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Streaming, social class and schooling in Western Australia: A critical ethnography of post-school reflections

Black, Alison Cameron (2021) Streaming, social class and schooling in Western Australia: A critical ethnography of post-school reflections. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis critically examines the ordinary, everyday practice of streaming working-class students into vocational education and training pathways in public high schools in Western Australia. The thesis challenges existing social and educational hierarchies in a country that prides itself on the myth of egalitarianism. Schools under the influence of neoliberalism are forced into fierce market competition which impacts on the kinds of knowledge working-class students can access, thus affecting their future career aspirations.

Drawing on the tradition of critical ethnography, the reflections of eleven young adults studying in the Tertiary and Further Education (TAFE) system on their post–high school years are examined to better understand the processes of streaming and the factors that influenced their decisions. Analysis of these narratives draws on social class theory to shed light on how students are artificially divided into academic and non-academic streams.

Based on the students’ narratives, six emergent themes provide a focus of discussion: “the suicide six” – academic competition; “I really should just do the childcare course” – subject selection; “other kids were the smart ones” – the ideology of meritocracy; “they said I wasn’t fit enough to do it” – low aspirations; “I used to spend most of my time in English classes asleep” – disengagement; and finally, “they label you from the start” – the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally, the thesis attempts to advance a set of alternative possibilities for a socially just education system based on the ideas of critical hope and optimism. It provides critical insight into providing engaging, relevant and meaningful opportunities for working-class students. It seeks to interrupt stereotypical expectations, experiences and career pathways for working-class students and instead, reimagine the nature, purpose and processes of education in more socially just ways.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Education
Supervisor(s): Down, Barry, Glass, Christine and Wright, Peter
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