Revising the Draft School Admissions Code

CMPO Viewpoint

Rebecca Allen and Simon Burgess

From next week, officials in the Department for Education are going to be busy sifting through responses to the consultation exercise around the new School Admissions Code.

Two important issues in the proposed code relate to the priority given to school staff, and to random allocation. We believe that as they currently stand, these provisions will set back the goals that the Government has set for its education policy.

1. Prioritising the children of staff

Paragraph  1.33 of the code says: “If admissions authorities decide to give priority to children of staff, they must set out clearly in their admission arrangements how they will define staff and on what basis children will be prioritised.”

This suggests that admissions authorities are to be allowed to prioritise the children of staff, reversing the policy of recent Admissions Codes.

One group very likely to be included in…

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Using Lotteries in School Admissions (via CMPO Viewpoint)

This blog post on CMPO’s website (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/blog) gives an overview of our latest research into school admission reforms in Brighton and Hove.

Rebecca Allen and Simon Burgess This week about half a million students are starting their first term in secondary school. For many of their families, the process of choosing that school will have been very stressful. Is that process fair? The system of school admissions is a major topic of policy controversy, with a lot of debate highlighting the differences in access to high-performing schools. One leading policy proposal is to use lotteries to … Read More

via CMPO Viewpoint

School autonomy and social segregation

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?

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Changes in school segregation in England

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.

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School admissions and social segregation

If schools are socially segregated it means children from low income families are concentrated in one or two schools in an area, thus being separated from more affluent pupils who tend to be concentrated in other schools. Academic research measuring levels of social segregation in English schools has generally focused on the unevenness in the distribution of pupils who are eligible for free school meals (FSM), using this as a proxy for social disadvantage. Where FSM pupils are evenly distributed across schools in an area so that each school has exactly the same proportion of its pupils eligible for FSM, i.e. its ‘fair share’, we can say that there is zero segregation.

School choice researchers in England were concerned that the policies of 1988 onwards would give schools both the motivation and the means to select the most able and avoid admitting educationally disadvantaged pupils to their schools, thus producing socially divided schooling. As a society we should be concerned about socially divided schooling because it is likely to increase inequalities in academic achievement and threaten social cohesion.

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