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Engendering Social Reproduction: Mothers in the Educational Marketplace

Author(s): Diane Reay

Source: British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 195-209
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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BritishJournal of Sociologyof Education, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1998 195

Engendering in theeducational

DIANE REAY, King'sCollegeLondon

ABSTRACT Thisarticlehighlights of womentosocialreproduction

thecentrality throughafocuson
thesocialand culturalprocessesembedded in parental involvement. It arguesthat,in thecontext
of a
flexiblelabourmarket, middle-class
reproduction has
increasingly to be workedfor and describes
some of
thegendered all themothers
classprocesses wereat timesactivelyengaged in. Whileall themothers
childrenwithschoolwork it was onlythemiddle-class
andtalkedto teachers, motherswhohadthepower
and resources
to act to
effectivelyshapethe curriculumofferedto theirchildren.I conclude that
a marketsystemof educationprovidesthe with
middle-classes a competitiveedge,of whichtheywill

Between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s, theorists and researchers in the sphere of
sociology of education moved away from an emphasis on individual social mobility
resulting from family socialisation patterns and genetic endowments to a focus on social
and cultural reproduction (Young, 1971; Jencks, 1972; Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Apple,
1979). As a correction to the earlier bias, the powerful influence of educational
institutions was often emphasised in a way which downplayed the agency of pupils and
their families (Althusser, 1972; Bourdieu, 1974; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Since then,
social reproduction theories have similarly fallen from favour, discredited as far too
mechanistic to capture the complexities of social life. However, recent work by both
Bourdieu (1990) and Giddens (1990) work with notions of social reproduction as involved
in, and brought about by, the knowledgeable use of rules and resources by actors
engaging in the routine practices of life.
Social reproduction can be understood in the context of this article as 'the replacement
of the relationshipbetween classes' (Willis, 1981, p. 49, original emphasis). At the same
time social reproduction does not preclude changes within classes. Cultural reproduction,
paradoxically, can be understood in some contexts as a more narrow concept, but in
others as broader than social reproduction. It encompasses continuities of gender and
0142-5692/98/020195-15 ? 1998 Carfax PublishingLtd
196 D. Reay

race, alongside social class, across society, as well as within sub-cultures. Jenks defines it
A theme that has arisen from within a diversity of forms of contemporary social
investigation, all of which variously but inevitably refer to a sense of social
continuity achieved through modalities of change. (1993, p. 6)
In this article, I attempt, within a focus on parental involvement in education, to
illustrate empirically some of the myriad ways in which social reproduction is 'enacted'
in an analysis which stresses the contribution of individual agency to educational and
wider social inequalities. Social reproduction is seen to be constructed and reconstructed
through the daily activities of parents and children in the home just as much as through
the social dynamics of educational institutions and the workings of the labour market.
I also want to argue that a focus on the gendered nature of parental involvement
suggests a very different relationship between women and social reproduction than that
from orthodox perspectives which view their activities as largely peripheral. Social
reproduction has traditionally been understood as a macroprocess within which women
are positioned passively. In contrast, I have attempted to theorise it as a microprocess in
which social reproduction can be seen to be constituted through the myriad everyday
social and domestic activities of mothers just as much as the school activities of pupils
(Wills, 1977) and the labour market activities of men (Goldthorpe, 1987). Giddens asserts
that 'it is always the case that the day-to-day activity of social actors draws upon and
reproduces structural features of wider social systems' (Giddens, 1984, pp. 85-86).
However, the ways in which mothering work in support of children's schooling structures
and is structured by wider social systems has rarely been explored.
Philip Brown has pointed out that the inevitability of social reproduction has been
exaggerated (Brown, 1995). Within the wider context of an increasingly flexible labour
market, middle-class reproduction is no longer inevitable, it increasingly has to be
worked for. This article illustrates, in relation to primary aged children, the gendered
nature of this work and examines, in particular, middle-class mothers' actions in support
of children's education. In exploring the social and cultural processes embedded in
parental involvement, the article attempts to highlight the centrality of women to social
reproduction. Using data from an ethnographic study of mothers' involvement in
children's schooling in two London primary schools, I outline later some of the gendered
class processes all the mothers were at times actively engaged in. At the same time,
structural influences were never far below the surface of maternal involvement, with
mothers sometimes appearing to be caught up in a wave of educational urgency over
which they seemed to have little control.
There are an increasing number of empirical studies which reveal the ways in which
current educational market policies are exacerbating inequalities of 'race' and social class
Lauder et al., 1994; Gewirtz et al., 1995; Ball et al., 1996; Vincent, 1996; Noden et al.,
1998). Within the educational field, contemporary middle-class action has led to
increasing class and racial segregation both between and within schools, from pressure
for streaming on the presumption that their children will be allocated to top sets (Gewirtz
et al., 1995; Reay & Ball, 1997; Reay, 1998d) to the avoidance of schools with a sizeable
cohort of black and/or white working-class pupils who might hinder their own child's
learning (Vincent, 1992; Wells & Serna, 1996; Bagley, 1996). However, as Carol
Vincent's research into parent organisations makes clear, there are no ungendered class
and 'race' relations (Vincent, 1996). Despite the undifferentiated notion of 'parent' still
to be found in much of the literature on home-school relationships, when the day-to-day
SocialReproduction 197

