Working Paper 09/224

Parental choice of primary school in England: what ‘type’ of school do parents choose? (PDF, 226kB)

Simon Burgess, Ellen Greaves, Anna Vignoles and Deborah Wilson

We investigate the central premise of the theory of markets in education, namely that parents value academic standards.We ask what parents really want from schools and whether different types of parents have similar preferences. We examine parents’ stated preferences and revealed preferences for schools (their actual choice of school as opposed to what they say they value in a school). More educated and higher socio-economic status (SES) parents are more likely to cite academic standards, whilst less educated and lower SES parents are more likely to cite proximity. More advantaged parents choose better performing schools, particularly in areas with many schools and therefore a lot of potential school choice. More advantaged parents also choose schools with much lower proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals, relative to other schools available to them. Hence whilst parents do not admit to choosing schools on the basis of their social composition, this happens in practice. Most parents get their first choice of school (94%) and this holds both for more and less advantaged parents, though this is partially because poorer parents make more ‘realistic’, i.e. less ambitious, choices. If, in areas where there is a lot of potential competition between schools, more advantaged families have a higher chance of achieving their more ambitious choices that do poorer parents, this could tend to exacerbate social segregation in our schools.

CMPO Public Service Reform podcast: School choice