Issue date: 04 October 2004

ISSUE DATE: 04/10/04

Education experts from London Metropolitan University, the University of the West of England and the University of Sunderland will examine the secondary school choices made by middle class parents and the implications of these choices for identity formation in a new two year research project.

Entitled: ‘Identities, Educational Choice and the White Urban Middle Classes’ the research has a specific focus on those parents whose choices might be seen by others as acting against self-interest. The project will run from May 2005 to November 2007, with fieldwork centred on London, Bristol and Newcastle. The researchers will interview around 130 families in the three cities.

Parents and their children will be interviewed at different stages of the decision making process about secondary school education and they will be asked to talk about all the things that they weigh up when choosing schools, and their feelings at various stages in the process. Researchers will collate the interviews from the families across the country and look for themes and patterns in their views and the decisions they make.

Professor David James, who is leading the Bristol-based part of the research at UWE, says, “We have chosen to focus particularly on families in urban areas who opt to stay in the state system – even when according to the prevailing wisdom and the league tables the school may not at first glance appear to be the ‘best choice’. We want to know what thought processes are involved in this choice and how it interacts with the way children and families see themselves. We will be finding out how families continue to view the decision they have made and the impressions they have at different stages of the process.”

“Successive government policies have championed the idea of choice in secondary school selection. At the same time research tells us that the issue is very complex, and that there are crucial differences and inequalities to do with family background, location, and different kinds of school. In this study we want to look at the finer grain of school choices and experiences and see how these sit with concepts of identity formation. We are also interested in seeing how our data look in the light of Mike Savage’s argument about how in contemporary Britain, white middle class patterns of behaviour are somehow assumed to be ‘normal’. ”

The research team that has won the contract is led by Professor Diane Reay (London Metropolitan University, formerly of Kings College) and also includes Professor Gill Crozier (Sunderland University). They beat strong competition to win £230k funding for their project from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The members of the team have collaborated before and have a track record in research that seeks to understand the role of education in social reproduction. David James and Diane Reay recently co-edited a special issue of the British Journal of Sociology of Education on the significance in this area of the work of the late French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu.

This project is part of the £4 million ‘Identities and Social Action Programme’ which is designed to deepen our understanding of the processes involved in the making of selves, groups and communities. The Programme attracted a record number of applications (335) of which 58 were short-listed. The project is one of only 25 to be funded.


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