Primary School Choice and the ‘Good’ Mother: Balancing Complex Support Needs and Responsibility

  • Sue DockettEmail author
  • Bob Perry
Part of the International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development book series (CHILD, volume 21)


The principle of school choice has become firmly embedded in the education context of Australia. This chapter examines the primary school choices made by three mothers described as having complex support needs, living in New South Wales, Australia. These needs related both to their own health and well-being, as well as those of other family members. The mothers participated in a series of conversational interviews as their children prepared for, and later started, school. Aligned with decisions about school choice, the mothers described the responsibilities they felt to make the ‘right’ school choices for their children, as well as a wide range of constraints they experienced. The school choices made by these mothers were shaped by their resources and their histories. Available economic capital influenced choices, as did the ways in which social and cultural capital was activated. For each of these mothers, school choice and responsible mothering were intertwined.


School Choice Support Need Support Complex Cultural Capital Start School 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the Australian Research Council Linkages Grant [LP0669546]. Partners in the grant were Mission Australia and the then NSW Department of Communities.


  1. Aitchison, C. (2010). Good mothers go school shopping. In S. Goodwin & K. Huppatz (Eds.), The good mother: Contemporary motherhoods in Australia (pp. 89–110). Sydney: Sydney University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Angus, L. (2013). School choice: Neoliberal education policy and imagined futures. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(3), 395–413. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2013.823835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). 2039.0 Information paper: An introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed 12 Mar 2016.
  4. Ball, S. J. (2006). Education policy and social class: The selected works of Stephen J Ball. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Ball, S. J., & Vincent, C. (1998). “I heard it on the grapevine”: “Hot” knowledge and school “choice”. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19(3), 377–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bifulco, R., & Ladd, H. (2006). School choice, racial segregation and test-score gaps: Evidence from North Carolina’s Charter school program. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 26(1), 31–56. doi: 10.1002/pam.20226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, P. (1986). Forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P. (1997). The forms of capital. In A. H. Halsey, H. Lauder, P. Brown, & A. S. Wells (Eds.), Education, culture, economy and society (pp. 46–58). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Campbell, C., Proctor, H., & Sherrington, G. (2009). School choice: How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  10. Charmaz, K. (2008). Grounded theory as an emergent method. In S. Nagy-Hesse-Biber & P. Leahy (Eds.), Handbook of emergent methods (pp. 155–170). New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  11. Clarke, M. (2012). Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution: The social, political, and fantasmatic logics of education policy. Journal of Education Policy, 25(1), 19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connell, R. (2013). The neoliberal cascade and education: An essay on the market agenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, 54(2), 99–112. doi: 10.1080/17508487.2013.776990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dockett, S., Perry, B., Kearney, E., Hampshire, A., Mason, J., & Schmied, V. (2011). Facilitating children’s transition to school from families with complex support needs. Albury: Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education, Charles Sturt University. Accessed 14 Dec 2016.
  14. Dumais, S. (2002). Cultural capital, gender, and school success: The role of habitus. Sociology of Education, 75(1), 44–68. doi: 10.2307/3090253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. English, R. (2009). Selling education through “culture”: Responses to the market by new, non-government schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 36(1), 89–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Exley, S. (2013). Making working-class parents think more like middle-class parents: Choice advisers in English education. Journal of Education Policy, 28(1), 77–94. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2012.689012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fuller, B., & Elmore, R. (1996). Policy-making in the dark: Illuminating the school choice debate. In B. Fuller, R. Elmore, & G. Orfield (Eds.), Who chooses, who loses? Culture, institutions and the unequal effects of school choice (pp. 1–21). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fuller, A., Foskett, R., Johnston, B., & Paton, K. (2011). ‘Getting by’ or ‘getting ahead’? Gendered educational and career decision-making in networks of intimacy. In S. Jackson, I. Malcolm, & K. Thomas (Eds.), Gendered choices: Learning, work, identities in lifelong learning (Vol. 15, pp. 189–208). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Griffith, A., & Smith, D. (2005). Mothering for schooling. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Ho, C. (2011). ‘MySchool’ and others: Segregation and white flight. Australian Review of Public Affairs. Accessed 28 Aug 2016.
  21. Hoxby, C. (2000). Does competition among public schools benefit students and taxpayers? The American Economic Review, 90(5), 1209–1238. doi: 10.1257/aer.90.5.1209
