Transforming understandings of the relationship between social class and schooling

Year: 2016

Author: Windle, Joel, Rowe, Emma, Kenway, Jane, Jamal Al-Deen, Taghreed, Perry, Laura

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

National systems of education vary in the degree to which schools are socially integrated or segregated. In a socially integrated system, most students attend a socially mixed or average school. In a segregated system, students typically attend a school that enrols students from similar social backgrounds. Australia has one of the most socially segregated education systems among economically developed countries, with privileged students typically segregated in some schools (primarily high-fee independent schools) and poor and working-class students segregated in other schools (primarily government schools in low socioeconomic communities).School social segregation is problematic because it is related to reduced educational opportunities and outcomes for students in lower SES schools, with little or no advantage for students in higher SES schools, not to mention lower levels of social cohesion and tolerance. It is therefore inequitable as well as inefficient. Researchers argue that reducing school segregation is an effective way to reduce achievement gaps and to raise the educational opportunities and outcomes of educationally underserved students, with benefits for the entire society. While features of education systems such as academic selection, privatization, choice and competition are associated with school segregation, there are many exceptions that make generalizable patterns, let alone solutions, difficult to identify. For example, the Netherlands has a high degree of private schooling, school choice and academic selection, and yet has more socially integrated schooling than Australia. It is likely that the impact of particular factors depends on how they are combined with other factors. It is also likely that there are multiple causal pathways that explain school segregation, each comprised of different configurations of factors. Our current theoretical understanding, however, is limited because we are unable to account for the complex configurations of policies, structures and contexts that mediate school segregation. This comparative, cross-national study will use an innovative approach to uncover the multiple causal pathways of school segregation and the conditions that mediate them. Our aim is to develop a complex and robust theoretical framework about the causes of school social segregation and the solutions for ameliorating it. The approach – Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) – is ideal for cross-national comparisons and for identifying the multiple configurations of factors that explain the outcome in question. QCA draws on the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative methods by respecting the diversity and complexity of cases while also identifying generalizable cross-case patterns. While QCA is becoming widespread in the social sciences, this study is among the first to use it in cross-national educational research.