Conway, S. (1997) 'The
Reproduction of Exclusion and Disadvantage: Symbolic Violence and
Social Class Inequalities in "Parental Choice" of Secondary Education'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/2/4/4.html>
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Received: 20/11/97 Accepted: 5/12/97 Published: 22/12/97
I define a field as a network, or configuration, of objective relations between positions objectively defined, in their existence and in the determinations they impose upon occupants, agents or institutions, by their present and potential situations (situs) in the structure of the distribution of species of power (or capital) where possession commands access to the specific profits that are at stake in the field, as well as by their objective relations to other positions (domination, subordination, homology, etc.). Each field presupposes, and generates by its very functioning, the belief in the stakes it offers. (Bourdieu quoted in Gewirtz et al, 1995: p. 23)
Bourdieu's entire oeuvre may be read as a quest to explicate the specificity and potency of symbolic power, that is, the capacity that systems of meaning and signification have of shielding and thereby strengthening, relations of oppression and exploitation by hiding them under the cloak of nature, benevolence and meritocracy. (Wacquant, 1993: pp. 1 - 2)
It seems as if the nomothetic radical programme of earlier sociologists interested in the relationship between educational access and inequality was considered to have been completed by the general implementation of comprehensive ... education... . (Byrne and Rogers, 1996: ¶1.2)
... there is a two way relationship between habitus and field, where the field as a structured space, tends to structure the habitus, while the habitus tends to structure the perception of the field. (Bourdieu, 1988: p. 784)
... is the basis of all that one has-people and things-and all that one is for others, whereby one classifies oneself and is classified by others. Tastes (ie, manifested preferences) are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference. It is no accident that, when they have to be justified, they are asserted purely negatively, by the refusal of other tastes. ... Aesthetic intolerance can be terribly violent. Aversion to different life-styles is perhaps one of the strongest barriers between the classes; class endogamy is evidence of this. The most intolerable thing for those who regard themselves as possessors of legitimate culture is the sacrilegious reuniting of tastes which taste dictates shall be separated. This means that the games of artists and aesthetes and their struggles for the monopoly of artistic legitimacy are less innocent than they seem. (abridged from Bourdieu, 1986: pp. 56 - 7)
Some of our parents have been refused admission to the City Technology College because they did not show an aptitude for technology on the application form. (Mrs HB, Primary Head)
Mr. R: ...even if she had her heart set on going to St. James' and we were not very happy with the school, I doubt very much whether she would have gone there. ...
Mr. B: ...She (teacher) gave a lot reassurances about... You know, bullying, conduct, and discipline - normal discipline and respect. Mutual respect between the kids, which I think is very (repeats) very important. If there was a discipline problem in this school or the school to which my child was going, if I knew there were real problems, such as they get in inner cities, I would not put my child in there. I would then look at selectiveness. ...although I prefer the principle of comprehensive education, I think it is important that your own child and their future and their development comes first. If they go into an environment where they cannot learn, I would not do it just on principle.
Researcher: Did you say that you had an older child at one of the other schools?
Mrs. R: Yes, but they are very different children and what school suits one child does not always suit another . And we honestly thought Rebecca would struggle, where her sister is (the City Technology College)- because Claire is quite intelligent and she enjoys it, doesn't she? But it is hard there. I know the curriculum is the same. But it is hard what Claire does, isn't it? ... We had to think of Rebecca. And we feel that we have made an excellent choice.
Mr. A: Yes, Comprehensive, the statistics looked good for the top end of the achievers and, in my son's case, the headmaster recommended it (St. James') as well.
Researcher: From the primary school?
Mr. A: Yes, from the primary school; although I don't think he is supposed to do that, technically. ... he gets disruptive when he's bored. He is very articulate. His reading age was minus a couple when he was eight and it is now plus one or two. So that side... He is quite good at that, and he thinks he is an adult. Anyway, so he will sit and argue with anybody, including me. Thus he isn't the easiest child to handle but I think that's when he...That is why I didn't want the statement taken away because the problem is starting - if you can't start right then I think it's going to be difficult for him because he would be way behind and always trying to catch up. And I think we might have lost a bit of ground, but that's not the school's fault. But academically at this stage I don't know, because my daughter only recently joined as we pulled her out of the private sector. Yes, she didn't want to go to boarding school and so we brought her in here at thirteen but she could have gone to the grammar school but she, for reasons that my colleagues here have said (he is taking part in a focus group discussion), she is weak at a fundamental subject like math's but she's very strong at English. And she felt herself that in a grammar school environment she'd be struggling all the time and she didn't feel she wanted to go through that.
Researcher: So she could be streamed for each subject individually.
Mr. A: Yes, but interestingly she's in the top stream for math's, which was her weak subject.
