Mothers and school choice: Managing uncertainty

Year: 2002

Author: Aitchison, Claire

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In keeping with the global trend amongst governments towards the marketisation of school education, the bulk of Australian parents, newly positioned as education consumers, are generally novice shoppers. In an extension to traditional roles, it is overwhelmingly the mothers who do the 'school shopping'. In choosing high schools for their children, it seems that the mothers of 'Middle Australia' in particular, expend considerable time and energy on an extensive and extended shopping excursion largely informed by a serendipitous array of market research, and driven by a desire to minimise risk of failure in a market place where futures are uncertain and the stakes are high.

This paper outlines some initial findings from a year long research project following the decision-making processes of a group of mothers of year 6 children as they deliberate high school options. The study is sited in Sydney's inner west where there is a volatile demographic of social change and changing school options. Like other studies of school choice this research shows how seriously, if not always willingly, mothers have responded to the 'school choice' agenda. This in-depth study highlights the agony of choice for those who see secondary education as the most significant opportunity available to them to insure against failure for their children. The study offers fascinating revelations of the aspirations, hopes and fears of ordinary mothers for their adolescent children; it speaks volumes for educators.