Cross-field influences and interferences on refugee parent engagement in an Australian school field

Year: 2019

Author: Azordegan, Jen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Recent evidence has revealed that students from refugee backgrounds are struggling in the current Australian educational context. While the international literature suggests a strong school-family connection could help to facilitate both these students’ educational and settlement success, how Australian schools are engaging refugee parents has rarely been investigated. It has been argued, however, that forging effective parent relationships in diverse contexts requires a major departure from traditional, taken-for-granted engagement practices. It may also require greater aware of parents’ backgrounds, which likely contrast significantly to those of Australian educators.

Without this shift, a prime opportunity to more effectively support refugee students—and their families—could be lost.

This paper shares findings from recent research which looked at how a highly diverse primary school in Queensland is engaging parents from an Afghan refugee background. Drawing from interview data with school staff and Afghan mothers, as well as policy and school documents, this sociological case study investigated how parent engagement was approached by the school, conceptualised and practiced by the participants, and influenced from forces external to the field. Employing Bourdieu’s three-part approach to analysing a social field, this in-depth exploration of the connections between a school community and one of Australia’s substantial refugee groups sheds new light on the complexities of forging effective school-family relationships in a diverse society.

This paper takes a closer look at the constellation of five external fields which were perceived as influencing school-family relationships with Afghan refugee parents. This interplay between the school field and its agents with the policy, philanthropic, settlement, religious and child protection fields highlighted the complexity of cross-field influences on, and interferences in, the engagement of parents from a highly marginalised background. In all cases, it was observed that agents in the school field were torn by multiple field memberships and often compelled to prioritise loyalty to those fields. What emerged was a picture of a highly heteronomous school field—one subject to the variety of aims and services of a community with complex social needs. The findings suggest that the low-SES, multicultural school is an organisation that operates under the influence of the logics of practice of a multiplicity of fields—education being only one of these. Implications for schooling and parent engagement in highly diverse contexts will be discussed, as will suggestions for further research.