They have not really had very many strong pupils from us. I mean, the reason many parents will send them to St. James' is if they have not particularly got on very well with children in our school because they might use that as an opportunity to give them a clean start. ...we had one child went to St. James' last year and I know the parents sent her because she had not got on particularly well with children here, and it was an opportunity to give her a fresh start. ...she was not an academic child by any stretch of the imagination... (Mr YE Primary Head)
Mr. D: South Davidson, the Science and Tech. and St. James'. I think there was one other, but I can't think what it was...Oh we were thinking about sending him down to boarding school, but on day release not actually staying there, you know I take him and then pick him up and bring him home.
Researcher: Where would that be?
Mr. D: Wingprayer. But we decided against that because of the travelling. We'd have to pick him up and drop him off there.
Researcher: So you didn't consider sending him to the grammar school at Wingprayer then?
Mr. D: I thought about it because I was thinking about sending them to a grammar school. But I look at it like this, if they're good then they'll do all right wherever they go, I think. Fair enough, it does depend a lot on the teachers and the facilities they've got. ... I suppose it is a bit of help if they go to grammar school. But he's a hard worker. He is as far as school work goes. I don't know where he gets it from, it must be his mother, I think. He likes to do his work.
Mr. I: ... The only thing what I don't like about the system here is that you go round these schools, like St. James' for instance, if you put that down as your number one choice the rest don't accept you straight away. The number two choice maybe will accept you, but it depends upon how many they get on the first intake. ... We put St. James' down for the first and Queen Elizabeth's second.
Researcher: So if she did pass her eleven plus, and wanted to go to Queen Elizabeth's, would she get in? Or is it a risk you take?
Mr. I: If she passes the eleven plus then they should offer her a place.
Researcher: Oh right, it's probably the best way to go then, isn't it?
Mr. I: Yes, a friend of mine who teaches at St. James' primary, their daughter went there, I think it was last year, and they did the same.
Researcher: Oh right, someone else you know had done it and it worked out all right.
Mr. I: Yes, it doesn't seem quite right. If she does pass it I would like to say she would go to King George's Grammar anyway.
...They (parents) come in and they say, 'What would you recommend?' ... I do say that if a child is going for the eleven plus then they have to realise the social implications of their child going to the Grammar school in Wingprayer. It is nothing to do with the school, it's simply the physical fact of there child having to travel there and travel back, being isolated from school friends in the village here, because there may be only one other child going to the school, who they may not get on with although it happens most parties tend to get on anyway. There tends to be the odd child, and if they have made friends from the other side of Wingprayer, the Slatewell side of Wingprayer, to go and visit that friend means travelling 25 or 30 miles. There has been cases of children who have gone to the Grammar school and have actually not settled and have come back to St. James', because they can't cope with the travelling or what have you. And, of course, it is a considerable tie and expense. They have to weigh up those factors. ... (Mr. ER, Primary Head)
... a close friend of mine has a ... daughter ... and she is academically very able. And when she was in my class as a year 6 child, I remember her saying to me, I was a teacher then rather than in any other official capacity, saying to me 'Do you think she would be happiest going to the St. James', or should I put her in for the eleven plus?' [I said] 'if she passes the eleven plus, and I have no doubt she will, she has then got the upheaval of moving to a new school, making new friends, the difficulties of actually physically getting to it. Whereas she is going to be going with people she is friendly with, she knows, people who have worked with her over many years.' At the end of the day, to me, those are important factors. ... (Mr. AL, Primary Head)
There are also reports of bullying. Last year two kids were transferred from St. James' to the Slingworth because of bullying. The local opinion is thus very strong against St. James'. People think that because St. James' is big it is very difficult to keep tabs on the children; that it is not strict and also that it is not a very caring environment. Whereas Mr. KK at the Slingworth knows everybody. He knows all the children's names and thus it is a more caring place. St. James' is better for girls than for boy and this is related to the culture. The heroes that boys look up to are 'smoking layabouts'. Girls, however, have better role models and therefore do better at school. The boys seem to be lacking manners ... Discipline is important, but depends upon the catchment area ...if it is in a rough area, it is difficult, and St. James' does have children from a rough estate. The two children that were moved because of bullying, were moved because there didn't seem to be anything done about the problem. The opinion [of parents] is that it is too big a place to keep an eye upon all the children. ... I certainly would not send my children to St. James' because it is just not a caring place. The children are just not taught manners. At the primary schools they have had children from St. James' come on work experience. They have been awful. There has been little monitoring of their progress by St. James'. They are usually sent with no idea of what they want to do in the future. Most don't want to be teachers or care for children, but didn't know what else to do. They are ill-mannered. One child called a teacher at St. James' a 'silly cow', [this was] in the staff room, in front of all the teachers at the primary school here. I have not been very happy with the students we have had from them here. If a child is shy I would tend to recommend the Slingworth because Rockford is a small school and if they left and went to St. James' it may overpower them. (Mr. CW, Primary Head)
Mrs. Y: I think that they have a more rounded education in a comprehensive than they do in a grammar school, be it a mixed grammar school. I think they meet people from all walks of life in a comprehensive school, I mean, that's what they are going to do when they go for a job. They are not going to be cosseted are they? Whereas I think with a grammar school they are very much...
