Diversity in Education: Emerging Accounts of School Choice in Ethnically Diverse Localities

By Andrew Wilkins.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since the introduction of the Education Reform Act 1988 (ERA) in Britain there has been, within Conservative and New Labour governments, a move towards preserving an image of the parent as a consumer of education services. The corollary of this is that schools and parents are located through the exchange and intersection of producers and consumers: schools are forced to perform in ways that are compliant with market issues of supply and demand while parents are encouraged to exercise their right to voice a preference over which school they would like to send their child to. This can be traced to the emergence of the iconic figure of the citizen-consumer in New Labour policy discourses around education, housing, policing and health more generally. It is within this discursive terrain that parents are imagined and constituted in the positions of the responsibilized citizen and active consumer (citizen-consumer). One of the effects of positioning parents in this way has been to encourage them to draw on consumerist discourses as a way of augmenting their position in the imagined conditions of a competitive educational market in
order to secure the ‘right’ school for their child. The consumer, however, is viewed by some critics as intrinsically antithetical to the collectivist principal and practices of citizenship, of the traditional community of citizens. This paper highlights the interconnected way in which parents’ understandings of the dominant discourse of choice – of ideas of autonomy, mobility and self- interest – are framed around mobilizing, contested and troubling ideas. It concludes by looking at how discourses of community, race and gender interact and combine to produce condensed, yet shifting and unstable, articulations of choice in particular places and spaces. By approaching school choice in discursive terms, this paper attempts to problematise and complicate the dominant discourse of choice – and the subject positions that inhere within it – by showing it to be inflected in and through the availability of alternative frameworks of meaning and repertoires linked to constructions of community, race and gender.

Keywords: New Labour, Neoliberalism, Education Policy, School Choice, Community, Consumers

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.37-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 580.488KB).

Dr Andrew Wilkins

PhD Research Student, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Policy, The Open University, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

My doctoral research looks at how (and to what effect) parents of dominant and minority ethnicities draw on, resist or rework discourses of choice, community and race in their narratives of parental choice. At the personal level, it looks at how parents frame discourses of choice around mobilising, contested and troubling ideas, either embedded locally or nationally within specific cultural, political and social contexts. At the structural level, it examines the limitations and complications of choice and the overlapping and clash of interests that reside over it. In particular, it seeks to highlight the interconnections between a politics of localism, a politics of articulation and a politics of choice, which originates from the complex issue of how to reconcile choice, fairness and social cohesion through the creation of new schools. Broadly speaking, my research interests include engaging with debates in and around issues of agency and structure – the contingency and indeterminacy of subject-positions and the relational effect of agency and structure over the production of historically- and culturally-specific versions of subjectivity.

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