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School admissions: lessons from the evidence

5 March 2015

A newly-published review of research into school admissions in England stresses the need for strong regulation to continue but warns policy makers and campaigners to resist coming to simplistic conclusions about how to tackle unfairness.

In the week in which parents of children moving on to secondary school learn about whether their preferences have been met, the analysis of research on school admissions is published today by RISE (Research and Information on State Education).

Its author, Professor John Coldron of Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, said:

Admission arrangements profoundly affect children, parents and schools and have been a chief instrument of reform over the last three decades. It is a good time to reflect on where we are now. This review is a small contribution to a needed radical rethink on school admissions.

He reports that the evidence reviewed leads to the following conclusions:

• Strong regulation needs to continue. Not only is there a continued incentive for schools to select their intake but there is increasing disruption at ground level of the regulatory regime due to the reduction in the role of local authorities and an increase in the number of own admission authority schools.
• Parents do not choose on the basis of educational attainment alone – competition for parental custom on academic criteria does not act as an effective driver of system improvement.
• Policy on admissions should be made in full acknowledgement of the complex dynamics of parental choice, social solidarity and schools’ responses to accountability; school segregation is a symptom of inequality rather than its cause.
• How children get allocated to schools is an aspect of the role that schooling plays in our society reflecting moral and political visions of how education contributes to achieving an ordered, prosperous and cohesive society. Consequently, different lessons for reaching different ends may be taken from the evidence.
• Nevertheless, evidence from different perspectives suggests that the aim of policy should be to achieve more balanced intakes to schools.

Notes for editors

1. School admissions: lessons from the evidence can be downloaded now from the RISE website

2. Research and Information on State Education (RISE) Trust is a charity which commissions reports and provides information on state education. In producing RISE reviews our aim is to bring together research information in an accessible format.

3. The RISE On-line Information Centre (www.riseinformationcentre.org.uk) is a unique source of data on education from official sources, including Parliamentary Answers, which are otherwise not easily available in a classified form. It provides instant access to data about education, via hyperlinks to the original sources, presented clearly with a short, searchable description and sorted into topics and also with jargon-free commentaries on each topic.

4. As a charity RISE is dependent on donations to carry out its work. RISE is grateful to ATL and the NUT for their financial support in producing this review. To donate, please follow this link

Read summary or download full review