Children of poorer families are 40% less likely to go to a high-achieving school than their richer counterparts of similar ability living in the same district, new research to be published by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation reveals.
The research examines the pupils living equal distances from a well-performing school and an average or low-performing school. Report author professor Simon Burgess said the findings suggested children from poorer families were not getting a good deal from the English school system.
“Despite being the same distance from both schools and having the same test score history, something in the way the system works is creating a tendency for poorer children to go to the less good school,” Burgess said.
The situation is compounded by the fact that more affluent families are more likely to live near good schools in the first place. Given that popular schools cannot increase fast enough, some form of rationing is required and this is often based on location, making owning the right house important even within a choice-based system.
Burgess warns that, although the idea promoted in the education white paper of schools becoming trusts might enable popular schools to take over others more easily, the greater freedoms they will have might exacerbate tendencies to seek out more able pupils and therefore work against the idea of choice rather than helping choice work better.
A spokesperson for the Advisory Centre for Education said that disadvantaged families were generally more likely to struggle with a system that naturally favoured the better-off.
“There is no one reason. But even though they might appear to be neutral, schools sometimes use covert admissions criteria. For example, some use ‘outside activities’ when considering potential pupils, and this might favour children who take violin lessons. Some children we know have also been asked about where they take their holidays.”