The market for whom? Consumers in need of special support in the Swedish market system of education

Sammanfattning: The aim of this thesis was to analyse and describe the market system of education for consumers in need of special support. Sweden in the beginning of the 1990s implemented a market system of education with the expectation that it will serve the interest of all consumers. Concerns have been raised about the market system of education for consumers in need of special support. This thesis examines how the Swedish market system of education works for consumers in need of special support. It comprises three studies looking at different aspects of the market system of education; namely, the development of the special education market, marketing by independent schools and the experiences of shopping for schools. The aim of study one was to examine the development of the special education market between 1994 and 2017 and its implications for the system of education for students in need of special support. The results show relative stability on the demand-side of the special education market when compared to the education market as a whole, well the supply-side demonstrated significant increase. Moreover, the private sector increased tremendously in both the demand and supply-sides of the special education market. The results imply an expanding special education market system, meanwhile, the incidence of exclusion in terms of enrolment of students in need of special support in segregated settings as an outcome of the market system has remained stable. The results also indicate increasing segregation between schools and between students in the special education system outside of the regular system. The aim of Study Two was to examine marketing by independent schools and how it appeals to consumers in need of special support. Schools use marketing to produce and provide information to prospective consumers, however, there are concerns that this information could appeal to some groups of consumers and not to others, such as consumers in need of special support. The study examined schools marketing on their websites in the Stockholm local education market. The results indicate that these schools marketing do not necessarily appeal to these consumers as it fails to provide relevant and adequate information, in the framing of some goals and values and the framing of their studentship. Study three examined the experiences of parents of students in need of special support in shopping for schools. The results found out that these parents were motivated in their school choice decisions by friendship, the special education support system at the schools and school´s flexibility. Parents were interested in information about school eligibility, availability of resources, and school environment and consumer satisfaction in aspects such as safety and student’s well-being. More so, parents sought information from both official and unofficial sources. Parents expressed constraints in the process of choosing a school such as lack of choice, information inadequacy and lack of support. Overall, the thesis demonstrates how the market system of education functions for consumers in need of special support in some aspects. It shows how these consumers engage the market when it comes to choosing schools and schools engagement with consumers in need of special through marketing. The market system of education seems to have a choice-problem, both in terms of lack of choice and the perceived coercion of choice. The market system also fails to provide relevant and adequate information to facilitate school choice for these consumers. Finally, a special education market system as a specialised market within the education market system is expanding and has led to increasing segregation between schools and between students but not increasing exclusion of these consumers between regular and segregated provisions in relative terms. Based on these problems, some recommendations are made on how the market system may better serve consumers in need of special support. 

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