Europeans have same school mix

WE write in response to your leader column "Light behind the rhetoric" (TES, June 28) which states that schools in England "are more socially differentiated than any others in Europe", blames the situation on parental choice, and even suggests that schools are more socially segregated now than under the tripartite system. You present no data to support these claims, while evidence from international comparisons shows them to be unfounded.

Our research at Cardiff, part of an EU-funded Socrates project on international equity in education, shows that schools in Britain have a distribution of pupils that is at least as equitable as the other countries. Our work draws on pupil and school-level data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) database.

We are principally concerned with measuring the extent to which European countries provide an equitable education for their poorest pupils. Initial work considered the distribution of the poorest 10 per cent of pupils in each country, in terms of parental occupation and the PISA indicators of wealth. On both indicators, schools in Britain have similar distributions of poor pupils as those in France and Italy, for example, where around 30 per cent of the poorest pupils in Britain would have to exchange schools for equity to exist, while the figures for Spain are 32 per cent and for Belgium 36 per cent. Britain also has fewer extremely segregated schools than its comparators.

In addition, longitudinal figures for England, where they exist, show that social segregation in schools was worse in the past than it is now. Almost all of the variation in social segregation between school intakes in England (and Wales) is caused by two factors: the nature of local housing and school diversity. Changes in the nature of local housing, or breaking the link between residence and school, will take time.

The issue of school diversity is easier to control. Schools that use non-standard admissions procedures and catchment areas (specialist schools and faith-based) tend to drive up segregation. Therefore, moving away from "bog standard" comprehensives, in itself, is likely to make the situation worse.

To find out more about both of these projects please visit www.cf.ac.uksocsiequity, and www.cf.ac.ukmarkets.

Emma Smith Stephen Gorard Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Glamorgan building King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff

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