Borsetshire must have more than its fair share of private schools and privately educated pupils if The Archers are anything to go by. We know this because school choice, once again, features in the storyline.
Ruairi Donovan has been through a lot in his short life. He is the son of Brian Aldridge from his extra-marital affair with the lately departed Siobhan Hathaway/Donovan. She died from cancer, in 2007. Upon her death, Brian’s long-suffering, but immensely strong wife, Jennifer agreed to take him on. Bewildered, little Ruairi arrived at Home Farm. The decision about his schooling then, was that, if possible he should attend, the local primary, Loxley Barratt. It would be too traumatic to be packed off to boarding school so soon after loosing his mother and being transported to Ambridge. They had missed the application for school places, and, as the fictional school at Loxley Barratt was fully subscribed, they had an anxious wait over that summer to see if a place became available. They were in luck. Ruairi has settled.
Fast forward nearly four years, such fears have evaporated, and now boarding is being seriously considered for this eight year old. So, in other words, Brian and Jennifer are perusing the education market place.
They appear to have an abstract notion that private is better than state. They are not so much dissatisfied with Loxley Barratt as convinced that it is not good enough for Ruairi, referring to some unsubstantiated claim that his teacher wouldn’t expect him to complete all his homework. Brian and Jennifer are articulate, why don’t they exercise their cultural capital by speaking to Ruairi’s teacher to find out what this story is really about?
Educational expertise is not wholly trusted by Brian and Jennifer. Instead they are engaging in a class based process of school choice. Brian did remark that it is an increasingly competitive world out there; he wants Ruairi to have the edge. In other words, he wants to ensure, understandably, the reproduction of his social class advantage.
It could be argued that they are engaged in a process of matching Ruairi to the most appropriate school (Ball, 2011). Firstly, this can be seen in their decision to go private on the basis that Ruairi is bright, and therefore, presumably too clever for the state sector. Secondly, we heard their rejection of private day schools on the grounds of the amount of traveling involved, which, Jennifer in particular felt would be too much for young Ruairi. Lastly, boarding school was felt to be appropriate for Ruairi because of the activities on offer, he would surely enjoy these, and to deny him these opportunities as a day pupil wouldn’t be fair. So, it is in Ruairi’s best interests to board, he has been matched to this type of school.
Jennifer has also been consulting the grapevine (Ball and Vincent, 1998), to help with the decision making. Thus far, this has involved phoning Elizabeth Pargetter as to her opinions about local boarding schools. Ball and Vincent describe the kind of information that Elizabeth might be able to offer as hot knowledge. Elizabeth might be able to describe her feel for a school, with this helpful to the Brian and Jennifer, supplementing the cold of official knowledge they have already obtained from the schools’ websites and Ofsted reports.
The rationales presented by Brian and Jennifer suggest that there is no alternative for Ruairi. He must be educated privately, and, no doubt he will be. Of course, there is an alternative, but this is ignored in Jennifer and Brian’s thought processes. Their decision making is presented as normal, natural, what all parents go through, not the class based process that it is.
When the time comes for secondary school choice to be made, they could utilise the grapevine to seek out the hot knowledge of Jill Archer. She would advise them, as she did her own daughter, that: There’s nothing wrong with Borchester Green.
Ball, Stephen J.(1997) ‘On the cusp: parents choosing between state and private schools in the UK: action within an economy of symbolic goods’, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1: 1, 1 -17
Ball, Stephen J. and Vincent, Carol (1998) ”I Heard It on the Grapevine’: ‘hot’ knowledge and school choice’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19: 3, 377-400