Believing in culture, complying with competition: educational strategies in the Swedish upper middle class in the time of free school choice
Uppsala University, Sweden
The study explores how the strengthened educational competition following in the wake of the market reforms in Swedish compulsory education, with schools battling for pupils and families struggling for entry into the schools of their choice, affects educational strategies in the upper middle class. While a statistical analysis of the space of compulsory education in three Swedish regions suggests that its basic social structure remains stable, it also points to the importance of the educational supply in local educational markets for families’ educational strategies (Poupeau 2008, Felouzis et al 2013). In-depth interviews (N=30) with families pertaining to various fractions of the upper-middle class testify to that the increased competition is a concern for families with particularly strong cultural assets. It brings to light a dilemma that traditionally has been obscured, or, to use a Bourdieusean concept, misrecognized (Bourdieu 2000). The beliefs, doxa, connected to the general culture by virtue of which culturally strong fractions have dominated the educational system, such as the perception of education as a sacred dimension of human development, procured for its own sake and understood as a development of inner talents, is challenged by the need to see education as calculated investments in competitive assets, often to the detriment of others. While the necessity of watching over one’s interests constitutes a new challenge to the trust in the purity of educational values, giving room for strategic maneuvering in order to secure good company and high marks, the particular balance between the ideals of education as Bildung and as calculated investment reflected in the educational strategies of the upper middle class largely mirrors the opposition between its cultural and economic fractions.
Circuits of power: the regional educational fractures of the UK and educational trajectories of the south-eastern elite
University of Bath, United Kingdom
A deep and fundamentally structuring fault-line within the British and especially the English educational system runs between the elite institutions of the South-East of England and schools and universities across the rest of the country. Recent work has analysed the concentration of elites in the ‘golden triangle’ of elite universities concentrated in London and the South-East of England (Wakeling and Savage, 2015). Other research (Gamsu, 2016) has suggested that these elite universities in the South-East are fed by a distinct group of elite ‘feeder’ schools, both state and private, which are themselves concentrated in and around London. Drawing on and extending the concept of ‘circuits of schooling’ (Ball et al. 1995) we examine the existence of ‘circuits of power’ whereby a group of students from privileged backgrounds and elite schools in the South-East of England attend Oxford, Cambridge and certain London universities before returning to the capital for work. Our analysis uses an exceptionally detailed dataset of all university entrants across the UK (n=412,000) for 2014-15. Using social network analysis and spatial, GIS techniques we trace the socio-spatial trajectories of these elite students and show how these circuits of power separate and insulate these privileged students from London and the South-East. Drawing on case studies of private schools in the North-East of England and Scotland we also contrast different trajectories within the middle class across the UK. With the insulation of English elites from the rest of the country a key factor leading to Brexit, this analysis provides a timely reminder of the deep problems of an exclusive, insulated and divided educational system.
Explaining Migrants’ Educational Choices in Stratified Education Systems
Max Planck Institute for Social Law & Social Policy, Germany
Educational choices are consequential for future education and labor market prospects. Several studies documented substantial differences in educational choices between ethnic minorities and natives. Conditional on performance and social class, they choose more ambitious academic tracks. The dominant explanation is ‘immigrant optimism’: migrants may be positively selected with regards to ambition, drive, and optimism.
We argue that the literature on EC effects would benefit from addressing two gaps: First, EC effects have rarely been tested in stratified education systems which offer viable vocational alternatives for low performing students at the upper secondary level. Secondly, the optimism hypothesis has largely been studied neglecting alternative explanations such as information asymmetries or anticipated discrimination.
Specifically, we study the educational choices of students at the end of compulsory school in Germany using data from the NEPS, a panel survey that began with ninth graders in 2010. At this stage in German education, students at lower level secondary school types are faced with the decision to either continue general, academic track education or to pursue dual vocational education and training (hereafter “dual VET”).
Our results demonstrate that minority students favor academic track education over vocational education alternatives despite the fact that vocational options are more favorable in Germany than in countries with more comprehensive secondary education systems. We find no evidence that migrants ‘avoid’ vocational education because they lack information or because they anticipate discrimination. In contrast, the findings are consistent with the immigrant optimism hypothesis. We find that – ceteris paribus – transmitted family norms in the form of parental expectations play a key role in explaining ethnic choices.
Not in my schoolyard: School segregation, school preferences and residential segregation in the urban area of Ghent (Belgium)
University of Leuven, Belgium
Patterns of segregation can be discerned in the ethnic and socioeconomic composition of schools in Flanders (the northern region of Belgium). Although school segregation is sometimes perceived as the mere result of residential segregation, studies suggest that school preferences of parents can additionally contribute to an uneven distribution of groups between schools. Very little research has however investigated residential segregation and school preferences in one explanatory model of school segregation. This paper examines how residential segregation and school preferences affect school segregation in the urban area of Ghent (Belgium). To answer this research question, we integrate popular theoretical frameworks in the economic literature (Schelling model, market models) with insights from sociology on in-group preferences, cultural and social capital, and residential segregation. Rank-order logit analyses are performed on data of the centrally-administered platforms (CAP) in Ghent. In the CAP, parents indicate their order of preferences for schools in Ghent. As a result, actual preferences can be observed instead of realized school choices. We include variables on distance to school, parents’ socioeconomic and ethnic background, neighborhood and school characteristics. Preliminary findings indicate that residential segregation explains school segregation for a considerable part, but parents’ preferences for school composition and school quality also play a significant role. These preferences depend strongly on parents’ background. Overall, this study shows that parents’ school preferences give rise to self-segregation.
School choice in a context of unrestrained choice: the case of Flanders (Belgium)
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
School choice policies have been at the centre of attention in sociological research focusing on the reproduction of social inequalities through education. Studies conducted across Europe have shown that free school choice leads to more segregation. In fact, these mostly qualitative studies show that parents differ in their ability to influence their children’s school choices. While middle class parents can activate their social, cultural and economic capital to ensure that their children enrol in the school of their choice, for working class parents choosing a school is a more complicated task.
We want to add to the knowledge on school choice by studying it in a particular context. In Belgium free school choice is a constitutional right, so that there are virtually no limits to the choice set available to parents. Nevertheless, processes of school choice have been neglected, as it is assumed that it matters more which educational option you are in than which school you attend. We will study school choice in a context of unrestrained choice by applying a novel technique stemming from social network analysis – Exponential Random Graph Models. Using unique data from two cohorts of pupils in Flanders we will build a two-mode network of schools and pupils to study the influence of parent and pupil characteristics on school choice. We take into account social class, ethnic background, school performance, home-school distance, school sector and school type. The results will be discussed in the light of findings from studies conducted in other European education systems.