Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Max Angus


The impetus for this portfolio is the accelerating drift of Australian school students from state-run, free government schools to fee-paying independent and/or Catholic schools within the non-government sector. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data show that between 1996 and 2006, student enrolments in non-government schools grew by 21.5% compared with 1.2% in government schools (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2007). In this portfolio, a sociological lens reflective of the pragmatic paradigm is applied to the question of school choice in order to understand parents' thinking behind the choices they are making and, moving forward, how the funding and governance of schooling in Australia might lead to different school choices. The portfolio is structured around a three-way school-choice model whereby parents' choices arise through the interaction of three dimensions: local options, global trends and personal circumstances. The portfolio incorporates a combination of primary and secondary research. The secondary research explores local and global dimensions of school choice while the primary research investigates the personal dimension. The primary research is a case-study conducted in a precinct of metropolitan Perth in 2007. In the case-study, a survey was administered to the parents of all students who had just commenced their secondary schooling (entering year 8) at one of eight schools located within the case study precinct. Participating schools comprised a mixture of government, Catholic and independent sectors and, due to their shared proximity, were each others' main competition for students. While a high degree of agreement about what makes a 'good' school was found among participating parents, sector-specific variation was found in the sense of agency reported by parents and in the extent to which participating schools were perceived to offer several factors that were deemed to be prominent in 'good' schools. In each case, government schools lagged behind their non-government counterparts. Recommendations offer a pragmatic and empirically sound approach to arresting the drift of students away from government secondary schools.

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