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School admissions: lessons from the evidence

By John Coldron

March 2015

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Admission policies to schools over the past two decades have been designed to serve a variety of purposes and research into those policies has sought answers to a variety of questions.

Key points

• Admission policy serves a variety of purposes and therefore research has sought answers to various questions – about fairness, efficiency, policy aims and segregation.
• Strong regulation needs to continue.
• 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.
• Evidence from different perspectives suggests that the aim of policy should be to achieve more balanced intakes to schools.
• There is increasing disruption at ground level of the regulatory regime due to the reduction in the role of LAs and an increase in the number of own admission authority schools.
• Policy makers and campaigners should resist simplistic conclusions that the unfairness of admissions is a market dysfunction that can be tweaked, or is the result of a lack of access to “good” schools, or middle class monopolisation of high performing institutions, and make policy 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.

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