School choice can succeed - but not this way

3rd June 2011 at 01:00

The TES reported last week that one of the many proposed changes to the admissions arrangements for schools in England was a plan to give priority access at over-subscribed schools to the children of staff employed there ("Teachers' children will go to front of admissions queue", 27 May).

However, research shows that it tends not to be over-subscribed schools that find it most difficult to recruit staff. Popular schools tend to be just that - popular - with families and staff. And less popular schools are not over-subscribed.

The international evidence is that allowing popular schools to expand can lead to less social segregation between schools, because the new "winners" will be those unable to afford to live near popular schools.

The problem is how to protect children in any nearby declining school, and their one shot at early education. Academies were set up as a way of dealing with such schools in spirals of decline, but they were not then permitted to apply for specialist status.

So the proposal to give priority access to academies to families with the pupil premium seems bizarre. The initial problem was having an intake unbalanced by too many pupils from poor homes, not too few. It would make more sense to give poor pupils, rather than teachers' children, preferred access to popular schools.

In combination, these proposals will not help social segregation between schools in England. Yet, with a bit of care and attention to evidence, school choice could be made to work fairly and effectively.

Stephen Gorard, Professor of education research, Birmingham University.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today