involvement of parents in children's schooling is examined it is primarily mothers who

are to be found taking the main responsibility for, and undertaking the majority of, the
work of parental involvement (Smith, 1988; Griffien & Smith, 1990; Lareau, 1992;
David, 1993; Ribbens, 1994; David et al., 1993, 1994; Reay, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998a;
Reay & Ball, 1998).

Mothering in the Context of the Marketplace

Later, I draw on empirical data from an ethnographic study of mothers' involvement in

their children's primary schooling in order to explore the role of mothers in social
reproduction. However, before doing so, I want to examine changing conceptions of
mothering in the contemporary educational marketplace. At the end of the twentieth
century, class processes within families are integrally linked to the operations of the wider
marketplace. We need a version of mothering which recognises the complex interplay
between mothering work and educational markets. An analysis which conceptualises
mothering work as strategically located in relation to schooling systems allows for an
understanding of mothering work as generative of social class differences. Within a
capitalist society in which market forces are ascendant (Jordan et al., 1994; Hutton, 1995;
Wilkinson, 1995), 'acting in their child's best interests' inevitably means middle-class
mothers are simultaneously acting against the interests of the children of other, less
privileged, mothers. This is not to blame middle-class mothers but, rather, to see all
mothers as caught up in an educational market which operates on the (il)logic of 'to her
who has yet more shall be given'. As Stephen Ball points out, the introduction of the
market form into educational provision has created a new moral environment in which
the self interests and desires of individuals overshadow any pursuit of 'the common good'
(Ball, 1997).
Diversity and choice in education has exacerbated social and family diversity (David
et al., 1994). The greater emphasis placed on parental involvement and partnership
between home and school in the 1990s than at any time in the past can have perverse
and often inequitable outcomes. Educational success has increasingly become a function
of social, cultural and material advantages in which mothers' caring within the family is
transmuted by the operations of the wider marketplace to serve the competitive,
self-interested individualistic ethos of the education market. One developing outcome is
a culture of winners and losers within which one child's academic success is at the
expense of other children's failure. In 1990s Britain, class differentials in educational
attainment remain the same as they were 25 years ago. (Egerton & Halsey, 1993;
Blackburn & Jarman, 1993). A focus on the home-school relationship elaborates some
of the gendered processes through which these class differentials are maintained.
Mothers' work in support of children's schooling can be seen to underpin the workings
of the educational market. Middle-class mothers may be making the educational system
work for their children in ways that working-class mothers are unable to, but what both
groups of mothers share is the hard labour of involvement in schooling; work largely
unshared with male partners (David, 1993; Reay, 1995; Luttrell, 1997). As Dehli points
out, it appears as if the changes referenced by the term marketisation 'are neutral with
respect to gender' (Dehli, 1996, p. 364). However, beneath this veneer of gendered
neutrality exist 'the mums' army' who, whether or not they have been conscripted into
the classroom, have already been conscripted into extensive educational work with
children in the home. The marketisation of education is underpinned by relations of
power that work through social class, 'race' and gender(Hey, 1996).
198 D. Reay

