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PARENTAL CHOICE OF PRIMARY SCHOOLS MAY INCREASE SOCIAL SEGREGATION

Wealthy parents in England tend to choose high-performing schools with wealthier fellow pupils while poorer parents tend to choose low-performing schools with poorer fellow pupils, That is the central finding of research by Eleanor Greaves, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference. The results suggest that the ‘school choice’ agenda has the potential to increase social segregation in England’s schools.

The study looks at the top three choices of primary schools for around 7,000 parents in England. By comparing chosen schools with others nearby, the study can see what parents value most in their children’s schools – and by observing the education, wealth and ethnicity of the parents, the study can see the kind of parents who choose particular schools. It finds that:

  • Overall, parents value the academic quality of a school. This is good news for the education system as a whole, as schools have an incentive to raise their academic standards to attract pupils.
  • While parents tend to choose schools with higher academic attainment, they also choose schools with ‘better groups’ of peers, and where the chance of admission is seen as higher.
  • This means that school choice and competition (as a result of market forces in the education sector introduced in 1988 and subsequently strengthened) have the potential to increase standards of education. But this is limited by admission criteria such as catchment areas around schools.
  • Wealthier parents are more likely to choose a school with high academic attainment and a more affluent peer group. Poorer parents, meanwhile, tend to prefer schools with poorer academic performance and less affluent pupils.
  • This finding could reflect a strong preference for parents to educate children within their ‘own group’ or simply the severe constraint placed on parent choices by the distance-based admissions criteria.

The author interprets these results as a challenge to the current ‘market’ for education in the UK, noting:

‘These results suggest that there may be value in competition between schools: parents care about academic quality and so schools may choose to compete for pupils on this dimension, although it also has the potential to increase segregation along social class lines.

‘The current system of school admissions in England significantly affects these conclusions, as in its current form it limits the potential for market forces and arguably increases the degree of segregation between social groups.’

More…

Parents in England will shortly find out whether their child has been allocated a place at their preferred primary school. But what kind of school is most in demand?

Overall, parents value the academic quality of a school. This is good news for the education system as a whole, as schools have an incentive to raise their academic standards to attract pupils.

This research finds that parents with the highest socio-economic status are more likely to choose a school with high academic attainment, and with a more affluent peer group. Parents with the lowest socio-economic status prefer schools with poorer academic performance and less affluent pupils.

This could reflect a strong ‘own group’ preference, or the severe constraint placed on parents’ preferences by the current admissions criteria. These diverse choices, no matter what their cause, suggest that the ‘school choice’ agenda, in its current form, has the potential to increase social segregation in England’s schools.

The study observes the top three choices of primary schools for around 7,000 parents in England. It also observes the characteristics of this school, in relation to the characteristics of other schools in close proximity.

From this information, it is possible to infer the attributes of schools that are most valued by parents. The results show that although parents tend to choose schools with higher academic attainment, they also choose schools with better groups of peers and where the expected probability of admission is higher.

Together, these preferences mean that school choice and competition (market forces in the education sector introduced in 1988 and subsequently strengthened) have the potential to increase standards of education, but this is limited by administrative factors, such as catchment areas around schools and the expected probability of admission, which is influenced by proximity-based admissions criteria.

The study also observes some characteristics of each parent, for example, their level of education, socio-economic status and ethnicity. This makes it possible to compare the choices made by different types of parents.

Parents with the highest socio-economic status are more likely to choose a school with high academic attainment and with a more affluent peer group. In fact, parents with the lowest socio-economic status prefer schools with poorer academic performance and less affluent pupils.

This finding could reflect a strong ‘own group’ preference, or the severe constraint placed on parents’ preferences by the distance based admissions criteria. These diverse choices, no matter what their cause, suggest that school choice and competition, in its current form, has the potential to increase social segregation in England’s schools.

All types of parents value proximity to the same extent, suggesting that parents from high and low socio-economic groups are equally willing to travel to schools that match their other preferences, in the absence of admissions constraints. Parents with the lowest socio-economic status are much more responsive to changes in the expected probability of admission to the school, however, suggesting that administrative factors significantly limit the school choices of these parents.

These results suggest that there may be value in competition between schools: parents care about academic quality and so schools may choose to compete for pupils on this dimension, although it also has the potential to increase segregation along social class lines. The current system of school admissions in England significantly affects these conclusions, as in its current form it limits the potential for market forces and arguably increases the degree of segregation between social groups.

ENDS


Contact:

Ellen Greaves: +44 (0) 7984 039737, 020 7291 4800

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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