Identities, educational choice and the white urban middle classes (2005-2007)

Contact:  David James

Sponsor:  Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

 ‘Choice’, along with ‘the market’, remains a core driver in educational policy and other public service reforms in the UK and elsewhere, despite many well-debated problematic dimensions and ramifications. The notion of choice is also the context for an apparent continuing exodus of the white urban middle classes from state secondary education. Indeed, the availability of different types of secondary school provision is of central importance in the housing market and is closely related to a series of strategic lifestyle choices. It was against this backdrop that the ESRC-funded project Identity, Educational Choice and the White Urban Middle Classes (Award reference RES-148-25-0023)  investigated a cross-section of ‘counter intuitive’ examples, where white urban middle class families (in London, ‘Norton’ and ‘Riverton’) eschewed more apparently dependable state and private alternatives and instead choose ordinary state comprehensive secondary schools for their children.

The study sought to understand school choice practices and processes in terms of orientations and motivations, ethnicity and class, with specific reference to this group of families. It aimed to investigate how such practices are related to identity and identification in the light of contemporary conceptions of the middle class self. In addition, it attempted to understand tensions between familial and wider social interests, and the impact on children of particular school choices. The core data set consisted of interviews with parents and children in 124 white middle class households across the three cities. The study began in mid 2005 and concluded in 2007, and was part of the ESRC Identities and Social Action Programme. It was co-directed by Professor David James (UWE), Professor Diane Reay (Cambridge) and Professor Gill Crozier (Sunderland).

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