Middle-class Mothering in Local Educational Markets: manufacturing

children's educational advantage?
I interviewed mothers whose children attended two socially contrasting primary schools.
Milner is a multi-ethnic, predominantly working-class school in inner London. Oak Park,
3 miles to the north of Milner, has a largely white, middle-class intake. The local market
position of the two schools differed considerably. Milner was in the bottom quarter of its
LEA primary school league table. Of the seven primary schools situated within a mile
radius of Milner, five were similarly positioned, while one, a Roman Catholic primary
school, was near the top of the LEA league table. While all seven non-denominational
schools, including Milner, had surplus capacity, the Roman Catholic school was
oversubscribed and had a waiting list. In contrast, Oak Park was one of the top three
primary schools in its LEA league table and was heavily oversubscribed in the first 4
years. However, because many parents moved their sons across to the private sector in
at the end of Year 3, the school had surplus capacity in Years 4, 5 and 6 and a ratio
of two girls to every boy in those year groups.
My sample of 33 women reflected the maternal population in the two schools and
constituted a diverse group of black, white and mixed-race working- and middle-class
women. One third of my sample were lone mothers, while the rest were either cohabiting
or married to their male partners. I carried out lengthy indepth interviews at least once
with all of the mothers, but most mothers were interviewed twice and a third three times
over the 18 month period of the fieldwork. In Table I I include demographic data about
the 13 mothers referred to in this article, which together with their own self-definition
formed the basis for their class assignment.
The rationale of the market places the onus for success or failure on the individual
pupil, parent or school (Smith & Noble, 1995), while the underlying message of the
government's statements on standards is that it is the parents' duty to get their children
into certain schools; that it is a failure of the parents if they do not succeed (David et al.,
1997). In this section and the next, I focus on the efforts of the middle-class mothers to
ensure their children's educational advantage, before discussing issues of consumption
and power in mothers' relationships to children's schooling. It is important to reiterate
that this focus on middle-class activity is not the same as depicting working-class families
as inactive. The working-class mothers were just as passionate about their children's
education as their middle-class counterparts and spent equivalent amounts of time and
energy supporting children's schooling. Rather, a combination of diminished resources
and less social power meant that they were not able to generate cultural capital from
their time and effort to anything like the extent that middle-class mothers were able to.
In particular, for the ten working-class lone mothers 'lack of support, lack of time and
energy and the stress of carrying the sole responsibility for children' (Standing, 1997,
p. 93) plus limited material resources worked against their efforts to achieve the best for
their children.
I found that the mothers I interviewed, in particular middle-class mothers, were at the
front line of social reproduction, heavily investing in terms of time and mental and
emotional labour in their children's education (Reay, 1998c). As Manju's words indicate,
their investment was accompanied by a powerful sense of educational urgency:

I hate having to be the educator, in that sort of role. "Mummy the teacher says
I am very bright so why do I have to do all this?" I had to sit her down and
say to her. "Negar, the thing is I have a real problem with your secondary
school. I have to try and get you into a good girls' school. It is very important
SocialReproduction 199

TABLEI. Educational qualifications and material circumstances of mothers

Own Partner's Partner's Marital Income

Name Housing Own job education job education status band

Manju 0/0 semi- house university accountant university married 30,000-

detached worker BA/MA 40,000
Clare 0/0 self- FE college film university lone mother would not
terraced employed degree producer disclose
Sonia 0/0 redundant private runs own left school married 20,000-
terraced FE teacher school univ business 16 30,000
Stella 0/0 flat translator/ university computer university married approx.
tutor BSc PhD analyst 30,000
Judith 0/0 semi- manager of private sch lawyer private sch married > 40,000
detached a charity Univ Phd university
Anita private School 5 Os/1 A - - lone mother approx.
rented flat nurse nursingqual 15,000
Rita private shop left 16 plumber no info married 15,000-
rented flat assistant 5 O0levels 20,000
Linsey 0/0 semi- lecturer art college film editor private sch married > 40,000
detached PGCE BBC university
Frances 0/0 semi- secondary TT college engineer private sch married 20,000-
detached teacher BEd university 30,000
Jalil council flat house Left 15 no - - lone mother < 10,000
worker qualification
Donna 0/0 lawyer university graphic university married > 40,000
terraced designer
Alice 0/0 semi- child university marketing private sch married 40,000
detached therapist executive university
Elaine council flat cleaner left 15 no electrician left school married 15,000-
qualification 16 20,000

and there are hardly any girls' schools in this area. I'd love you to go to
Ferndale but the chances are very slight. It means I might have to get you into
a private girls' school but unfortunately that means exams. I hate you having
to do exams. I'd love to find you a school where they didn't have to do exams,
where you would be seen as an asset to the school, where just by chatting to
you, they'd see you as wonderful for the school but because they have so many
applicants we have to do this work every night". She has kind of accepted it
now. I think we have got past the fussing and bothering about doing it. It used
to be "Can we do something interesting?" but I think now she understands
how important it is. (Manju, middle-class, Asian, married mother)
In Manju's account, both she and Negar are engaging in a daily interaction which takes
up hours of their time and which neither of them enjoys. Manju's words encapsulate a
theme which infuses many of the middle-class, and some of the working-class, mothers'
accounts; a sense of educational urgency in which mothers feel compelled to undertake
educational work which their children often find onerous and unpleasurable.
200 D. Reay

