Parents and School Choice – Family Strategies, Segregation and Local School Policies in Finnish Comprehensive Schooling 2009–2012

  • Funding: 400 000 €, the Academy of Finland
  • The leading researchers: Hannu Simola (responsible, University of Helsinki), Risto Rinne (University of Turku)
  • The researchers: Jaana Poikolainen (University of Helsinki), Piia Seppänen (University of Turku)

Since the late 1980s, school-choice policy has been a core element in the global restructuring of public schooling. Many researchers heed the warnings that ‘parental-choice’ may be a key issue in future comprehensive-education policy: will the ideal of common and shared schools for all citizens survive or will it be eroded by a reality in which the offspring of the haves and the have-nots attend their own schools?

The Finnish comprehensive-school system has had a school-choice policy for more than a decade. Until now, the variation between schools has been low, although there are warnings and also some research evidence of polarisation between very popular and unpopular schools in some bigger cities. During the 1990s the Finnish school system became one of the most decentralised after having been one of the most centralised. This means that the school-choice policy, for example, is very much in the hands of the local authorities. These essentially different policies-in-action contexts create an opportunity for a fruitful research design.

The subject of this study is the relationship between the educational strategies adopted by Finnish urban families in two bigger cities (Vantaa and Turku) as articulated and materialised in the school-choice process between the 6th and the 7th grades of the nine-year comprehensive schooling on the one hand, and the local socio-cultural and educational contexts on the other. Through carrying out 180 family interviews related to the two different contexts we aim to contribute to the current discussion and debate on this hot topic in terms of both research and policy: how it might be possible to limit the segregation effects of parental choice in comprehensive schooling? By relating the local policy to the national and global discourses we also intend to shed some light on the problematic of policy convergence and transformation in late-modern and globalised information societies.

Carried out by four responsible researchers in two environments, this project will bring together a valuable consortium of senior and junior researchers involved in segregation and family studies, and studies on global, national and local policies and politics, and will pool methodological know-how gleaned from statistical, interview and documentary studies. The project is linked both to the recent research on school choice, especially in the UK and France, and to the research on Fabricating Quality in European Education, which compares the effects and consequences of quality assurance and evaluation policies in five European countries.