Mr. A: With the private sector it is even worse...
Mr. B: I think I have seen cases in the village ... That there is a certain isolation when kids go from a village.
Researcher: It (the area around St. James') seems mostly professional to me?
ST: I don't think that is so. ...that estate across there has got quite a few problem families in there, and the intake is shifting slightly towards what you might call down market. Looking at our stuff, trying to predict examination results, for example, that you might have predicted. We will be going down, which is another way of saying our intake for the successive years is drawn from a slightly different strata than it was. So, I mean, that is an interesting point. We are aware internally, but we aren't going around saying our exam results are going to get worse because that would be wrong. We are hoping that looking at value-added and so on, and things we are into, we will be able prove that our exam results are just as good. Just a raw scores dip.
The market is formally neutral, yet substantively interested ... [it] masks its social bias ... [reproducing] the inequalities which consumers bring to the market place. Under the guise of neutrality, the institution of the market actively conforms and reinforces the pre-existing social order of wealth, privilege and prejudice. (Ranson cited in Evans and Vincent 1997: 107)
...the fact that it is on the national agenda, and parents can hear politicians saying two things: one is education is in an awful state which makes then jumpy, and secondly, they talk about choice of school ... obviously with the current government who have been in power all that time. I think it is inculcated as certain with parents that they are not being good parents if they are not trying to make some kind of consumer choice.
And then, of course, the so-called knowledge that's been put into the hands of parents which has been disinformation, in my view. Like raw school league tables which actually are very bad news for the consumer in my view.
The problems I have got with the way things have gone with choice and marketing is, I mean, nationally, is that it is very complex. It is not like buying a Mars bar, just do you like it or don't you. And it is genuinely difficult for parents, I mean, it is sometimes genuinely difficult for professionals to say whether it is a good or bad school. And I think the way the Government has acted is to display a crudity, an over simplicity which has actually damaged... Like just to take exam results , as an example. I think there are perfectly simple ways of using value-added to show whether a school is kind of in the frame for converting the prior attainment on intake to a respectable set of examination scores. Which you could use to show that most schools were doing a reasonably good job.
Researcher: Is gender an issue in this school in terms of the way you recruit? Do you find, for example, that it is easier to recruit boys than girls, or does it not make any difference?
ST: No, I don't think it makes any difference. I don't think it has ever been an issue. The only very, (repeats) very slight thing that you might come across is that among the people that think Grammar school is best perhaps, occasionally, come across the really old fashioned view that it is important for boys because, you know, men work don't they, and women don't. So you might still come across an old-fashioned family that think its more important to get the boy to Grammar school, more important than the girls...
The other particular issue here was the arrival of the CTC school. Now, I mean, I don't know whether you can call that a particular feature. In any situation, if a new school was opened I suppose it would change the market, in this particular case. It is very high profile because the government was pushing it saying this is the new type of school of the future, the local political parties were saying that. You know, they had ministers coming down to open it. I think there was a huge amount of publicity about the high-tech nature of it, the investment was going in. So, I think, even as compared with the ordinary opening of a new school, it was giving out very, very high profile, positive, publicity.
ST: I wouldn't overplay that (league tables), because I still think an awful lot of parents still go by what they used to, which is, 'Well, they will go to the nearest school if we get a good feel about it.' ...
Researcher: What do you think are the most important factors for parents choosing this school or any school, but preferably this school?
ST: I think that statistically, just in terms of the biggest factor for the most number of people, is just ease of access. You know, nearness, transport, that kind of access. Now, having said that, because most people kind of take that for granted up to a point. I mean, that it is perhaps, particularly true in a rural area, they may not even make that explicit to themselves. But I would guess that has always been top and always will. And, you know, you look at where the people come from, the natural catchment area. It is a big consideration, in terms of both the amount of time the child has to spend on a bus and the cost.
We went round three schools, didn't we. They really suit the area and we know that they are very good... There is the school down at the bottom, the...
Yes, it was just between X and St. James'. Yes it was just between them both for getting there really, for transport as well.
Well, basically, then, we went and looked around about three [including St. James'], I think, three schools, (all were selected initially for distance and transport).
(Most of the people he knew who were choosing)...had a look [at schools selected initially for distance and transport reasons]... And then it was basically where we was location wise and ease of transportation, with all the buses and that.
[The other choice was] X. But we decided against that because of the travelling, we'd have to pick him up and drop him off there.
Anna would have gone to the High School if she'd have passed her 11+ but she missed it. I put the High School down as the first choice and then I put St. James' down and, then, as soon as she'd failed St. James' heard and then they offered her a place. I didn't want her to go to (nearest non-selective because it had a poor reputation).
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