This educational urgency was most apparent in Clare's text. Clare had been made
redundant just before Sophie went into Year 5 at Oak Park:
I could have got another job but I decided to make the sacrifice and
concentrate totally on getting Sophie up to standard because I was terrified she
wouldn't get through the entrance exam. We worked on her Maths and
English every evening. Even when I was cooking dinner we'd go through her
Kumon maths, then do some spellings while we were washing up. I gave up
a whole year of my life for her education. (Clare, white, middle-class, lone
Such intense pressurising of children to excel educationally could produce the outcome
mothers wanted, but it could also generate resistance, non-compliance and the break
down of communication. Sophie began to resist Clare's construction of herself as her
daughter's teacher and began to operate what Clare termed 'a go-slow':
I sat Sophie down and told her I had had enough. I was thoroughly fed up
with her. I said she'd better buck her ideas up or she'll never get through any
entrance exam. She'd got far too complacent, you know just coasting along.
In a mathematics exercise on time, Riva, Sophie's friend, estimated that she spent 17.5
hours on educational work outside of school, 5 hours on organised paid activities and
12.5 hours working with her mother on mathematics and literacy skills. Sonia, her
mother, said:
I used to give her a regular hour a day but now that I am only working
part-time she gets all my time. I seem to spend all my time working with her.
We get up half an hour earlier than we used to to do some reading, then after
school it eats up all the time, there's the maths work, then writing and on top
of that I'll hear her read before she goes to sleep.

Although this theme of educational urgency was strongest in Manju, Stella and Clare's
accounts, it was apparent in most of the middle-class women's words and surfaced in the
narratives of a number of working-class women.
As Table I reveals, mothers like Manju, Clare, Sonia and Stella are highly creden-
tialled, sharing in common with other middle-class mothers in the study a history of
educational success. Yet, there is no question of leaving academic learning to the school.
Rather, ensuring children's educational success becomes the personal responsibility of the
mother. And it was mothers rather than fathers assuming this responsibility on a day to
day basis. Judith was typical of this group of mothers when she talked in terms of her
husband 'sometimes helping out'. Although some fathers were involved, their involve-
ment was of a much more intermittent, unscheduled nature.

Generating Cultural Capital: tuition and out-of-school activities

There is a whole realm of work performed by mothers outside the home, in
their neighbourhoods and communities. This work revolves around mothers'
responsibilities to provide their families with the contacts, services and supports
which they deem appropriate and enriching ... In short, this is the work
mothers do to get things for their own. (O'Donnell, 1985, p. 117)
There was a dialectic relationship between mothering practices and children's leisure
time in middle-class Oak Park, the one using up the other in an attempt to generate
SocialReproduction 201

cultural capital. Children, just as much as their mothers, talked in terms of pressurised
time with a number of children of both sex lamenting their lack of free time:

I don't have a free evening. (Martin)