  22. James, D., & Beedell, P. (2010). Transgression for transition? White urban middle class families making and managing ‘against the grain’ school choices. In K. Ecclestone, G. Biesta, & M. Hughes (Eds.), Transitions and learning through the lifecourse (pp. 32–46). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Janus, M., Kopechanski, L., Cameron, R., & Hughes, D. (2008). In transition: Experiences of parents of children with special needs at school entry. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(5), 479–485. doi: 10.1007/s10643-007-0217-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Katz, I., Spooner, C., & Valentine, K. (2007). What interventions are effective in improving outcomes for children of families with multiple and complex problems? Social Policy Research Centre/Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Accessed 15 Dec 2016.
  25. Kimelberg, S. M. (2014). Beyond test scores: Middle-class mothers, cultural capital, and the evaluation of urban public schools. Sociological Perspectives, 57(2), 208–228. doi: 10.1177/0731121414523398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lamb, S. (2007). School reform and inequality in urban Australia: A case of residualizing the poor. In M. Duru-Bellat, S. Lamb, & R. Teese (Eds.), International studies in educational inequality, theory and policy (Vol. 3, pp. 1–38). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  27. Lamont, M., & Lareau, A. (1988). Cultural capital: Allusions, gaps and glissandos in recent theoretical development. Sociological Theory, 6(2), 153–168. doi: 10.2307/202113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race and family life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lüscher, K. (2002). Intergenerational ambivalence: Further steps in theory and research. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(3), 585–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mockler, N. (2013). Reporting the education revolution’: in the print media. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34(1), 1–16. doi: 10.1080/01596306.2012.698860.Google Scholar
  31. New South Wales Department of Education and Training. (1997). Enrolment of students in government schools: A summary and consolidation of policy. New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Accessed 12 Mar 2015.
  32. New South Wales Department of Education and Training. (2010). Disability programs. New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Accessed 12 Oct 2015.
  33. Oria, A., Cardini, A., Ball, S., Stamou, E., Kolokitha, M., Vertigan, S., & Flores-Moreno, C. (2007). Urban education, the middle classes and their dilemmas of school choice. Journal of Education Policy, 22(1), 91–105. doi: 10.1080/02680930610165791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Posey, L. (2012). Middle and upper-middle class parent action for urban public schools: Promise or paradox? Teachers College Record, 114, 122–164.Google Scholar
  35. Raveaud, M., & van Zanten, A. (2007). Choosing the local school: Middle class parents’ values and social and ethnic mix in London and Paris. Journal of Education Policy, 22(1), 107–124. doi: 10.1080/02680930601065817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reay, D., & Ball, S. J. (1997). Spoilt for choice: The working classes and educational markets. Oxford Review of Education, 23(1), 89–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Reay, D., & Ball, S. J. (1998). Making their minds up: Family dynamics and school choice. British Educational Research Journal, 24(4), 431–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Robinson, N. (2010, January 23). Gillard, greater transparency in schools reporting promotes informed choice. The Australian. Accessed 15 Aug 2016.
  39. Saleebey, D. (Ed.). (1997). Common purpose: Strengthening families and neighbourhoods to rebuild America. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  40. Smart, D., Sanson A., Baxter J., Edwards, B., & Hayes, A. (2008). Home-to-school for financially disadvantaged children: Final report. Australian Institute of Family Studies and The Smith Family. Accessed 16 Dec 2016.
  41. Smrekar, C., & Goldring, E. (1998). School choice in urban America: Magnet schools and the pursuit of equity. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  42. Stake, R. (2008). Qualitative case studies. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry (pp. 119–150). Los Angeles: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Vincent, C., Ball, S., & Braun, A. (2010a). Between the estate and the state: Struggling to be a ‘good’ mother. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31(2), 123–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Vincent, C., Braun, A., & Ball, S. (2010b). Local links, local knowledge: Choosing care settings and schools. British Educational Research Journal, 36(2), 279–298. doi: 10.1080/01411920902919240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wilkins, A. (2010). Citizens and/or consumers: Mutations in the construction of concepts and practices of school choice. Journal of Education Policy, 25(2), 171–189. doi: 10.1080/02680930903447671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Windle, J. (2009). The limits of school choice: Some implications for accountability of selective practices and positional competition in Australian education. Critical Studies in Education, 1(3), 231–246. doi: 10.1080/17508480903009566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Woessmann, L., Ludemann, E., Schutz, G., & West, M. (2007). School accountability, autonomy, choice and the level of student achievement: International evidence from PISA 2003. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Education Working Paper No 13, Paris. Accessed 23 Nov 2016.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationCharles Sturt UniversityAlbury-WodongaAustralia

Personalised recommendations