There is a long history of sociological writing which sees the educational system as being central to the question of the distribution of advantage and disadvantage within society (see for example, Jackson and Marsden, 1962; Willis, 1977; Halsey et al, 1980; Connell et al, 1982; Gewirtz et al., 1995). However, few studies of cultural reproduction have attempted a ‘gendered’ analysis of parental involvement in such a process; in other words, examined the differences between men and women in the way they relate to school in their dealings with it as parent. Even fewer have included ‘race’ within their discussion. This chapter attempts both through a focus on the home-school relationship as a key element to cultural reproduction.
Much recent educational policy in Britain can be interpreted as reconstructing the relationship between home and the primary school; that is breaking down the public/private divide by taking increasing amounts of school work into the home (David, 1993). The rapid growth of workbooks for children to complete in the home and the promotion of supermarket vouchers for parents to collect and exchange for school resources are both examples of this. They offer us an illustration of the increasing commodification of education and the redistribution of responsibility between family and school. During the 1980s and 1990s a new educational agenda developed which offered parents a seemingly powerful role. In public policy discourses parents were increasingly seen as ‘consumers’ empowered in the educational marketplace through their access to choice. Carol Vincent points out: ‘Parents-as-consumers is the mechanism through which disparate elements of Conservative ideology—individualism, freedom, consumer choice, morality, discipline and order—are bound together in the education system’ (Vincent, 1996, p. 40).
It is possible to see parental involvement itself in terms of ‘discourses’, which position mothers as the parent who is either enhancing or holding back children’s educational progress (David et al., 1996; Walkerdine and Lucey, 1989). However, at the same time the changing balance between home and school seems to result in an increased differential in responsibilities between mothers and fathers.