Environmental Related Costs Of Facilitating School Choice Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The segregated and selective nature of the schooling system in Northern Ireland effectively ensures that Northern Ireland has eleven sizeable sectors to provide for. It currently offers in theory therefore more scope for parental choice than any other part of the United Kingdom. However, in reality choice is constrained by a series of factors including religious attitudes, socio economic circumstances and free home-to-school transport eligibility criteria. Currently the Northern Ireland Government is trying to implement a number of policy reforms for its education system. These reforms have generated much heated debate and division along political party lines. However, none of the controversy has addressed the implications of current or future arrangements for travel and sustainability

In the absence of a clear acceptable model for future post-primary education it is important to explore and analyse the realities of the different models proposed. Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), stated preference survey data and discrete choice modelling, this research aims to develop a range of tools to inform policy makers on future school travel patterns in response to the ongoing programme of reforms in education.


The costs normally associated with availing of school choice whether in the UK or USA are tuition fees paid by parents who choose to send their children to private schools. (Lips 2008) However what is much less apparent are the extra costs incurred by everyone in terms of additional travel time, the potential contribution to traffic congestion and environmental effects imposed on society through the additional stimulated demand for travel to particular types of school, whether based on academic selection, ethnicity or religion.

In the past most children used to walk to school. However in recent years walking to school either on their own or accompanied by an adult has declined. The 'School Run' is the modern phenomenon of parents transporting children to school by car. In 2008, car travel accounted for nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of all trips made and four fifths (79 per cent) of all distance travelled in the UK. (DRD 2008) Travel to school represents a significant proportion of morning peak travel in many societies. Overall school travel makes up 15% of the morning peak demand increasing to around 25% in the suburbs. (DRD 2008) The effects of this trip purpose on the performance of the transport system is evident when comparing travel conditions during vacation periods with conditions during term time in many towns and city suburbs. In addition to traffic congestion the school run contributes significantly to green house gas emissions as well as a range of other pollutants. The key factors influencing such high car use are increased car ownership, safety concerns, increased school choice and wider school catchment areas (DFT 2003).

Increasing school choice is currently high on the agenda for education reforms in Great Britain. In 2005, the UK Government published the 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper.(DFES 2005) One of the key aims of the paper was to enhance 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 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.

Within the UK, Northern Ireland however exhibits unparalleled levels of segregation in school selection on the basis of religion (and academic ability) at age 11. Most children are segregated both by religion, with most children attending predominantly Protestant ('controlled') schools or Catholic ('maintained') schools, and by 'ability' based on performance in a public examination. A selection system operates at age 11 to decide which children attend better performing grammar schools (more than one third of children in second level education attend grammar schools). In addition, many children are segregated by gender (particularly in second level education where a quarter of the secondary schools and almost half of all grammar schools are single sex). It should be noted that there are currently a small but growing number of integrated schools which are composed of broadly equal numbers of pupils from both religious backgrounds. Approximately 8% of pupils attend these schools. The implications of the existence of so many different types of schools with large markets shares for travel patterns is significant.

Market segmentation by consumers, in terms of the location of activities they engage in, clearly has an impact on travel patterns. The more restrictive the source of "the market" for users of the facility in terms of their socio-economic, ethnic or other demographic characteristics, the larger the geographical size of the area which will be required to support viable facilities. While this will be readily apparent for a business undertaking a catchment area analysis, the same can be more evident in the case of, for instance, education even if there is little awareness of this phenomenon among policy makers in education, planning or transport. In effect such market segmentation translates into segregation, on the basis of academic ability, socio economic circumstances, ethnic or religious differences. The selection process at the transition between different stages in school life can be a key determinant of this process.

The combination of selectivity and segregation on the basis of faith in Northern Ireland generates uniquely complex patterns of home to school journeys and one which Government also has to meet in terms of providing school transport and funding for so called eligible pupils i.e. those with access to publicly funded transport to school facilities. Currently however the devolved Northern Ireland Government is trying to implement a number of policy reforms for its education system. A key element of this reform is the removal of the 11+ selection public examination. The Minister of Education is seeking to abolish the two tier education culture which has been in place since 1947 and replace it with a more equitable system, which she claims "will not only continue to deliver academic excellence for the few but can deliver it for all" (DENI 2007) . The Government proposes that in place of the 11+ transfer test the criteria for selecting a post-primary school will include Community and Geographical factors. Based on the use of the criteria proposed a range of options might include attending their nearest 'suitable' school. They would not be segregated by academic ability or gender but only by religion. Integrated schools would remain accepting pupils from both religions. Another option proposed is whereby pupils would attend their nearest 'suitable' schools, the schools would become community based serving all those in the nearby catchment areas. These reforms have generated much heated debate and division along political party lines. However, none of the controversy has addressed the implications of current or future arrangements for travel and sustainability. The present segregated and selective system of schooling in Northern Ireland imposes high costs on society in terms of its financial implications, environmental costs and increased travel times. (Kelleher & Smyth 2007) In the absence of a clear acceptable model for future post-primary education it is important to explore and analyse the realities of the different models proposed.

