Working paper 04/111 - Abstract

Sorting and Choice in English Secondary Schools (PDF, 788kB)

Simon Burgess, Brendon McConnell, Carol Propper and Deborah Wilson

This paper focuses on one of the outcomes arising from England’s choice based education system; the extent to which different types of pupils are sorted across schools. Pupil sorting will in turn impact on attainment outcomes, if there are peer group effects operating within schools. We consider three dimensions across which sorting may occur: ethnicity, income, and, for the first time using UK data, ability. We use a very large administrative dataset which contains linked histories of test scores for every pupil in England, as well as pupil level markers for ethnicity and low household income, and their home postcode (zip code). We first establish that choice is both feasible for and exercised by the majority of pupils in England. We then characterise and describe ability sorting and related it to feasibility of choice. We compare sorting across schools with sorting across neighbourhoods. We establish that post-residential school choice is an important component of the overall schooling decision. We show that there is a difference in the school-neighbourhood sorting relationship between areas that operate under different student-to-school assignment rules.

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