Catchment areas undermine hopes for Brighton lottery
Press release issued: 3 September 2010
A study by academics from the Institute of Education, London and the University of Bristol finds Brighton and Hove’s controversial school admissions lottery system has failed in one of its key aims – to give deprived children equal access to better performing schools. The system has resulted in significant winners and losers – but has not markedly reduced social segregation.
The Brighton & Hove lottery system, introduced in 2007, was an attempt to tackle concerns about social segregation in education. By abandoning proximity as a tie-breaker in school admissions, so-called “selection by mortgage” would, in theory, come to an end, and opportunities for poorer children would be enhanced.
A paper presented at the British Educational Research Association today (Friday) shows that the two-year-old reform does not give equal chances to all pupils because catchment areas are still the main determinants of access to particular schools.
Under the system used by the local authority, six distinct catchment areas were drawn up. Instead of giving preference to children living closest to a school, allocations within catchments were random. Parents were free to apply to schools outside their catchment area, but if the school was already oversubscribed they were not entered into the lottery.
The new catchment areas are drawn in such a way that families in the poorest neighbourhoods still have little chance of getting into the most popular schools in the city centre.
“The main lesson of our analysis is that the introduction of a lottery on its own is not enough to equalise access to the high-performing popular schools,” say Rebecca Allen of the Institute of Education, London, and Simon Burgess and Leigh McKenna of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), University of Bristol. “The drawing of the catchment area boundaries is central to the outcome of the reform.”
Although Allen, Burgess and McKenna found that, if anything, socio-economic segregation increased slightly, “we do see a significant change in the relationship between the poverty of a student’s neighbourhood and the academic quality of the school attended by that student.” In particular, some students from wealthier neighbourhoods were now attending less academically successful secondaries than they might have expected to previously. “These are the primary group losing out from the reform, balanced by a more diffuse group of winners who gained access to the higher-performing schools.”
“It will be several more years before the long-run impact of the school admissions reforms in Brighton and Hove become apparent because we do expect families to relocate and house prices to adjust in response to the re-drawing of the catchment boundaries,” the authors say.
“Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the reforms are likely to substantially lower social segregation across schools even in the long run in this city where differences in the quality of housing stock across areas are deeply entrenched and the boundaries of the new catchment areas mean that families living in the most deprived neighbourhoods have little chance of accessing the most popular schools in the centre of the city.”