Secondary school choice

Author: Esther Yu

Yu, Esther, 2021 Secondary school choice, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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In recent years, the issue of school choice in Australia has generated anxiety among many parents. Parental school choice has been researched in the national context, but remains under-researched in the South Australian (SA) secondary schooling context. This study investigates parents’ experiences of selecting secondary schools for their children and factors that influence that choice. The study was conducted in metropolitan Adelaide and included parents whose children were in Year 6 and attending government primary schools. Findings from this study suggest that parents’ school choice is based primarily on two factors: parents’ perceptions of school quality and their aspirations for their children. An embedded mixed-methods design was used in this study, comprising survey questionnaire and interviews, to explore the research questions. Nine primary schools agreed to participate in this research and 369 survey questionnaires were sent to parents, yielding 56 responses. The data from survey responses were used to purposefully select eight parents who each agreed to participate in a semi-structured one-on-one interview. The qualitative data were used as the principal data in the thematic analysis. This study makes several findings. First, educated middle-class parents are highly motivated by their aspirations when seeking the best quality schools for their children. Parents relied on their social networks to gather information that they then compared with the information available on the My School website, which was set up as part of a national education reform to give Australian parents information about Australian schools. Second, the qualitative data together with the research literature suggest that the neoliberal-inspired school choice mantra has given rise to parents’ anxiety when seeking the best school that will offer the greatest benefits to their child. Parents are aware of the school market, and the logic of choice and competition influences their behaviour and attitudes towards schooling. They no longer trust their neighbourhood school as the best one, and gravitate to seeking better schools outside their immediate locality. The manner in which parents participate in this school choice process has been shaped by neoliberal policy imperatives that emphasise market, choice and competition and that have been prevalent for over 20 years. Finally, parents are consumed by the notion of individual choice and individual benefits for their child, and this attitude could be envisaged as one driven by self-interest. They seek high social-capital schools that can provide better opportunities and upward mobility for their child. The research concludes that parents’ socio-economic status (SES), which is measured by parental education and occupational background, and the neoliberal ideology focused on market, choice and competition, is associated with their school choice decision. The investment in the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and in My School, which was intended to create accountability and transparency, was found to increase parental anxiety in their school choice experience. As a result, policy-makers need to assess whether the Commonwealth Government’s significant investment in NAPLAN and My School can genuinely improve school quality. Clearly, the implications of these findings relate to federal school funding. This study recommends that policy-makers consider a new approach to school funding to reduce the funding gaps between public and private schools, thus ensuring that every Australian child has access to a world- class education and can meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Keywords: school choice, aspirations, school quality, parents anxiety, school market

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Bills