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The Agenda For Education Reforms Education Essay

Increasing school choice is currently high on the agenda for education reforms in Great Britain through the 2005 UK Government Education and Skills White Paper. There has been a lot of research into parental choice since the 1988 Education Reform Act however much of the research has focussed on the mechanisms of choice rather than the rationale for choosing (evans???) Furthermore there has been little empirical research on parental choice in Britain (Snell 2000) . A key component of this research is to gain a greater understanding of the decision making rationale of parents when selecting a school for their child, with a view to informing the review of current policies in Northern Ireland and to illustrate the implications of increasing school choice throughout the UK. In addition, as already noted this programme of research will examine the financial , social and economic implications of increased school choice.

In this section an overview of relevant literature relating to this study is provided. This includes writings, research and scholarly opinion concerning school choice, segregation and education, social equality and education, parental preferences and school choice, school transport provision and school choice, Geographical Information Systems and Stated Preference Analysis. The report focuses on the weaknesses and strengths of current and past research efforts on school choice and issues of social inequality and highlights how GIS and discrete choice modelling have been used to further enhance research studies on these topics. The literature reviewed here was used as the basis upon which the research programme for this study was designed.

What is School Choice

School choice is the term used to describe those government policies aimed at giving parents the opportunity to choose the school their children will attend. Its aim is to enable parents to have more control over their child’s education.

Increasing school choice is currently high on the agenda for education reforms in England and Wales. Although, school choice has been part of the education system since the 1988 Education Reform Act, a number of issues prevented it from operating equitably across all sections of the population (Ball, 2003). The 1988 act meant that parents were able to apply to any school they liked, anywhere in the country. However as the most popular schools became over-subscribed they allocated pupils using their own admissions policy.(West et al., 2004) A key criteria used was distance from school or catchment areas, resulting in increased house prices in those catchment areas surrounding the most popular schools. The more affluent parents used the new league tables to apply for the highest performing schools and, moved house in order to improve their chances of getting in (Gipps 1993) resulting in even greater disparities within the education system (Herbert et al 1997).

During the past 20 years the school system in England has become much more diverse. There are now a huge variety of secondary schools including community comprehensives, faith schools. foundation schools, specialist schools, grammar schools and, trust schools. In October 2005, the UK Government published the 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper. One of the key aims of the paper was to improve school choice for all pupils. The paper proposed a specialist schooling system, where every secondary school that wishes to and meets the required standards will have at least one curriculum specialism. In addition, it was committed to increasing choice and encouraging the participation of faith schools and religious organisations in the state maintained sector. One area of the UK which we already identified where Faith schools are the norm is Northern Ireland.

Prior to the proposals outlined in the White Paper, UK school admissions policy enabled the affluent to buy school choice by moving house. The 2005 White Paper is designed to ensure that choice is more widely available to all and is not restricted to those who can pay for it.It shifted the emphasis on ‘choice’ away from school admissions and selection towards the rights of parents to access good education for their children, to participate in the educational process and to work in partnership with schools to facilitate ‘education tailored to the needs of each child’. (DFES 2005)This new policy will result in the scrapping of school catchment areas as ab selection criteria and ensure that there is a random allocation of school places. Parents who could not afford to move beside the school of their choice will now have wider access to successful schools.

However, as with all policies there are supporters and critics of school choice. Advocates of the programme state that school choice allows parents to pursue the best learning environment for their children and that it creates competition between schools for students, which will lead to an overall raising of standards. School choice enables parents to choose a school following a particular religious ethos or with a particular level of educational attainment. Supporters believe that school choice programmes would create a level playing field for all sections of the community and enable children from poorer backgrounds particularly minorities, to opt out of poor performing schools and choose to attend better schools by placing the decision making powers with the parents rather than school administrators.

The critics of school choice disagree and have two main problems with school choice (Weekes Bernard 2007) . The first problem is that school choice policies assume the ability of all parents to make their choices on an equally informed basis and the second problem is that the field in which they make their choices is open and equal. This is obviously not the case and therefore the issue arises as to who does and who doesn’t benefit from school choice. According to Burgess et al 2006 there are practical issues for the policy with regards to access to good schools. They involve two components: how far pupils have to travel to reach schools; and schools admissions policy.