I'm busy doing something every evening and at the weekends. (Robyn)
A third of the children in both schools were currently receiving paid tuition, two
working-class and nine middle-class. A further working-class mother talked of embarking
on a course of paid tuition but being forced to abandon it when she ran out of funds.
In all, over half of the middle-class families were paying for extra tuition for their
children with four children having two sessions a week. However, tuition constituted only
a small part of some of these children's paid out-of-school activities. For example,
Manju's daughter, Negar, attended art and poetry classes and Islamic school, as well as
having a personal tutor for mathematics and English. Clare's daughter, Sophie, went to
Kumon mathematics classes, attended dance and drama classes and had a tutor for
English. Sonia, who tutored Riva herself, paid for her to attend three classes a week in
dance, drama and music. Some of the middle-class families were spending ?100 a week,
more than a number of the working-class lone mothers received in total to support
themselves and their child for the same period of time. One child had five paid
out-of-school activities a week, while four attended four sessions weekly.
The organisation and servicing of these out-of-school activities was primarily the
mothers' responsibility. Children's access to the wide range of out-of-school activities was
heavily dependent on elaborate mutual arrangements whereby one mother dropped off
a group of children and another mother collected them at the end of the session. Intricate
social arrangements were the norm in Oak Park where most of the mothers were
members of organised networks, collecting their children on a rota basis; a system which
rewarded mothers with days off. Judith was typical of the Year 5 mothers in the school.
On Monday, her daughter, Amy, is collected by a friend's mother and dropped off after
6pm. On Tuesday, Judith takes Amy and her friend to dancing classes. On Wednesday,
the English tutor comes to the home. Amy has her guitar lesson on Thursday and is
taken home by one of the other mothers. Friday is a free evening. At the weekend there
is a further tuition class, this time in mathematics, and Amy has a piano lesson. Judith
described her early evenings and weekends as 'one long round of chauffeuring'.
Middle-class children's activities, and mothers' work in support of them, constituted a
systematic laying down of educational and cultural advantage; a sedimentation of
privilege. As Philip Brown points out:
Within the middle classes, the development of the "charismatic" qualities of
their children is becoming as important as arming them with the necessary
credentials, contacts and networks. There is nothing new about this focus on
the 'rounded' person, but whereas a range of broader interests and hobbies
which offered time-out from academic study was seen as a form of cultural
consumption which was to be enjoyed for its own sake, it has increasingly
become a form of investment as part of the construction of a "value added"
curriculum vitae. (Brown, 1995, p. 43)

I would suggest, along with Philip Brown, that extracurricular activities have become
increasingly important in the middle-class home because they generate cultural capital
which can then be further invested in an increasingly competitive educational field. All
the activities middle-class mothers ensured their children were engaged in, from tuition
to the acquisition of high status cultural accomplishments, were reinforcing their position
202 D. Reay

in the educational field and guaranteeing their child's success in the competition for
places at highly academic selective secondary schools in both state and private sectors.

Reconceptualising Relationships to Schooling: mothers as consumers

The evolving education market has generated new attitudes towards schools and
schooling in which parents are encouraged to view education as a commodity in relation
to which they have choices. Unexpectedly, a majority of both the middle- and working-
class mothers that I interviewed drew on prevailing consumerist discourses to express
varying degrees of dissatisfaction with aspects of the education being offered to their
child. It is difficult to gauge the extent to which new developing discourses of 'parents
as consumers' invite mothers to reconceptualise their relationship to their children's
schooling. Certainly, a rearticulation of the home-school relationship is increasingly
evident in school documentation (Gewirtz et al., 1995). The Milner newsletter to parents
in September 1994 states: 'We are always keen to hear the views of our users and
customers and to consider your views on the services this school is providing'. While any
expression of parental discontent is notably absent in existing literature and research on
parental involvement in education (Hughes et al., 1994), it was frequently evident in both
middle- and working-class mothers' accounts of their relationships to their children's
In the section, I discuss both the wide spectrum of maternal discontents articulated by
the mothers and the impact of class-differentiated resources on their ability to deal with
any dissatisfaction. As can be seen from the accounts below, it was the middle-class
mothers, far more than their working-class counterparts, who were able to successfully
position themselves as consumers in relation to schooling and profitably draw on
consumerist discourses in order to augment their position in the educational field.
Both the working- and middle-class mothers that I interviewed used prevailing
discourses of both consumerism and 'back to basics' to make sense of their relationships
to their children's schooling:

They've got to have the basics. I think there's too much faffing around. I think
they should take teaching the basics by the horns and get on with it. (Anita,
black, lone mother from working-class background, ambivalent about current
class position)
Its the basics they should concentrate on, the 3 Rs, that what kids need. (Rita,
white, working-class, married mother)
We have got to get back to teaching the basics. I think they get that pretty
much at Oak Park. They have dictation during the week and they had to do
punctuation that I feel is addressing the basics but I have felt at times that there
isn't enough of the basics going on and it's left too much to me. (Linsey,white,
married, middle-class mother)
Counting and tables doesn't go on in the classroom any more. It's not the only
thing that's not done any more. They should definitely be taking on the basics.
They should be teaching them tables. (Frances,white, middle-class mother)
Such critiques of children's primary curriculum need to be juxtaposed with, in particular,
middle-class mothers' articulation of rights and interests in relation to schooling:
We are far more powerful now than in my parents' day. Now we parents have
opinions. If we don't like what is going on in school we say so. When I go into
SocialReproduction 203

school what I say is taken into consideration and something is done about it.
(Donna, black, married, middle-class parent)
Parents have rights now. I think the whole thing about parental choice is a
really good idea ... that parents can exercise some choice in relation to their
child's school. (Alice,white, middle-class, married mother)

