Rural Parents’ School Choices: Affective, Instrumental and Structural Influences

  • Joan Abbott-Chapman University of Tasmania
  • Robbie Johnston University of Tasmania
  • Timothy Jetson University of Tasmania
Keywords: rural eduation, parents, aspirations, affective influences, instrumental influences


The paper discusses qualitative findings from an in-depth study of the school choices of 65 parents living in rural and remote areas of Tasmania and their views about the need for their children to move out of the area to pursue education at secondary and post-secondary level. A constructivist analysis of open-ended survey questions and focus group discussions formed part of a broader mixed-methods approach and probed the affective ‘subtext’ of instrumental survey responses. Findings contribute to our understanding of the interaction of affective, instrumental and structural factors influencing rural parents’ educational decision-making in the neo-liberal policy context, especially with regard to decisions perceived by parents as ‘risky’ with respect to their own future employment and financial expectations. External threats to rural livelihoods, such as economic downturns and natural disasters create parents’ feelings of anxiety about children’s educational futures and are experienced differently by those living on farming properties or in small rural towns. Parents’ perceptions of local and urban school availability, access and quality differ by locality and region. Educational outcomes reflect multidimensional structural, socio-economic and cultural constraints shaping school choice. Membership of voluntary associations, which provides supportive informational networks and develops shared social capital, appears to help parents to overcome socio-economic inequalities and improve their children’s prospects of educational success. The interplay of social class, gender and place attachment is examined with reference to Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and disposition, as well as the processes by which parents try to transmit intergenerational advantage through educational choices.

