In this context, we argue that reputation can give a useful contribute in untangling the diverse criteria that guide educational options for parents and children.
In sociology, reputation has been traditionally studied in association with the world of arts, culture and their industries (Becker, 1982). In his work, Becker argues that reputation is a social construct and process: reputations are the product of the collective activity of each specific network of interdependencies (social worlds) in which they act. His conception of reputation brings along the idea of “recognition” (concerning the competence exhibited under a commonly shared convention), but also includes the communicational manufacture of a name, “renown” (referring to the public visibility obtained by the reputed entity) (Borges 2014). These two elements are well condensed in Chauvin’s definition of the concept: "Reputation can be defined as a shared, provisional and located social representation, associated with a name and resulting from more or less powerful and formalized social evaluations.” (Chauvin 2013, 132).
This paper discusses “school reputation”, by exploring school actors’ narratives about the subject. Contrasting the voices of students with those of parents, an in-depth analysis of the criteria for evaluating the competence to which a given reputation is associated with is carried out. What is the organizing principle that underlies the identification of a school's "reputation"? What resources (informational) individuals use to access the reputation of a school? Given the shared nature of demand, do adults (parents) and adolescents (students) choose the same criteria in establishing a school's reputation? Do the same reputational criteria mean the same for everyone? These are the theoretical questions guiding the empirical analysis undertaken.
Considering the relational, contingent (in time and space) and largely subjective dimensions of reputation, an inductive approach and a qualitative methodology are the most appropriate ways to empirically approach the criteria and principles behind it. Data presented in this paper are drawn from interviews conducted with parents and from focus group organized with students of six Portuguese secondary schools. They are part of a larger research project (“The management and financing of schools”, commissioned by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian) carried out along the 2014-2016 period of time (Almeida and Vieira, 2017). Based on six case studies of public and private schools, we provide an account of objective and subjective motivations leading to a given school preference. Six Portuguese schools, either private or public, offering secondary education were selected in three contrasting settings. The first region (“Lower Mondego”) is characterized by having an excessive supply of private education. Diversity in types of educational offers is at its maximum in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, offering a complete “school market”. In Central Alentejo, a rural and depopulated area, the study case was carried out in a public secondary school located in a small town, the only educational offer in the municipality. Although initially chosen due to their adequacy to the core research problems (linked to management and financing issues), these six schools are also particularly suitable to a study focused on school reputation issues. Using published school ranking lists as a proxy for an objective dimension of a reputation, some of the six schools are placed on the top 10, the others being in intermediate scale positions (Público, 2017). None of them is in the lower positions, commonly considered as “junk schools” (Antunes and Sá 2010). In each of these schools, individual in-depth interviews were conducted with parents appointed by the parents’ associations (8 parents interviewed); parallel, focus groups were organized with students, boys and girls from 9th and 12th grade (24 students). Topics related to the reasons for choosing the current school were explored. The information obtained was then subjected to a content analysis process (thematic categorical analysis). This took into account some of the categories in the interview script, inspired by the theoretical background, and some new ones that emerged from the material (Boyatzis, 1998; Ryan and Bernard, 2000; La Rossa, 2005).
The school reputation analysis in this paper aimed at answering two main questions: how is relevant information gathered by parents and students? From which criteria is a school reputation made of? Using school choice rationales as a proxy for reputation criteria led us to outline the standards that make schools visible for their audiences. For parents, it’s the scientific and pedagogical quality, along with a stable and available teaching body, that founds a school’s recognition. The identification of a differentiated school project is a criterion that is used to select, more than to attract, as private schools’ cases illustrated, opposite to public schools, constrained to follow widening participation values that suit a vast majority of social groups. For pupils, a specific educational project is not mentioned as a premise for reputation, although teaching quality is a must. Logistic concerns are also shared by parents and students, since they enable the performance of complementary educational and leisure activities that would otherwise be impossible. The greatest intergenerational cleavage emerges around the security issue, regarded as a priority for parents but considered as a constraint for young people, who feel deprived of their autonomy (patent in the daily liberty of leaving school unattended, for instance). Finally, while parents occasionally refer to rankings, but in a rather critical way, recalling that private tutoring and diverse methodologies make their results not so trustworthy; young people perceive rankings as a visible evidence of the quality of a school.
Afonso, Almerindo Janela. 2010. «Gestão, autonomia e accountability na escola pública portuguesa: breve diacronia. Revista Brasileira de Política e Administração da Educação, 26, n. º1:13-30. Almeida, Ana Nunes, Maria Manuel Vieira (coord.), Ana Sofia Ribeiro e Sónia Vladimiro Correia. 2017. Gestão e financiamento das escolas em Portugal. Indicadores, políticas e atores. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. Antunes, Fátima. 2008. A nova ordem educacional. Espaço europeu de educação e aprendizagem ao longo da vida. Coimbra: Almedina. Antunes, Fátima and Virgínio Sá. 2010. Públicos escolares e regulação da educação. Lutas concorrenciais na arena educativa. Vila Nova de Gaia: Fundação Manuel Leão. Barrère, Anne. 2006. Sociologie des chefs d’établissements. Les managers de la République. Paris: PUF. Becker, Howard. 1982. Art worlds. Berkeley:University of California Press. Borges, Vera. 2014. «Reputação, mercado e território. O caso dos arquitetos». Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas, 74: 73-92. Boyatzis, R.. 1998. Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chauvin, Pierre-Marie. 2013. «La sociologie des réputations. Une définition et cinq questions». Communications, n.º 93 : 131-145. Derouet, Jean-Louis. 2000. «Pluralité des mondes et coordination de l’action: l’exemple des établissements scolaires». In Jean-Louis Dérouet org. L’école dans plusieurs mondes. Paris, Bruxelles: De Boeck & Larcier. La Rossa, R. 2005. 'Grounded Theory Methods and Qualitative Family Research', Journal of Marriage and Family, 67 (4): 837-857. Quaresma, Luísa and Cristobal Villalobos, 2016. «Mercantilização, competitividade e accountability no sistema de ensino em Portugal: o que se pode aprender da experiência chilena». Revista Lusófona de Educação, 32: 31-47. Ryan, G.W. and Bernard, H.R. .2000. 'Data Management and Analysis Methods', in Dezin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications: 769-802. van Zanten, Agnès. 2004. Les politiques d’éducation. Paris: P.U.F.
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