The following key questions require answers:

How will parents react to the reforms?

What will be the impacts of the reforms?

The insights gained and comparisons made of future conditions and outcomes will help inform decisions at policy-making level regarding both the determination of the ultimate model of post-primary provision in Northern Ireland and also, the home-school transport system. This can also offer lessons for other geographical areas promoting or intending to encourage greater school choice.

In order to increase our awareness of the implications for travel behaviour, sustainability and social cohesion arising from the planned innovations in education it is essential to gain a greater understanding of the decision making process made by parents (and their children in some cases) in relation to school choice. How do parents and students make such decisions and how can these processes be best presented? By gaining an understanding of this decision making process we will be able to examine how parents are likely to react to the education reforms. This will inform an understanding of the potential impacts on travel and the environment attributable to changes to the education system.

Insights on School Choice from the Literature

There has been extensive research undertaken on the factors which influence parents' choice of schools for their children. The literature identifies a number of key preferences which parents have when choosing a school. These have been summarized by Bastow (1991) and 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, and the presence of siblings and other relations attending the school. A number of studies have pinpointed academic performance as being the most important factor. (Convey (1986), Goldring and Bauch (1995)).

A key aspect of this research is to examine the implications for future planning decisions, of changes in school travel patterns and school attendances, through alterations to current policies. Collins and Snell (2000) identified the significance of distance in the decision making process The effect of distance to travel on choices will depend on the existence of public transport routes, the location of the home of the child (will he/she be able to travel alone? etc.), as well as on the ownership and availability of cars, the location of parents' workplaces, and whether the parents are employed. Hastings et al (2005) found that along with academic performance, proximity of a school was also a key factor affecting school choice in the USA. Other key factors to be identified in studies of school choice both in the UK and in the USA are religious composition, school size, class size, sporting/music traditions, physical condition of facilities, ethnicity of population, and travel convenience (Wilson (2008)Hastings (2005) Snell (2000)).

One of the most important studies in school choice, the work of Gewirtz (1995) examined the implications of school choice reforms in England and Wales in the mid 1990s. This paper discussed the relationship between social class and parental choice, stating that middle class parents were in a better position to choose the best schools for their children than parents from working class areas. There were a number of reasons for this, notably access to greater resources, such as car ownership. This was an area of particular interest in the UK with the October 2005 White Paper outlining the government's vision for educational reform 'radically' centred on increasing parental 'choice'(DFES 2005). The conclusions and findings of Gewirtz were reviewed and updated by the Runnymede trust in their 2007 publication "School Choice and Ethnic Segregation". They found that size of family, convenience and lack of access to own transport all play a role in affecting the choices of parents.

Research Design

To obtain an enhanced understanding of how parents in Northern Ireland would respond to the proposed alternative policies a research design was developed which included a programme of parental surveys and development of discrete choice models of school choice. The surveys were designed to gather information about travel activity in Northern Ireland and opinions on and responses to proposed school transport problems and situations.

The core of the research deign for the current study is the development, execution and analysis of a comprehensive programme of questionnaire surveys conducted among parents of pupils, attending the various school types currently operating in Northern Ireland and which reflect the range of selection/recruitment criteria applying in the area.

Four grammar schools, four secondary and two integrated schools were surveyed. In total 1200 surveys were issued to ten schools in the Greater Belfast Area. 642 completed questionnaires were returned. Given the sensitivity of the subjects raised in the questionnaire and after extensive consultations and pre piloting it was decided that the surveys would need to afford full anonymity to both schools and parents. Moreover, given resource constraints self completion questionnaires were deemed the only practical method to collect data.

School and parent profiles.

Table 1 lists the ten schools which took part in this survey and details a number of key socio economic indicators for households with pupils at each school: the average number of cars per household; percentage of pupils whose parents were unemployed and the percentage of whose parents possessed a degree or another Professional Qualification. To preserve anonymity and ensure the research is sensitive to often highly emotive concerns no names of individual schools are provided.

The results of the ranking exercise are broadly consistent with the stated preference findings. The finding that examination results ranked first or second most important for all of the grammar schools is compatible with the findings in the stated preference models that the academic quality variable consistently yielded the largest coefficients. Moreover, the relative insensitivity of this group of parents to travel related matters is reflected in the relatively low magnitude of the journey time coefficient and the failure of any travel related factor to be ranked among the top three reported choice factors. In contrast the importance achieved by journey time and other travel factors in the ranking exercise is consistent with the greater magnitude of the journey time variable in the stated preference models for most of the secondary school sector. Furthermore the importance of the integrated ethos of schools for parents sending their children to such schools is consistent with the variable relating to religious composition achieving statistical significance in the stated preference modelling exercise for that group of schools.