Author Biography

Joan Abbott-Chapman, University of Tasmania

Adjunct Professor Faculty of Education and Menzies Institute of Medical Research



Abbott-Chapman, J. (2011). Making the most of the mosaic: Facilitating post-school transitions to higher education of disadvantaged students. Australian Educational Researcher, 38, 57-71.
Abbott-Chapman, J., Johnston, R., & Jetson, T. (2014). Rural belonging, place attachment and youth mobility: Parents’ views and aspirations for their children’s education. Rural Society, 23 (3), 295 -307.
Abbott-Chapman, J., & Kilpatrick, S. (2001). Improving post-school outcomes for rural school leavers. Australian Journal of Education, 45(1), 35-47.
Akerlof, G.A. (1997). Social distance and social decisions. Econometrica, 65(5), 1005-1027.
Alloway, N. & Dalley-Trim. (2014). ‘High and dry’ in rural Australia: Obstacles to student aspirations and expectations. Rural Society, 19(1),49-59.
Altenhofen, S., Berends, M., & White, T.G. (2016). School choice decision making among suburban high income parents. AERA Open, 2(1), 1-14. doi:10.1177/2332858415624098
Angus, L. (2012). School choice: Shaping personal, family and social imaginaries in an era of neo-liberalism. Literacy Information and Computer Education Journal, 3(1), 521-529.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Tasmanian state and regional indicators (Catalogue No. 1307.6). Canberra: Author.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). Regional population growth Australia 2011 (Catalogue No. 3218.0). Canberra: Author.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Schools Australia 2016 (Catalogue No. 4221.0). nberra: Author.
Barbour, R. (2007). Doing focus groups. London: SAGE.
Bauman, Z. (2001). Liquid modernity. Oxford & Malden, MA: Polity Press & Blackwell Publishing.
Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage Publicatios.
Bok, J. (2010). The capacity to aspire to higher education: ‘It’s like making them do a play without a script’. Critical Studies in Education, 51(2), 163 -178.
Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1998). Practical reason: On the theory of action. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, P. (2002). Habitus. In J. Hillier & E. Rooksby (Eds.), Habitus: A sense of place (pp. 27-34).
Brannen, J., & Nilsen, A. (2005). Individualisation, choice and structure: a discussion of current trends in sociological analysis. The Sociological Review, 53(3), 412-428.
Caldwell, R., & Boyd, C. P. (2009). Coping and resilience in farming families affected by drought. Rural and Remote Health, 9(2), 1088. Retrieved from
Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage Publications.
Choate, J., Cunningham, R., Abbott-Chapman, J., & Hughes, P. (1992) Rural disadvantage and post-compulsory participation: Parents’ Views of School and Work. Hobart: Youth Education Studies Centre, University of Tasmania.
Corbett, M. (2007a). Learning to leave: The irony of school in a coastal community. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.
Corbett, M. (2007b). All kinds of potential: Women and out-migration in an Atlantic Canadian coastal community. Journal of Rural Studies, 23 (4), 430-442.
Corbett, M. (2009). No time to fool around with the wrong education: Socialisation frames, timing and high stakes educational decision-making in changing rural places. Rural Society, 19(2), 163-177.
Corbett, M., & Forsey, M. (2017). Rural youth, out-migration and education: Challenges to aspirations discourse in mobile modernity. Discourse Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(3), 429-444. doi:10.1080/01596306.2017.1308456.
Cresswell, J. (2008). Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative research. New Jersey, USA: Pearson Prentice Hall.
d’Plesse, P. (1990). Isolation in Tasmania. Hobart: Tasmanian Department of Education and the Arts.
Davidson, R.J., Scherer, K.R., & Goldsmith, H.H. (2003). The role of affect in decision making. In G. Loewenstein & J. S. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of Affective Sciences (pp. 619-642). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: The indirect role of parental expectations and home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(2), 294-304.
Doherty, R.A. (2007). Education, neoliberalism and the consumer citizen: After the golden age of egalitarian reform. Critical Studies in Education, 48(2), 269-288.
Evans, C. (2016). Moving away or staying local: The role of locality in young people’s ‘Spatial Horizons’ and career aspirations. Journal of Youth Studies, 19(4), 501-516.
Eversole, R. (2001). Keeping youth in communities: Education and out-migration in the South West. Rural Society, 11 (2), 85-98.
Falk,I.& Kilpatrick, S. (2000).What is social capital? A study of interaction in a rural community. Sociologia Ruralis, 40(1), 87-100.
Fan, X., & Chen, M. (2001). Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: A meta analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 13(1), 1–22.
Godden, N. (2008). The rural right to education: Submission to the 2008 Review of Australian Higher Education. Melbourne: Monash University.
Gorard, S., See, B.H., & Davies, P. (2012). The impact of aspirations and attitudes on educational attainment and participation. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation and University of Birmingham.
Gorman-Murray, A., Pini, B., & Bryant, L. (Eds.) (2012). Sexuality, Rurality and Geography. New York: Lexington Books.
Hooks, B. (2009). Belonging: A culture of place. Oxford, NY: Routledge.
Isolated Children’s Parents Association of Australia [ICPA Australia]. (2013). ICPA Branches: Tasmania. Retrieved from
Jamieson, L. (2000). Migration, place and class: Youth in a rural area. Sociological Review, 48, 203-223.
Jetson, T. J. (2005). Place. In A. Alexander (Ed.), The companion to Tasmanian history (pp. 466-471). Hobart: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies.
Jetson, T. J. (2009). ‘They had a real appreciation of the area’: Feelings of attachment to the Central Highlands and the Arthur-Pieman areas of Tasmania. Oral History of Australia Journal, 31, 14–20.
Johnston, R. (2009). Small community collections enabling diversity: local history rooms in Tasmania. The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 2(3), 1-10.
Johnston,R. & McManamey, R. (2013). Local history centres in Tasmania: Citizenship hubs of vitality. The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 6(1), 1-11.
Kenway, J., Kraak, A., & Hicky-Moody, A. (2006). Masculinity beyond the Metropolis. Basingstoke, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kilpatrick, S. & Abbott-Chapman J., (2002). Rural young peoples’ work/study priorities and aspirations: the influence of social capital. Australian Educational Researcher, 29(1), 43-68.
Kilpatrick, S. & Abbott-Chapman, J. (2007). Community efficacy and social capital: Modelling How communities deliver outcomes for members. In M. Osborne, K. Sankey & B. Wilson (Eds), Researching social capital: Lifelong learning regions and the management of place: An international perspective (pp. 105-124). London: Routledge.
Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A., & Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia: Who succeeds and who misses out. Melbourne: Centre for International Research on Educational Systems, Mitchell Institute for Health and Educational Policy.
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race and family Life (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lareau, A., & Weininger, E. (2003). Translating Bourdieu into the American context: The
question of social class and family-school relations. Poetics, 31, 375-402.
Le Grand, J. (2003). Inequality, choice and public services. In A. Giddens A. & P. Diamond, P. (Eds.), The new egalitarianism (pp. 200-210). Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Lehman, G. (2008). Two thousand generations of place making. In F. Vanclay, M. Higgins & A. Blackshaw, Making Sense of Place (pp. 105-108). Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press Ltd.
Luhrs, D.E. (2015). Consider the daughters, they are important to family farms and rural communities too: family farm succession. Gender, Place and Culture, 23(8), 1078-1092. doi:10.1080/0916369X.2015
McWilliam, E. (2008). Creative workforce: How to launch young people into high-flying futures. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Morgan, R., & Blackmore, J. (2007). How rural markets shape parental choice of schooling: An Australian case study. Paper presented at the AARE 2007 International Conference, Freemantle. Retrieved August 15 2010 from
Phillips, D. (1985). Making more adequate provision : State education in Tasmania, (pp. 1839-1985). Hobart: Tasmanian Government Printer.
Rodwell, G. (2011). 'Half-pregnant with Bartlett's baby': Contested policies in Tasmanian post-secondary education - 2007-2010 - through the lens of Kingdon's 'Agendas'. Education Research and Perspectives, 38(1), 27-58.
Slovic, P., Peters,E., Finucane, M.L., & MacGregor, D.G. (2005). Affect, risk and decision-making. Health Psychology, 24(4). doi:10.1037/0278-6133,24.4,S35
Stewart, A., & Abbott-Chapman, J. (2011). Remote island students’ post-compulsory retention: student emplacement and displacement as factors influencing educational participation and persistence. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 6(6), 1-16.
Sweetman, P. (2003). Twenty first century dis-ease? Habitual reflexivity or the reflexive habitus? The Sociological Review, 51(4), 528-549.
Vincent, C. (1997) Community and collectivism: the role of parents’ organizations in the education system. The British Journal of Sociology, 18 (2), 271-283.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
West, J. (2013). Obstacles to progress: What’s wrong with Tasmania, really? Griffith REVIEW, 39, 50-59.
How to Cite
Abbott-Chapman, J., Johnston, R., & Jetson, T. (2017). Rural Parents’ School Choices: Affective, Instrumental and Structural Influences. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 27(3), 126-141. Retrieved from