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Class attitudes dominate selection

SCHOOL catchment areas are becoming more polarised because of the different choices of secondaries made by middle-class and working-class parents. That's the conclusion of a study into social class and secondary school choice by Dr Helen Lucey and Dr Diane Reay of King's College, London. They chose eight primary schools in two London boroughs (which they declined to name) and questioned 454 children about their choice of secondary school between 1998 and 1999.

After interviewing Year 6 children, researchers found middle-class parents were prepared to take more risks, travel further afield and even move house to ensure their child got a place at a better school.

Researchers found that middle-class parents had more confidence to decode the local secondary school market in their search for a school with a good reputation. They were also prepared to send their child further afield because they had cars to take them to school. Working-class parents were found to be more likely to send their child to a school nearby that was already attended by siblings, cousins and friends.

The children themselves were only too well aware that some schools were better than others, says Dr Lucey who announced the findings at a conference on social education and class at London's Institute for Policy Studies in Education this week.

"It is not a case of parents making a rational choice in a fair market. The Year 6 children burst the bubble about the inequity that exists.

"They were seduced by the idea that the best schools choose the best children and that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get," Dr Lucey said.

She added: "The way in which some schools come to be demonised means that exclusion, rather than inclusion, is still the order of the day."

To obtain a copy of the research paper, Stigmatised Choices: social class and local secondary school markets, email helen.lucey @kcl.ac.uk or diane.reay@kcl.ac.uk

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