Gender and Choice: Girls, Single Sex Schooling and School Choice
New Zealand, like many other OECD nations, has introduced market-style policies into educational provision. The 'rationale' for these policies was derived from New Right or neo-liberal theory. Over the past decade there has been an increasing amount of research aimed at exploring the impact of market-style policies in education, with particular emphasis on issues of equity. However, there has been very little research concerned with examining the implications of the marketisation of education for the schooling of girls. Exploring the implications of marketisation for girls has not been high on the agenda of either critics of marketisation, or of feminist researchers. This thesis is a contribution towards that work. Policies aimed at increasing school choice have been one of the key ways that market-style policies have been introduced into education. The research on which this thesis is based is an exploration of school choice from the perspectives of a group of twenty four girls at a single sex state secondary school in a New Zealand city. In a series of focus group interviews I asked the girls about how they had come to be at Girls' College, their perceptions of their schooling experiences and their reflections on what it meant to be a Girls' College student. Using aspects of feminist poststructural theories, I argue that school choice might be viewed as a site where various discourses are negotiated by girls in the process of educational decision making. These include discourses of gender, which are shaped by social class and ethnicity, as well as by the biography and dynamics of the girls' families; and discourses of choice which have assumed dominance in educational policy. There are also discourses made available to the girls in the context of their schooling experience. If we are to understand the impact of market policies in education on the schooling of girls, we need to consider how girls are negotiating and mediating these discourses and the subjectivities, or ways to do being a 'girl', they make available. We also need to consider the perspectives of girls from a range of social class and ethnic backgrounds since these discourses are shaped by social class and ethnicity to position girls in differing, and often contradictory, ways. Furthermore, in order to understand the impact of market-style policies on the schooling of girls, we also need to consider the girls' schooling experiences in relation to their reasons for being in the school. This exploration of choice and schooling from the girls' perspectives presents a different account of choice to that which is currently available in the research literature or that which is assumed by neo-liberals. By placing the girls' narratives of choice within the broader contexts of their lives and schooling, I have been able to explore the complex dynamics of power that operate inside and outside of school to position the girls, and the school itself, in variously powerful ways. I have been able to show that the assumptions on which the neo-liberal account of choice is based are overly simplistic and serve to marginalise and silence other aspects of the girls' lives and schooling experiences that are not encompassed by a neo-liberal view of the world. Furthermore, this exploration of choice in a particular context and from the perspectives of a certain group of girls also enables me to consider the broader implications of the operation of school choice and market-style policies for the schooling of girls.