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External pressures impact on school market

Press release issued: 23 June 2010

As the new government faces the challenge of raising educational standards in the context of looming budget cuts, research from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) reveals what really determines school choice and attainment.

In the June 2010 issue of Research in Public Policy, economic experts from the Centre analyse England’s school choice system and explore what lessons can be learned from our European counterparts.

The most striking findings come from CMPO researchers regarding the fundamental inequality of access to schools in England’s system of school choice. 

The potential for any school choice system to improve academic standards relies on parents choosing schools on that basis. However, on comparing parents’ stated preferences with their actual choices, there were significant differences in the choices available to different families, often depending on their economic and social standing. 

While all parents value high attaining schools, they will invariably have to make a trade-off between higher-performing schools and those which are available to them on the basis of location, suggesting that although the high proportion of parents getting their first choice of school makes it seem as though school choice is working effectively, many parents, particularly disadvantaged ones, recognise they are unlikely to get into some schools and therefore make less ambitious choices in the first place.

Considering the impact that schools entering or leaving the education markets has on standards and choice, a review of the Swedish free school reforms suggests that areas with more free schools can lead to improvements in pupils’ academic performance. 

However, the benefits were found to be small given that they predominantly focused on children from highly educated families and were not borne out in the end-of-school exams. Nor did the educational advantages of school competition translate into any long-term gains for young people.

In a further study, moving children out of failing schools was found to have a positive effect on their outcomes.  Looking at the experience of evacuees from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, researchers found this was particularly true for children with low prior attainment who were sent to schools elsewhere. 

At the same time, schools where the evacuees were sent to were able to absorb the inflow without causing much harm to their own pupils. Indeed, high- and moderately high-achieving ‘native’ students were helped by the arrival of high-achieving evacuees.

Further information

Please contact Aliya Mughal for further information.
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