Captured by the discourse? Issues and concerns in researching ‘parental choice’
Investigations of parental choice have been a growing feature of educational research over the last six years (Adler et al., 1986; Macbeth et al., 1986, 1991; Stillman & Maychell, 1986; Boulton & Coldron, 1989; Hunter, 1989; MVA Consultancy, 1989; Scottish Education Department, 1989; Echols et al., 1990; Coldron & Boulton, 1991; Thomas & Dennison, 1991; West & Varlaam, 1991). This partly reflects the development of a political theme of the 1970s, the concern to make education accountable. But it also has a great deal to do with the way in which, influenced by microeconomic and public choice theories, the Conservative government has recontextualised accountability and placed education within the ideology of the market and, in particular, within the notion of consumer power. The latter is often represented in the literature (especially governmental literature) as parental power exercised via parental choice, and indeed this is the form in which it appears in the Education Acts of 1980 (with respect to Scotland) and 1986 and 1988 (with respect to England and Wales). The significant difference between the 1980 and 1986 and the 1988 Acts is the latter’s crucial linkage to per capita funding.