Research warning over school choice segregation link

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

School choice is associated with higher levels of segregation among school children from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, researchers have said.

A study by the University of Bristol and Cardiff University says that policy-makers should “reconsider the effects of school admissions policies” in light of the findings.

Since the 1988 Education Reform Act parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had the right to express a preference for the school their child attends. Parental choice is also well established in many countries around the world, including America and in mainland Europe.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looks at different systems around the world and finds that choice-based systems, including open enrolment systems such as those used in the UK, have schools that are more homogeneous in social composition.

The study concludes that school choice is “consistently associated with higher levels of segregation of pupils between schools” – this was the case across different countries, across different systems of choice, and across systems that had been in place for different lengths of time.

The report, however, warns that many local factors come into play – such as the social composition of neighbourhoods, size of the school district and its number of schools – meaning it is difficult to generalise.

However, it recommends that coordinating admissions at local authority, or equivalent level, rather than at the discretion of individual schools, could tackle the problem.

Study co-author Deborah Wilson said: “What our study shows is that school choice, while politically popular, is not the policy instrument by which greater integration of pupils across schools can be achieved.”


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