Coffee House

Gove’s school choice can end social segregation. The old system entrenches it

29 October 2013

5:47 PM

29 October 2013

5:47 PM

Like most foreigners who move to Britain, I was struck when I first arrived by how much people worry about which school their children go to. Even couples who don’t have kids seem to fret about where to send them.

But now, working in the field of education reform, it makes sense to me. The disparity between a bad state school and a good one is huge, which in turn produces an enormous difference to the life chances of children attending them. It’s linked to money. To get into the good state schools here, you need to afford to live next to them. And if you live in a sink estate, the odds are that your children – no matter how bright – will be going to a sink school. This is the ‘catchment area’ system, and it ought to appal anyone who regards themself as a ‘progressive’.

Except, as we have heard in recent weeks, British ‘progressives’ are confusingly wedded to a regressive school system. Their dream seems to be a situation in which choice is obliterated entirely: let each child go to the nearest school! They talk as if school choice does not exist. But it always does – for those who can afford what recent reports put at £30,000 premiums on houses. Defend this system if you like, but let no one say these parents have not paid for their child’s education.


Of course, the same is true in other parts of the world with similar admissions systems. Indeed, the link between state school quality and house prices is one of the most consistent findings in economics. Parents are apparently willing to pay significant amounts of money for the privilege to live close to good state schools. And this is rational: what you learn dictates what you earn. The stakes are clearly sickeningly high.

So choice already exists in Britain. What reformers wish to do is to extend this choice to those who cannot afford to go private, or move to leafy areas. The idea is to weaken the link between postcode and school quality, because parents can live in one area and choose a school in another. Evidence suggests this works. For example, in England, researchers from the LSE have recently shown that high-quality, publicly funded schools for which proximity isn’t an important admissions criterion have no impact on house prices at all. Meanwhile, in Oslo, Norway, the abolishment of catchment areas induced the link between school quality and house prices at the sixth form level to decrease by over 50%. And in Paris, the existence of publicly-funded private schools breaks down the quality-house price relationship.

Why is this important? Because it indicates that school choice leads to more integrated communities. The British system, which Fiona Millar & Co seem so keen on, entrenches inequality by increasing house prices around good state schools and decreasing them around worse ones. The rich live with the rich, and the poor with the poor. School choice has the potential to break this pattern of social segregation. And this is precisely what recent American research suggests: with more choice decoupled from residence, house prices and average incomes decrease around more sought-after schools and increase around less sought-after ones. In other words, we see an equalisation among communities – school choice reduces residential segregation.

As I show in a recent research report, in which the above and many more relevant studies are discussed extensively, this also has implications for how we should view research on the link between school choice and school segregation. In fact, because it doesn’t take into account the beneficial impact of choice on residential integration, it’s dubious what it can actually tell us.

The enemies of school choice have a tendency to put equality and integration on a pedestal in most areas of society. If they were to look at the evidence, they’d find out that these goals are precisely what British school reformers are fighting for now.

Gabriel Heller Sahlgren is Director of Research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

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Show comments
  • rubyduck

    All state secondary schools in Ipswich are dreadful. Having a choice isn’t going to help.

  • StateWeShouldBeIn

    Education policy in this country for far too long was to ensure equality, namely that every child should have an equal chance of going to a bad school. Thankfully, that is now changing under Gove. Let no-one speak of hastiness- the comprehensive experiment has been given nearly 50 years to run, has proved itself to be an abject failure, and must now end.

    I have no problem with expanding parental choice so that they can send their children where they want (good schools are about teaching not real estate) and fully support it, but the crying shame of the past tolerance of educational inadequacy is the speed with which bad schools can be eradicated completely…by making them good schools. Sacking bad heads and bad teachers has massively increased performance in 2 or 3 years (e.g., so at the current rate, it should not be too long before the decades-long destruction of children’s lives by the left is ended for good.

    • Mr Arthur Cook

      “massively increased performance in 2 or 3 years”?
      What “increased performance”?

  • left want 2 be right

    Since winning local government elections, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Labour council have made it one of their aims to try to prevent some independent school Academies from opening and teaching some children living in and around Newcastle city.

    Early last year, Newcastle City council, attacked plans by Newcastle College Group to open an independent free school; Mr Forbes said NCG plans to open a free school in the city’s west end are something his administration is “vehemently opposed to”

    Mr Forbes says in his letter: “I am also deeply offended that you and (NCG chief executive) Dame Jackie Fisher chose to withhold your plans for schools in Newcastle when we met recently.” He goes on to add: “This whole episode leaves a bitter taste, which will be difficult to overcome.”

    The two NCG plans – creating a trust to open a free school and a college for engineering – will be been seen as key examples of education secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policies in action.

    See newspaper article here;…/

    Labour council leader Nick Forbes, appears to have issues with any one who messes with his educational plans for schools. Whilst Newcastle labour council have raised issues with some Independent school academies, they have been very accommodating to other independent Islamic schools which are currently springing up around the north east and indeed within the city and further afield.

    Late last year, Newcastle Council planning office approved building work to two historic land marks within the city, namely that of Benwell tower’s and Saint Nicholas Lodge. Both properties which were previously owned by Newcastle council are both stirring up a lot of controversy. One of the claims is that the council sold the two properties privately under the market price, to the muslim community in Newcastle and questions are being raised as to whether this itself is ethical and if such practise falls outside of government guild lines.

