Parental choice of school is leading to the segregation of pupils by socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, according to new research published today.
Far from encouraging integration and equal opportunity, a school admission system based on parental choice can lead to schools being more homogenous in their social composition, say researchers from Cardiff and Bristol Universities.
They say the outcome is the same across United States and Europe, where choice-based mechanisms are now frequently part of school admissions policies, and are calling on policymakers to reconsider the effects of school admissions policies.
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Professor Deborah Wilson, of the University of Bristol, 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.”
The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation also highlights the impact of factors such as the social composition of the neighbourhood, the size of the school district and the number of schools in an area which can affect how different types of pupils end up in different schools.
It drew upon previous studies as well as literature showing parental decisions on schools, and factors informing those decisions, in neighbourhoods as far afield as USA, South America, Europe and the far east.
It examined systems where parents were given a choice of at least two schools which their children could attend, and looked at how pupils were affected by the choice of school.
Professor Gary Bridge, of Cardiff University, said there are many factors at play in different geographical contexts that made it difficult to generalise the findings.
He said: “The reasons for the observed segregation patterns are highly contextual, and include the mix of schools, socio-demographic patterns and specific choice mechanisms as well as parental preferences, and policymakers need to be sensitive to these contextual issues.”
Previous research by the Sutton Trust charity has found black pupils were less likely to get into good schools and that middle class parents were using “potentially fraudulent tactics" to get their children into good schools, including buying or renting a second home nearby or using the address of a relative to be in the catchment area. And last month the charity called for admissions to be partly based on lottery systems.
The anti-selection campaign group Comprehensive Future has highlighted how disadvantaged children are being clustered in underachieving schools with a knock-on effect on their aspirations and life-chances and on the whole cohesion of society.
The DfE said it provides statutory guidance for admission authorities, governing bodies, local authorities, schools adjudicators and admission appeals panels through its school admissions code.