While freedom to select any school in the UK may now be theoretically available to all, transport issues will continue to restrict low-income families’ ability to exercise this choice. An apparently greater school choice will result in increased school journey length as pupils have wider access to a selection of different schools. However, school choice for children from low-income families, who are much less likely to have access to a car, will be severely constrained by practical walking/cycling distances and/or the availability of subsidised public transport. (Sutton Trust 2005) Gewirtz (1995) examined the implications of school choice reforms in England and Wales in the mid 1990s. Examining the relationship between social class and parental choice, it was discovered that middle class parents were in a better position to choose the best schools for their children than parents from working class areas. There are a number of reasons for this, notably access to greater resources, such as car ownership and cultural status. The conclusions and findings of Gewirtz are reviewed and updated by the Runnymede trust in their 2007 publication “School Choice and Ethnic Segregation”. They find that size of family, convenience and lack of access to own transport all play a role in affecting the choices of parents.

It is not just UK school choice strategies that are affected by socio economic factors. The CFTB(2007) undertook an international review of school choice programmes in New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands and found that parents’ ‘social capital’ affected their ability to make informed choices and identify schools which would advantage their child. Much research has identified that not only were those more affluent parents better placed to identify the best schools they were also less constrained by non-educational considerations, such as transport. From previous research we can conclude that there are winners and losers in school choice strategies and furthermore school choice is dependent upon wider socio-economic factors.

Hunter (1991) and West (1993) portrayed parents as rational consumers making choices on the basis of simple criteria.Academic performance and proximity of a school are key factors affecting the school choice decision making process in the USA and UK respectively (Hastings et al (2005) and Collins and Snell (2000)). Other factors influencing choice in the UK tend to produce a common set of criteria considered important by many parents. These include school accessibility and journey safety, discipline, the child’ s preference, a wide choice of subjects, good examination results, able and caring teachers, sound management, a good head teacher, denominational characteristics, the quality of facilities, brother or sister at school (Bastow 1991).

ADD IN SNELL ETC

The market outcome and travel patterns generated by increased school choice are likely to reflect parents’ circumstances and preferences when choosing schools and how these vary within the population. If parents’ primary concern is journey time or travel convenience, this will have an obvious effect on choice of schools and travel patterns. However, if academic or religious selection are of primary concern, then the travel patterns will become more complex.

In England, the 1988 Education Reform Act created a system of "open enrolment" based on parental preference. Parents were able to apply to any school they liked. They could in theory apply to schools anywhere in the country, with neither distance nor council boundaries any barrier. Schools could only reject applicants if they were physically full. However, there are a number of issues that prevent school choice operating equitably: a lack of capacity within the education system, an admissions system geared towards more affluent pupils and a lack of adequate school transport.

As many of the more popular schools were over subscribed, these schools used an over-subscription criteria to select their pupils. A key criteria used by schools admission boards was distance from school (School catchment areas). This resulted in house prices in catchment areas surrounding successful state schools increasing significantly, in effect introducing social selection to schools. Parents with the means to do so used the new league tables and inspection reports to apply for what they saw as the best schools and, moved house in order to improve their chances of getting in.

In October 2005, the ‘Higher Standards, Better Schools for All’ White Paper set out a series of reforms designed to raise standards and equity throughout the school system through a combination of greater autonomy for schools, diversity of provision, more innovation, choice & contestability and parental engagement.

Within current UK school admissions policy the affluent could buy choice either by moving house or by going outside the state system. The Government wanted to ensure that choice is more widely available to all and is not restricted to those who can pay for it.

The 2005 White Paper, shifted the emphasis on ‘choice’ away from school admissions and selection towards the rights (and duties) of parents to access good education for their children, to participate in the educational process and to work in partnership with schools to facilitate ‘education tailored to the needs of each child’.

This new policy will result in the scrapping of school catchment areas as ab selection criteria and ensure that there is a random allocation of school places. Parents who could not afford to move beside the school of their choice will now have wider access to successful schools.

However, giving parents a greater choice of school may increase the likelihood of them choosing a school further away. Low-income families with no access to a car may be unable to afford public transport for their child. Therefore even if there were more places and an equitable admissions policy, poor transport would continue to constrain school choice for low-income families.

The 2005 White Paper proposes a specialist school system, where every secondary school that wishes to and meets the required standards will have at least one curriculum specialism. In addition, it is committed to increasing choice and encouraging the participation of faith schools and religious organisations in the state maintained sector. Faith schools are defined as those that educate pupils within the context of a particular faith or denomination and offer compulsory education. One area of the UK where Faith schools are the norm is Northern Ireland. The experience of Northern Ireland offers insights into the financial and social impacts of increased school choice.


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