The middle-class mothers' expressions of rights and entitlement in relationship to their

children's education were further exemplified in written communications to teachers
where they asserted their right to detailed information and sometimes took issue with
aspects of teaching and learning. In an earlier article, I discussed one example of such
correspondence in which Clare informed the class teacher that Year 5 was 'the most
important year in the junior academic period' because it leads up to selective entrance
exams, and made a number of criticisms of the teacher, as well as demands for extra
information (Reay, 1996). However, other middle-class mothers had also written letters
to the school expressing varying degrees of dissatisfaction with either the curriculum offer
or their child's treatment.
It is difficult to determine whether comparable levels of dissatisfaction existed in the
past. Certainly, prevailing discourses which, at least rhetorically, give primacy to parental
power and choice make it easier for mothers to express such views than, for example, in
the 1970s and early 1980s. Working-class mothers expressed similar concerns and
emphases to those of their middle-class counterparts. However, they far less frequently
converted their concerns into demands in interaction with school staff in the way that the
middle-class women did. Although they occasionally expressed consumerist sentiments,
Jalil even told me 'We're all consumers now. We have rights over our children's
education', they rarely acted as consumers. For example, none of the working-class
mothers had written letters of complaint to the schools. Primarily, they seldom at-
tempted, either individually or collectively, to exercise power in relation to school staff
nor did they act as a concerted force in the educational marketplace by collectively
exerting pressure on the school in the way that Oak Park middle-class mothers did.
In contrast, the middle-class mothers operated both individually and collectively to
ensure the school curriculum offered to their children included sufficient preparation for
selective school entrance exams;

I have been approached by a couple of the other mothers who are concerned
there is not enough grammar and computational work going on in the
classroom-you know the things they are going to need for entrance exams but
it's too early really Sophia has only been in the class for a few weeks so I'm
prepared to wait a little longer. I think we need to give her until at least half
term. (Linsey)

Frances had also been approached by one of these mothers;

A parent of a child in Melinda's class approached me and said "What did I

think of the classteacher" and she wasn't happy about this and she wasn't
happy about that. I mean the poor woman's only had them a few weeks. I
mean give her a chance. I'll probably wait and see. I know other parents at
Oak Park can be very forceful and got a petition together for a different
teacher and were successful. One teacher was moved altogether as a result. But
I think its too soon to start jumping to conclusions. (Frances,white, married,
middle-class mother)
204 D. Reay

The power of middle-class mothers in Oak Park to both judge teachers and to take
action on any negative judgment is evident in both Linsey's and Frances' words. As
Frances points out, middle-class parents in the school had already mobilised successfully
as a pressure group to remove a teacher who they felt was not offering a sufficiently
academic curriculum.
Linsey's words also indicate how many of the middle-class mothers were working with
an instrumental construct of primary education in which primary schooling is conceived
as a means to the end of a place at a prestigious selective secondary schooling.
Dissatisfaction in maternal accounts at Oak Park coalesce around particular teachers
who are perceived not to be working towards the desired goal of preparation for entrance
exams. The new market ethos is reconstructing primary education, opening up predomi-
nantly middle-class schools like Oak Park to growing middle-class parental pressure to
prepare children for selective secondary schooling. A number of middle-class mothers
made a connection between the energy and time they expended in support of their
child's education and the state system. Manju, Frances, Sonia and Clare pointed out that
the vast majority of the work they had to undertake would be unnecessary if their
children attended private schools, while Linsey commented:

What you pay for in the private sector is for your child not to fail and for you
not to have to make an enormous investment of your own time and energy ...
I spend an enormous amount of time educating and I really feel that wouldn't
have been the case if I'd sent the children to private school.

In these five middle-class mothers' own local discourses, they reconstruct inequities in
the educational system as those generated by the divide between state and private
sector rather than any resulting from internal divisions within the state sector itself.
In doing so they construct themselves as 'disadvantaged'. However, that is not my
reading of the mothers' texts. In monopolising scarce resources within the state sector,
deploying financial resources to secure children's educational advantage and drawing on
useful social networks which excluded working-class women, many of the middle-class
mothers were ensuring that the outcome of the educational competition was resolved in
their children's favour. They were not dealing with anything as ephemeral as the
working-class women's hopes and desires. They were guaranteeing their children's
educational success. These women, like the middle-class women Dorothy Smith re-

can be seen to both actively organise the internal relations of their own classes
to maximise their advantage, and to actively manage the working-class in their
interests as well. (Smith, 1989, p. 113)

Clearly the issue of the relative social power of the two groups of mothers has an
important bearing on the options open to them, something that theories of the market
and marketisation overlook. In contrast, I have drawn on data in order to highlight the
importance of examining how gendered and classed forms of power and subjectivity are
negotiated and reconstituted in and through 'marketised' schooling (Dehli, 1996).

