Decentralization, deregulation and marketisation characterize education policy changes in Sweden and several European countries. The introduction of independent schools [friskolor] in 1992 is one manifestation of the economic and discursive changes in Sweden. The ‘school choice-reform’ has resulted in an increasing number of enterprises offering education besides public schools run by local authorities. A quasi-market has emerged, and schools engage in marketing to recruit pupils and receive the school voucher [skolpeng] each pupil brings. Noteworthy in the Swedish case is that independent schools are fully tax financed and allowed to be run on a profit base. This paper explores how career guidance in schools is affected by such changes. More specifically the aim is to gain knowledge on how career guidance practitioners’ (CGPs) comprehend and deal with competition and marketing in upper secondary schools. Challenges and dilemmas in guidance are highlighted.
Educational research has examined the neo-liberal shift and marketisation of education (c.f. Ball 2007; Lundahl & Arnesen 2006), the consequences for teaching and teachers (c.f. Fredriksson 2009; Hargreaves 2004), school choice (c.f. Forsey et al 2008; Kelly 2007) and school marketing (c.f. Oplatka & Hemsley-Brown 2004). However, the consequences for career guidance in schools have scarcely been focussed in educational research. This issue is vital since young people are expected - and need knowledge and skills - to navigate through school, further education, unemployment and employment in a lifelong learning society offering numerous pathways, uncertainties and risks (c.f. Furlong & Cartmel 2007; Lidström 2009; Lundahl et al 2010).
Research on the effects of marketisation on career guidance has mainly focussed a trend of privatization of the services, and discusses what responsibility the government versus the market ought to have in career guidance provision (c.f. Grubb 2004; Meijers 2001; Watts 2008). In the case of Sweden, privatization in the sense that enterprises and public career guidance compete for service delivery to pupils is not very extensive so far. Even so, it has been shown that the competition among upper secondary schools influences Swedish career guidance substantially, and that CGPs more frequently are supposed to market their school (Lundahl & Nilsson 2007; Olsson & Svensson 2006).
In this study the CGPs understanding of and strategies towards the school quasi-market draws on Ball’s (2007) ideas and analytical concepts - discursive, structural and interpretive – regarding the private sector’s participation in public sector education. The findings are also linked to notions of individualization and risk (Beck 1992; Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 2001; Giddens 1996). The study is part of a larger, ongoing, research project “Upper-secondary education as a market” financed by the Swedish Research Council.
Method and design
The study is based on semi-structured individual interviews and focus-group interviews with CGPs in two Swedish regions and eight upper secondary schools. The selection of schools derives from the municipalities’ degree of urbanization and the market exposure of the schools. The intention has been to include both independent schools and public schools. Thirteen CGPs in the eight schools participated in the study.
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Findings and conclusions
Marketisation significantly influences guidance and CGPs’ daily work in upper secondary school. Competition contributes to school development and schools being anxious to keep pupils but also have negative effects on pupils and career guidance. CGPs wish money to be spent on school improvements rather than on ostentatious marketing and fringe benefits, and worry about more pupils regretting their choices and dropping out. CGPs experience loyalty and value conflicts. Head teachers expect them to attract pupils and CGPs want to be good ambassadors. Simultaneously they regard themselves as professionals that according with ethical guidelines should be independent from special interests and provide objective information. They handle the quandaries by e.g. clarifying their professional role to head teachers and others, and encourage parents and pupils to look through flashy marketing. However, the possibilities to be ‘honest brokers’ vary depending on the competition the school is exposed to. Type of organisation and terms of employment are also important; CGPs working at one school express more ethical dilemmas than those working on more schools or at freestanding public career guidance centres assisting pupils. It is concluded that the Swedish competition-based school reforms challenges CGPs self-images as impartial experts or ‘honest brokers’.
ECER , 2010.
ECER (European Conference of Educational Research) in Helsinki, Finland, 23-27 August, 2010