Parental Capital and Strategies for School Choice Making: Polish Parents in England and Scotland
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Based on a study of Polish migrants living in England and Scotland, this paper explores how Polish families who have decided to bring up their children in the UK make initial school choices. The Polish parents taking part in our study generally had low levels of social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986) upon arrival in the UK: they had limited networks (predominantly bonding capital) (Putnam 2000) and a poor command of English, and lacked basic knowledge of the British education system. Meanwhile, this is a highly complex system, very much different from the Polish one; moreover, school choice plays a much more important role within the UK system, especially at the level of secondary education. We found that while some parents acted as ‘disconnected choosers’ (Gewirtz, Ball, Bowe 1995) following the strategy they would use in Poland and simply enrolling their children in the nearest available school, others attempted to make an informed choice. In looking for schools, parents first and foremost turned to co-ethnic networks for advice and support; nevertheless, parents who attempted to make an informed choice typically lacked ‘insider knowledge’ and often held misconceptions about the British education system. The one feature of the system Polish parents were very much aware of, however, was the existence of Catholic schools; therefore, religious beliefs played a key role in school choice among Polish parents (with some seeking and others avoiding Catholic schools). The ‘active choosers’ also made choices based on first impressions and personal beliefs about what was best for their child (e.g. in terms of ethnic composition of the school) or allowed their children to make the choice. Parents of disabled children were most restricted in exercising school choice, as only certain schools cater for complex needs. All in all, the Polish parents in our sample faced similar barriers to BME (Black Minority Ethnic) parents in exercising school choice in the UK and, regardless of their own levels of education, their school selection strategies resembled those of the British working class rather than of the middle class. However, the risk of ‘bad’ initial school choice may be largely offset by a generally strong preference for Catholic schools and parents’ high educational ambitions for their children.
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