In their critique of mobility studies, Blackburn and Prandy argue for an alternative
emphasis on social reproduction which seeks to take account of the processes by which
SocialReproduction 205

the reproduction of inequality occurs 'through the mobilisation of social, economic and
cultural resources' (Blackburn & Prandy, 1997, p. 501). There is no seamless process of
reproduction going on behind the backs of social actors (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977).
Rather, middle-class families are mobilising a range of resources to ensure their
continuing social advantage. In this article, I have tried to illustrate some of the ways in
which, at the stage of primary schooling, social reproduction is vitalised through myriad
maternal practices in support of children's schooling. Mothers have a different relation-
ship to the generation of social advantage and disadvantage and, concomitantly, social
class than fathers. It is mothers who are making cultural capital work for their children.
It is they, far more than men, who appear to be the agents of social reproduction. In
particular, it is mothering work which bridges the gap between family social class and
children's performance in the classroom. Maternal practices demonstrate that class is
much more than materiality and socio-economic status. It is also played out in mothers'
activities in support of children's schooling.
There is a dialectic relationship between mothering work and the wider social context
in which it takes place. Currently, many individuals are harbouring 'a sense of the
turbulence of the present historical moment as it presents itself in urban context' (Taylor,
et al., 1996). There is a growing middle-class job insecurity which increasingly parallels
an earlier erosion of working-class jobs in the labour market (Hutton, 1995). Overall
expenditure on schools has grown only marginally since the 1970s (Smith & Noble,
1995). The result has been growing class sizes, underfunding and a reduction of special
educational needs provision. Public policy changes towards markets have instituted a
changing balance between home and school in which the balance between public and
private, men and women's responsibilities have shifted. This shift, despite the rhetoric of
freedom and choice associated with markets, is commonly experienced by mothers across
class and 'race' divisions as a tightening of structural constraints on how they support
their children's education. A market ethos generates competition and individualism; it
also appears to generate maternal anxiety which crosses class boundaries.
Annette Lareau found that her most active working-class families were less involved
than the least involved middle-class families (Lareau, 1989, p. 145). However, working-
class mothers do not passively reproduce their own educational disadvantage for their
children. Many were acting assiduously to ensure that their own educational experiences
were not replicated. At the same time, they cannot act to prevent the greater influence
of more powerful mothers in the marketplace. Class differences are far more complex
than a clear-cut dichotomy between middle-class activity and working-class passivity in
relation to schooling. All the mothers in this study were acting. As I have written about
extensively in earlier work, women were engaged in practical, educational and emotional
work in support of their children's education; monitoring their children's progress and
initiating contact with teachers (Reay, 1995, 1996, 1997). The majority of women,
regardless of social class, were undertaking this work with little support from their male
partners. What made a difference was not women's activities, but the context in which
they took place and the resources underpinning them. Although many of the working-
class women had fewer cultural resources than middle-class mothers, including far lower
income, fewer educational qualifications, less educational knowledge and information
about the system, that did not indicate lower levels of involvement in children's
education. What it did mean was less-effective practices, as working-class women found
it difficult to assume the role of educational expert, were less likely to persuade teachers
to act on their complaints and were ill-equipped financially, socially and psychologically
to compensate for deficits they perceived in their child's education.
206 D. Reay