The table shows that if the system was changed to incorporate the arrangements suggested by Reform 1 the total mileage travelled would reduce by 68 %. In addition there would be a huge decrease in the number of pupils receiving fully subsidised home to school transport, generating larger savings for the school transport budget

Reform 2. Abolition of selection by Academic Ability, Gender and Religious Segregation. Children attend their nearest suitable school. This results in even greater reductions in average distance travelled and catchment areas. Under this reform there would be only one school type, nearest school or community school. There would be no segregation or selection by academic ability or religion. If this reform was implemented, according to this research, the total mileage would fall even further by 74% and only 4.3% of pupils would be eligible for free school transport.

Reform 3. Abolition of segregation by Gender and Religion. Selection by Academic ability remains. The third reform, which was prompted by the findings from this research is the removal of segregation by religion and gender but the selection of pupils by academic ability remains. This would result in two types of schools grammar and secondary. All grammar schools were grouped together in the GIS and all secondary schools along with all integrated schools were grouped together and a proximity analysis on pupil locations was undertaken. The effects this would have upon total mileage travelled would be less for the other two reforms, with a decline in total mileage of 54%. The decline in percentage of pupils eligible for free school transport, although not as significant as the first two reforms considered would nevertheless be substantial.

These models yield insights into the extent to which the proposed reforms could affect school travel patterns in Northern Ireland. The models suggest that each of the proposed reforms would result in a significant reduction of total miles travelled in Northern Ireland, this would have significant implications for sustainability and transport initiatives.


The present segregated and selective nature of the schooling system in Northern Ireland effectively ensures that Northern Ireland has eleven sizeable sectors to provide for therefore it currently offers in theory more scope for parental choice than any other part of the United Kingdom. However, in reality choice is effectively constrained by a series of factors including religious attitudes, socio economic circumstances and current free home-to-school transport eligibility criteria.

According to this research journey length/time issues can restrict low-income families' ability to exercise this choice. An apparently greater school choice results 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, is severely constrained by practical walking/cycling distances and/or the availability of subsidised public transport. In practice these children travel shorter distances to school compared with pupils from more affluent backgrounds. Therefore the market outcome and travel patterns generated by increased school choice are likely to reflect parents' circumstances and preferences when choosing schools and in favour of more affluent parents with higher educational aspirations for their children. 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 standards, as is the case with parents of grammar school pupils or religious selection (integrated pupils) are of primary concern, then the travel patterns will become more complex. Our GIS analysis illustrates how much the total miles travelled would fall if any of the three reforms were implemented.

Previous research undertaken by the authors (Kelleher & Smyth 2007) examined differences in the profile of school transport provision between Northern Ireland and other areas of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, demonstrated that segregated and selective schooling system inflates the cost of the school transport budget by around 25%. This is largely due to the fact that the greater choice of school types available in Northern Ireland results in more children being eligible for free home-to-school transport. Transport assistance is provided for any pupil who lives more than 3 miles from their nearest suitable school. In 2004, 19.7% of all pupils in Scotland and 18% in the Republic of Ireland received education authority funding for transport to school. In Northern Ireland the percentage of total pupils in receipt of transport assistance was 30.1%.

The cost of home-to-school transport in Northern Ireland currently represents around 5% of the annual education budget, and is in the region of £59 million per year. (DENI 2008) Although the average cost per pupil of providing home to school transport assistance in Northern Ireland is competitive with other parts of the United Kingdom the overall costs of providing school transport are rising at a rate well in excess of inflation and significantly greater than the ability of the Northern Ireland Education budget to accommodate such increases. The current perceived need for different types of school by religion and the survival of selective education and gender segregation, all add to the costly dispersed and segregated nature of schooling in Northern Ireland. It is evident from the GIS analysis that if any of these proposed reforms were to happen substantial savings could be made by the Northern Ireland Department of Education as the numbers of pupils eligible for free school transport would be reduced dramatically.

Finally as stated in the introduction with UK government intent on promoting greater parental choice in school selection across the UK, the implications for sustainability and transport initiatives could be significant. The lessons from the Northern Ireland experience are clear warning to increasing school choice and promoting of significant but separate markets reflecting the aspirations of particular regions or ethnic groups.

Ongoing Research

In addition to understanding why parents choose particular schools, there is a requirement to investigate their reasons for not selecting alternative suitable schools. Based on an enhanced version of the questionnaire used in this study we will develop a series of revealed preference models incorporating data and preferences in relation to alternative school choices. Currently under development these revealed preference models when used in conjunction with the stated preference models will provide for development of policy sensitive school choice models. This will provide a regionally unique suite of tools to inform policy at a government level.