Working Paper 10/251 - abstract

Segregation by choice? The debate so far (PDF, 470kB)

Rich Harris

This paper offers an extensive review and bibliography of the literature on school choice, and its effects on social and ethnic segregation between English schools. It finds that the evidence concerning whether “school choice” legislation has acted to increase or decrease the socio-ethnic mix within schools is open to multiple interpretations, affected by how segregation is conceptualised and measured. Difficulties in reaching definite conclusions are compounded by the changing economic and demographic landscapes that confound attempts to show whether policies of school choice cause or reduce segregation. By the author’s judgement the policies have reinforced geographies of social segregation and of ethnic polarization in some places. However, this is not a failure of the principle of choice necessarily. Rather, it is a function of the constraints placed on that choice and an implicit if less spoken recognition of the value of local schooling.