An Exploration of Parental Choice of School by Rural and Remote Parents
Thesis written by Dr Michael McCarthy
The parental choice of school process is a complex undertaking for parents. This complexity is evident when considered from the nuanced perspective of school choice by Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents living in rural and remote areas. The social and geographic contexts of these parents give rise to unique challenges which shape the ways in which they choose a boarding for their children. The parental choice of school process consists of psychical constructions and processes which help parents define their understandings of ‘good’ schools and with which they engage in the boarding school choice process.
The purpose of this research is to explore the ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents select a boarding school for their children. This will illuminate the reasons for changing enrolment patterns at a Catholic boarding school in north-west Queensland.
The following research questions emerged from a synthesis of the literature. These research questions framed the research process:
- How does rurality/remoteness influence parental choice of boarding school?
- How do parents living in rural and remote areas inform their choice of boarding school for their child?
- How does school culture influence rural and remote parents’ boarding school choice?
- How does race influence the boarding school choice process for rural and remote parents?
Given that this study focuses on the ways in which parents engage with the boarding school choice process, an interpretive approach has been adopted. A constructionist epistemology underpins the study, and symbolic interactionism and Indigenous methodology are the theoretical perspectives. The methodology for this research is case study. Data were collected from a total of 36 participants (Indigenous/Non-Indigenous parents living in rural and remote locations; Principals of the research site school; Indigenous Support Personnel at the system level) using focus groups and one-on-one semi-structured interviews.
Five major conclusions of this study contribute to new knowledge about parental choice of boarding school.
Contributions to new knowledge highlight:
- That rurality, remoteness and local context shape the ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents engage in the boarding school choice process. Experiences of isolation, disadvantage and social disconnection both shape parents’ understandings of ‘good’ schools and influence their engagement in the boarding school choice process.
- Social class typologies (middle- and working class) are reshaped by Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents during their engagement in the boarding school choice process.
- That Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents select boarding schools for different reasons. Indigenous parents are seeking access to quality education in order to socially mobilise their children. Non-Indigenous parents select boarding schools that will offer their children opportunities for personal development, social skilling, and experiences which may broaden their understanding of the world. Two new school chooser typologies emerge as a result of this study: the Enfranchised Chooser and the Rural/Remote Chooser.
- That Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents choose Catholic boarding schools for their capacity to transmit universal values, rather than education in the Catholic faith.
- That Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents engage in racialised thinking during the boarding school choice process. Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents considered the racial composition of boarding schools during the school choice process.
ABOUT DR MCCARTHY
Dr Michael McCarthy is principal of St Joseph’s School, Stanthorpe – a Prep to Year 12, co-educational Catholic school in the diocese of Toowoomba, Queensland. He holds a PhD in Education from the Australian Catholic University.