14 SES 04 A, School Related Transitions within a Life Course Perspective I
While school choice is an established topic in international discourse on education (Forsey/ Davies/ Walford 2008), it has quite recently become an issue of academic reflection on German primary education. In Germany, primary schools have been traditionally bound to the notion of equality in the sense of a “school for all children”. Hence the school allocation is formulated as a public matter, it is strictly organized according to place of residence (Riedel/ Schneider/ Schuchart/ Weishaupt 2010). Currently this principle has been increasingly challenged, especially in academic and ambitious milieus. In the course of real or simulated residential moves parents undermine the general public allocation and thus shape it into one of personal choice. Meanwhile regulations are also questioned on the level of the federal structured educational system and become a political issue (van Ackeren 2006). In addition, the variaty of institutions currently starts to differentiate. Being involved in a tightened competition on a ‘school-market’ (Walford 1996) public primary schools realize the need of profiling, while the private primary school sector expands. For different reasons parents become interested in alternatives: Parents who intend to offer their children the best future opportunities or who simply want them to be happy claim an active role in matters of school.
Our research focuses on the different parental practices of choosing a “good” or the “best school” for their children. This interest is deeply connected with inquiring different meanings of school which thereby emerge and how these are being legitimatized. From a discourse analysis perspective, the “best school” is presented as the result of ongoing processes of negotiation within the widely ramified field of referring discursive exertions. In discussions on school choice and parenthood, knowledge does not lead to certainty. As Ball and Vincent (1998) state, parents often rely on grapevine knowledge. From a discourse analysis perspective, uncertainty does not cap the discourse on school choice – it keeps it alive and makes it productive.
As Geoffrey Walford (2008) claims, parental engagement in the school market depends on the specific assumption of what the ‘best school’ for their children is (105). Precisely what a ‘good’ or the ‘best school’ is, however, remains fuzzy. The notion of a genuinely good school must be negotiated. Negotiations of this kind can be observed in very different contexts.
In our research we focus on a city in Germany, where primary school districts are still binding. Here parents are obliged to legitimize and implement their decision, which is based on a limited choice of primary schools.
Ball, S.J./ Vincent, C. (1998): „'I heard it on the grapevine': 'hot' knowledge and school choice.” British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19 (3) 377-400. Forsey, Martin/ Davies, Scott/ Walford, Geoffrey (2008): “The Globalisation of School Choice? An Introduction to Key Issues and Concerns.” In: Forsey, Martin/ Scott Davies and Geoffrey Walford (eds), The Globalization of School Choice? Symposium Books: Oxford Studies in Comparative Education, Oxford. S. 5-95. Riedel, Andrea/ Schneider, Kerstin/ Schuchart, Claudia/ Weishaupt, Horst (2010): “School Choice in German Primary Schools: How Binding are School Districts?” Journal for Educational Research Online, 2 (1), 94-120. Van Ackeren, I. (2006): „Freie Wahl der Grundschule. Zur Aufhebung fester Schulbezirke und deren Folgen.“ In: Die deutsche Schule 98 (3), S. 301-310. Walford (2008): “School Choice in England: globalization, policy borrowing or policy corruption?” In: Forsey, Martin/ Davies, Scott/ Walford, Geoffrey (eds), The Globalization of School Choice? Symposium Books: Oxford Studies in Comparative Education, Oxford. S. 95-110.
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