They also had to deal with an inequitable state schooling system in which standards
and expectations were shaped by the class character of school catchment areas. Lareau
found that teachers in her two schools made similar, and at times identical, requests for
involvement (Lareau, 1989, p. 104). However, I found a very different educational
landscape to that described by Lareau. While her ethnography suggests an undifferenti-
ated educational provision in schools, regardless of their social class intake, I have tried
to capture those differences through the concept of institutional habitus (see Reay,
1998b). My research points to considerable disparities in school expectations of parental
involvement which are profoundly influenced by pupils' social class. I would suggest that
Lareau's typology of separation between working-class homes and schooling, and
interconnectedness between schooling and middle-class homes, misses too much out.
While there is a reciprocity between the middle-class home and primary schooling in the
sense that the school's impact on the home is matched by a significant impact of the
home on schooling, conceptualising the relationship between working-class families and
schools as one of separation ignores the enormous impact contemporary schooling has
on family life across social classes.
Working-class women's lives are powerfully organised by their children's school day.
What they do not share with middle-class women are comparable resources and power
to directly influence their children's schooling. This is not the same as asserting that
working-class women were not involved in educational pressurising. Rather, as Elaine's
quotation below illustrates, they lacked the middle-class mothers' sense of entitlement
and were not able to capitalise on their attempts to influence educational policies and
practices in ways that the middle-class mothers were:
Well I've been involved in the local campaign against cuts and like I said you
might be able to get your opinion across. I mean I say what I think anyway
but I don't think it will make any difference. At the end of the day it's all down
to the Government. Whatever you say they're going to do what they want
anyway. They are still going on with what they want to do, they're not
interested in what parents like me want.
In a similar vein, Maria talked about how unhappy she had been with her son's Year
4 classteacher but commented 'It was no use saying anything I knew they weren't going
to take any notice of what I said.'
The standards of schools are shaped by their catchments through dynamic processes
in which the relative social power of different groups of parents and teachers play an
important part. Valerie Hey points out the seductions of the market for middle-class
mothers who have the cultural capital and material resources 'to buy themselves out of
the impoverished state system by securing their child into selection; city technology
colleges, assisted places, opted out schools and thus redistribute the extra labour
elsewhere.' (Hey, 1996, p. 360). Elizabeth Hatton describes the processes through which
middle-class parents whose children attended a primary school in Brisbane exercised
strong parental control over the teachers to the extent of sabotaging any teacher attempts
to introduce a more progressive pedagogy. As a consequence, the primary school in her
study played 'the role of a preparatory school for elite private schools' (Hatton, 1985,
p. 257). In a similar process, the middle-class mothers at Oak Park were mobilising the
state primary sector to operate as a conduit to prestigious selective secondary schooling.
In 1996, 58% of Oak Park pupils left Year 6 to attend selective schools in both the
private and the state sectors. In the same year in Milner, only one child out of a total
of 57 left to attend selective secondary schooling.
SocialReproduction 207

There is an irony when historically collective class action has almost always been
associated with the working classes (Hoggart, 1957; Seabrook, 1982), that effective class
action within the educational field has always been the province of the middle classes. I
would argue that the individualistic, self-interested activities of the privileged in society
add up to a specific form of class action, but one which is powerfully gendered. The
activities of a group of highly individualised middle-class women acting in the same way
constitute class action no less than the collective action of working-class men working for
better conditions. I suggest that in the contemporary educational marketplace, alongside
Willis' masculinist processes of 'learning to labour' (Willis, 1977), we need to recognise
another form of gendered labour; mothers' labour in support of their children's learning.
It is primarily mothers who help children with schoolwork, talk to teachers and network
in order to uncover relevant information which will 'give their child a headstart' (David
et al., 1996; Reay & Ball, 1998). The increasing insecurity and enforced 'flexibility' of the
labour market has generated a sense of educational urgency which crosses class and
'race' boundaries. However, it was only the middle-class mothers who had the power and
resources to act effectively to shape the curriculum offered to their children. While the
educational system is increasingly shaping the time mothers and children spend together
across the social classes, there was only evidence of reciprocal influence between
middle-class homes and schools.
My empirical study provides support for Philip Brown's assertion that a market system
of education provides the middle-classes with a competitive edge they will increasingly
take advantage of:
The increased opportunity for the middle-classes to exert the full weight of
their market power in the competition for credentials will ensure that they will
seek to dominate access to elite institutions at each stage of the education
process-from the cradle to graduation and beyond. (Brown, 1995, p. 45).
The middle-class mothers are often juggling intense anxieties about their children's
education alongside the pursuit of their educational advantage. On one level they are
'trapped in affluence' (Jordan et al., 1994) and are subject to constraints, albeit very
different constraints to those of the working-class mothers (David et al., 1997). At the
same time, their practices need to be analysed in terms of their consequences for other,
less privileged mothers and their children if we are to fully understand the ways in which
gendered processes in the evolving educational markets are contributing to the repro-
duction of social inequalities.

Diane Reay, King's College London, Cornwall House, Waterloo Road,

London SE1 8WA, UK.

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