Languages study and class privilege: The neoliberal effect in australian schools

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 2019, 17 (3), pp. 170 - 209
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© 2019, Institute for Education Policy Studies. All rights reserved. In Australia’s highly multicultural and multilingual society the number of students studying languages in secondary schools has declined markedly in recent decades, but not for all students. For students from high socio-economic status (SES) families who attend elite private schools and academically selective high schools, studying traditional languages such as French or German remains a strong curriculum choice and languages continue to confer linguistic and cultural capital. Not so, however, for the majority of students in low SES government comprehensive high schools. For these students, the choice of studying languages is very limited, and for the languages courses that are available, participation rates are poor. Moreover, this social class disparity in the study of languages is ever widening as the result of neoliberal reforms to Australian schooling. In New South Wales, the focus of this paper, school choice and selective schooling policies have ensured that most students in low SES comprehensive high schools are unlikely to study languages beyond the mandatory state minimum of 100 hours in Year 7 or 8. This paper demonstrates the social class inequalities of differentiated languages provision by examining four government high schools in two urban areas in NSW. In each area, languages provision and its associated discourses in the local comprehensive high school are contrasted with the academically selective high school located just a few kilometres away. Recent neoliberal education policies in NSW indicate that school and languages education segregation based on social class will continue unabated.
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