New study highlights dilemmas with school choice

New study highlights dilemmas with school choice

The UK's largest ever study on parents' secondary school choices highlights equity issues in the UK's school choice system.

While the system in Australia is different, the study foregrounds issues that apply here too, says an expert at Deakin University.

Dr Emma Rowe is an expert on school choice, school funding, and education policy. In her view, the study highlights dilemmas “caused by systems of schooling which drive a consumerist approach, framing some schools as ‘winners’ and others as ‘losers’.”

“This study points to potential issues in fairness and opportunity that are caused by choice systems, in that some groups of parents have greater capacity to choose,” Dr Rowe said.

“It also points out that some families make the more ‘safe’ or conservative choice, as opposed to the ‘ambitious’ choice’.”

Dr Rowe says what this really highlights is that – when it comes to popular or over-subscribed schools – the schools do more of the ‘choosing’, than the other way around.

“When comparing to Australia or trying to make useful comparisons for Australia and what this can teach us in school choice policy, we should remember that our education system differs in terms of the application process,” she said.

“However, on saying this, the main point that this study has raised is that the process in which places are allocated is inequitable, and drives up school segregation, and this is certainly teachable for Australia.”

Dr Rowe said that, as the authors point out, allocating places to popular over-subscribed schools by proximity tends to favour well-resourced parents.

“This means that many parents do not bother applying to a school they don’t believe they will successfully be able to access,” she said.