23 SES 09 A, Market Ideas and Practices I: School Choice in Finland
Since the late 1980s, school-choice policies known as 'free school choice' or 'parental choice' have extended to basic schooling in Europe. The comprehensive school model has been essentially re-shaped. Public schools are no longer regulated to take their students mainly or at all from strictly delineated local catchment areas. The schools are encouraged to 'profilise' themselves by catering for different educational needs and interests of different pupils and their families. After the implementation of the parental-choice policy the problem of differentiation, polarisation and segregation in public education has become a universal worry with threat of the state school system increasingly diverging into 'good' or 'desired' and 'bad' or 'rejected' schools.
In several countries the population is facing a whole new situation in which parents, on one hand, are ‘free to choose’, and, on the other hand, are ‘bound to choose’ the school for their offspring. It is often assumed in the official policy discourse that families in general desire to make ‘choices’ between schools. However it is not self-evident that even all middle-class parents, who basically have the social and cultural resources to operate in the school markets, feel mainly positive about the ‘choosing’. There are assumptions that choice policies cause a multitude of anxieties among families, especially to mothers. Middle-class parents may be under pressure to gather suitable information on what schools are preferable, to persuade their offspring to see ‘their best interests’ according to parental wishes, and to worry whether the child will be accepted in the school he or she prefers.
The paper aims at theorising the parental choice as a complex social, local and individual process in which not only the general educational policy and national level of segregation, but also various other dimensions need to be taken into account. Main themes discussed in the paper are (1) global trends, national policy and local policies-in-action, (2) the socio-cultural and educational contexts, (3) family experiences of schooling, (4) family values and educational preferences, and (5) family resources and educational strategies. How could these elements be conceptually linked together?
The paper will also discuss and make use of the empirical findings based on research where the issues of local policies, educational strategies of families, and social segregation have been studied. In Finland the comprehensive-school system has had a school-choice policy for more than a decade now. What makes the Finnish case internationally interesting, apart from the much celebrated equality and quality of Finnish basic schooling in the light of the recent PISA surveys, is the fact that during the 1990s the school system changed from being one of the most centralised to become one of the most decentralised. According to OECD indicators, in Finland the decentralisation level of the educational administration is one of the highest in Europe. The school-choice policy is very much in the hands of the local authorities. These essentially different policy-in-action contexts in different cities and areas create opportunities for fruitful research design.
Crozier, G., Reay, D., James, D., Jamieson, F., Beedell, P., Hollingworth, S. & Williams, K. 2008. White middle-class parents, identities, educational choice and the urban comprehensive school: dilemmas, ambivalence and moral ambiguity British Journal of Sociology of Education 29(3), 261–272 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., Crozier, G., James, D., Hollingworth, S., Williams, K., Jamieson, F. & Beedell, P. 2008. Re-invigorating democracy? White middle class identities and comprehensive schooling, Sociological Review 56(2), 238-255 Rinne, R., Kivirauma, J. & Simola, H. 2002. Shoots of revisionist education policy or just slow readjustment? The Finnish case of educational reconstruction. Journal of Education Policy 17(6), 643-658. Seppänen, P. 2003. Patterns of 'public-school markets' in the Finnish comprehensive school from a comparative perspective. Journal of Education Policy 18(5), 513-531. Seppänen, P. 2006. Koulunvalintapolitiikka perusopetuksessa. Suomalaiskaupunkien koulumarkkinat kansainvälisessä valossa. (School-Choice Policy in Comprehensive Schooling – School markets of Finnish cities in the international perspective) Turku: Finnish Educational Research Association: Research in Educational Sciences 26. Simola, H. 2005a. The Finnish miracle of PISA: historical and sociological remarks on teaching and teacher education. Comparative Education 41(4), 455-470 Simola, H. 2005b. Koulukohtaiset oppimistulokset ja julkisuus. (School Based Learning Indicators and Publicity) Yhteiskuntapolitiikka 70(2), 179-187. Simola, H., Rinne, R. & Kivirauma, J. 2002. Abdication of the Education State or Just Shifting Responsibilities? The appearance of a new system of reason in constructing educational governance and social exclusion/inclusion in Finland. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 46(3), 237-246. 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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