England’s schools are currently facing the prospect of the most radical reform since the dismantling of selective schooling four decades ago with the Conservatives looking to replicate Sweden’s free school reforms. The work of Swedish economists used to support the argument that choice and competition has improved academic performance, is however less unambiguous than the Conservative spokesman has claimed. Here I give a non-technical summary of the impact of the reforms on test scores, evaluating the relative merits of the papers and explaining why they disagree in their findings.
Continue reading “Copying Swedish Free School Reforms”
One of the stated policy motivations behind the move towards greater autonomy for schools from local authority control has been the claim that this is a route to improving academic standards. This might be through more efficient decision-making and resource usage or because autonomy is a necessary precursor to market-like reforms whereby schools are somehow incentivised to compete for pupils.
Schools with voluntary-aided and foundation status appear to do well in schools league tables including contextual value added calculations, but is it possible to causally attribute this to autonomous status? This causal relationship is difficult to establish because household factors such as parenting styles and household educational backgrounds affect both the likelihood of attending an autonomous school and the chances of achieving good GCSE exam results.
Continue reading “School autonomy and pupil achievement”
One major concern with policies that allow schools autonomy from local authority control is that they exacerbate inequalities in who gets to go to school where, i.e. pupils sorting or segregation. The extent to which pupils from low-income families are concentrated in certain schools can be indicative of inequalities in access to schools and the distribution of peer effects suggests it might exacerbate social class gaps in attainment. English secondary schools are moderately socially segregation by international standards (Jenkins et al., 2008) and this has changed little in the past two decades (Gorard et al., 2003; Allen and Vignoles, 2007; Gibbons and Telhaj, 2007). What are the sources of this segregation?
Continue reading “School autonomy and social segregation”
Measuring and trying to understand the reasons for changes in school segregation in England is central to the evaluation of policies designed to increase choice and competition both in and since the 1988 Education Reform Act. Many argued these policies would have unintended sorting consequences in terms of changes in the distribution of pupils from low income families across schools.
The central hypothesis is that greater school choice will lead to higher socio-economic status (SES) parents being more successful than those from lower socio-economic groups in choosing the higher performing schools, either because higher SES parents are more active in exercising choice or because some schools ‘cream-skim’ the higher ability and easier to teach pupils. This will cause these high performing schools to improve still further due to positive peer effects from their advantaged intake. This so called virtuous cycle would, it is suggested, lead to increasing polarisation between schools in terms of the ability and socio-economic background of their intakes.
Continue reading “Changes in school segregation in England”