Working Paper 09/222- abstract

What Parents Want: School preferences and school choice (PDF, 745kB)

Simon Burgess, Ellen Greaves, Anna Vignoles and Deborah Wilson

Parental demand for academic performance is a key element in the view that strengthening school choice will drive up school performance. In this paper we analyse what parents look for in choosing schools. We assemble a unique dataset combining survey information on parents’ choices plus a rich set of socio-economic characteristics; administrative data on school characteristics, admissions criteria and allocation rules; and spatial data attached to a pupil census to define the de facto set of schools available to each family in the survey. To achieve identification, we focus on cities where the school place allocation system is truth-revealing (“equal preferences”). We take great care in trying to capture the set of schools that each family could realistically choose from. We also look at a large subset of parents who continued living in the same house as before the child was born, to avoid endogenous house/school moves. We then model the choices made in terms of the characteristics of schools and families and the distances involved. School characteristics include measures of academic performance, school socio-economic and ethnic composition, and its faith school status. Initial results showed strong differences in the set of choices available to parents in different socio-economic positions. Our central analysis uses multinomial logistic regression to show that families do indeed value academic performance in schools. They also value school composition – preferring schools with low fractions of children from poor families. We compute trade-offs between these characteristics as well as between these and distance travelled. We are able to compare these trade-offs for different families. Our results suggest that preferences do not vary greatly between different socio-economic groups once constraints are fully accounted for.