Educational markets in space:  The problem with middle class choice across regional Australia.

Year: 2012

Author: Doherty, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper argues that the logic of neoliberal policy is typically blind to considerations of space and place, but inevitably impacts on rural and remote locations in the way middle class professionals engage with the opportunities available in their local educational markets. Private educational choices can thus exacerbate the public problem of attracting and retaining human services professionals in smaller communities. The professional fraction of the middle class has repeatedly been shown to be particularly invested in choice strategies to ensure their children's future (Ball, 2003; Campbell,Proctor & Sherington, 2009), and in the 'concerted cultivation' of the individualised child (Lareau, 2003).  Both of these dispositions make it hard for smaller communities to compete against the curricular and extra-curricular menus available in larger centres.  The competition within educational markets can thus implicate competition between spatialised markets.

The presentation will briefly profile the educational market in six communities along a transect between a major regional centre and a remote 'outback' town, using publicly available data from the Australian government's 'My School' website. Interviews with 27 teachers, doctors, nurses, teachers with school-aged children in these communities offer insights into how professional families engage selectively and conditionally with these local markets, or plan to transcend them.

The conclusion uses Massey's (1993) relational concept of “power geometry” to reflect on the growing importance of educational choices as a marker of place in the competition between localities to attract and retain professionals to staff vital human services in their communities. It poses the 'wicked problem' produced by the spatial blind-spot in neoliberal policy – the conundrum that the rural/remote school is not regarded as of sufficient quality to attract and retain the professionals necessary to staff it.