Parental choice on primary schools 'increases social divide'

Poor parents pick child's school because it is close to home, while middle-class parents go on good academic record

Giving parents a choice over primary schools increases the social divide, a study reveals.

The majority of poor parents pick their child's primary school because it is close to their home, while nearly half of middle-class parents opt for a school for its academic record, researchers found.

Since 1988, parents in England have had the right to express a preference of school. Successive governments have believed one benefit of this is to force under-performing schools to up their game. But academics at Bristol University and the Institute of Education London University argue that parental choice fuels class segregation in schools.

They asked 11,533 parents why they preferred one school to another on application forms. While two-fifths of parents with no qualifications said a school's proximity to their home had been the most important reason for choosing it, this was the case for only 20% of parents with degrees.

Only one in eight parents with no qualifications said academic record had been the main factor in their choice, compared with two-fifths of parents with degrees.

Some 44% of the parents who would be counted in the top fifth of earners in England said a school's academic record had been the most important reason, compared with 20% from the lowest fifth.

The study also showed parents with degrees were more likely to choose schools with a religious ethos. Just over 1% of parents with no qualifications said a school's religious ethos had been the most important factor.

Anna Vignoles, professor of the economics of education at the Institute of Education and one of the main authors of the study – Parental choice of primary school in England: What type of schools do parents choose? – said the findings showed "parental choice tended to lead to greater class segregation in schools".

She said: "Although it would be deeply unpopular with parents, the only way of guaranteeing socially integrated schools would be to run a lottery system. Schools have not got substantially more segregated, but we have one of the more socially segregated systems in the world

"We might give parents a choice for ethical reasons, but if we want social integration, choice will not bring this about."

She added that studies had shown that parental choice had failed to improve educational standards in England.

The number of schools using lotteries to allocate places has risen sixfold since 2001, research by the London School of Economics showed last month.

The system has proved controversial among parents in areas where it has been applied to break the middle-class tactic of buying a house in the catchment area.


Jessica Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

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