    Saint Nicholas Lodge is part of Saint Nicholas Cemetery on Nuns Moor Road, in the city and is listed with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Permission has been granted to Madina Islamic Education Academy to turn the lodge into an Islamic school for ( muslim only children ) and will be managed by Imam Abdullah Kola who oversees the management of the nearby Wahabi/ Deobandi Mosque which will be connected to the planned Islamic school within the grounds of Saint Nicholas Cemetery (Imam of Madina Masjid, Newcastle upon Tyne).

    See Video of St Nicholas Cemetery Lodge Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

    See Planning approval application here:

    The Bahr Academy have also been granted permission to transform The Grade II-Listed Benwell Tower, the former setting for the school tv series, Byker grove, into an Islamic School. The North East English Defence League held a national demonstration earlier this year in Newcastle, in protest of the Islamic expansion program currently taking place within the U.K and the North East, which is being supported and in some cases funded on both a local and national level by Government.

    See newspaper article here;

    Recently, David Cameron has given his support for Britain to be a leading country in Islamic Finance which complies with Sharia Law rules which govern islamic investment. What cameron fails to mention and indeed, turning a blind eye to, is the barbarity in which Sharia Law, as an Ideological justice system, inflicts punishment on people living under aspects of Sharia Law. To invest in any aspect of Islamic Finance, is to say to the rest of the world, the UK welcomes the stoning, whipping, chopping and beheading including hanging of people. I think it’s become clear that Cameron does not see such barbaric punishments as an issue when money is involved….It has become more apparent of the large scale in which aspects of Sharia Law and indeed Sharia Courts have been, and continue to be, accommodated within Britain and also the UK. This can never be justifiably good, given the brutality which this justice system represents and the inequalities which it affords to women and children under this islamic ideology which governs all aspects of life for those living under such a ruthless, totalitarian religious dictatorship.

    See link for Islamic Finance,

    See link for Sharia Law, Justice & Punishment,

    Schools which usually have ties to any mosque are usually seen within the muslim community as madrassas which are a common sight in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are now also becoming a common feature, here in the UK, many of which have been seen to teach anti-western and anti-semitic learning. Of increasing concern also, are the origins of the funds needed to open these madrassas, with reports that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are major donors to the UK, and contributors to the Islamic teachings within these schools and any funds which are given, are done so, usually with conditions regarding Islamic teachings. The Madina Masjid Mosque which is near to and which will be associated with the school at Saint Nicholas Cemetery, already teachers a controversial and strict branch of Islam known as Wahabi / Deobandi which does not cater for the freedoms of women to practise their Islamic faith within the local mosque.

    Muslim clerics following the Deobandi school of Islamic theology (named after the movement’s original seminary in Deoband, India) are now increasingly associated with the Taliban and other allied militant groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The Pakistani Deobandis have failed to adopt such an unequivocal anti-terrorism stance so far. Some 150 Deobandi clergy who recently met in Lahore for three days (possibly at the behest of the Pakistani government as some participants suggested) deliberated over the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The scholars were expected to issue a consensual fatwa (religious ruling) against terrorist suicide attacks, but failed to do so. The Deobandi clergy have historically shied away from issuing anti-Taliban fatwas and have opposed those fatwas issued by other groups. When in 2005 a group of non-Deobandi clerics produced a collective fatwa that the use of suicide-bombing against fellow-Muslims was not permitted in Islam, severe criticism emerged from the Deobandi clerical community.

    Islamic militancy and terrorism continue to haunt this country in spite of wide denunciation of such acts [suicide bombings and subversive activities] by all patriotic people who are proud of the English and British heritage of this country and not just, The North East English Defence League, who continue to hold protests to speak out against such attacks and Islamist activities which intend to change England and the rest of the UK, into an Islamic state with more and more encroachments of sharia law and the promotion of islamic culture.

    see more regarding Islamic schools and teachings below.–kSfzEg

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Strange…I thought that “research” was started from a neutral standpoint rather than taking a position and then trying to find evidence to support that position. In fact it might be said that an organisation which starts with an answer and then does “research” from such a biased position is not doing “research” at all.
    The “Centre for Market Reform” seems to start from anything other than a neutral standpoint….
    “……………………competitive and entrepreneurial provision in the education sector, and the feasibility of market-led solutions
    to public policy issues.” blah, blah, blah……

    “We believe that the main problem in
    education is the lack of incentives to improve pupil performance.”

    “……………..a move towards a more market-based
    education system”

    Education provision is not like providing super-markets and indeed we are currently discussing as a nation the dubious “competitive and entrepreneurial provision” in the rail and energy sector which I suspect many parents would not wish to engage with in the context of market led school provision where profit is put before pupils.

    I’m afraid the evidence emerging quite publicly from the uncoordinated lurch towards “Free Schools” and academies e.g. The Kings Free School and Bradford with it’s “missing” £000-‘s and the quality of experience offered by the Al-Madinah School in Derby is a testament to where “market led” and unregulated school provision leads.

    The notion of “choice” as the driver of quality rests on the capacity of the “consumer” to make an informed choice and to switch “supplier” when the provision is seen to be poor. Are we seriously saying that parents will keep moving their children? Will we have 10 schools in ever town or will it be Teschool, Sainschool for the plebs and the Waitrose Academy for those who can afford to “top up” their state education voucher……because let’s face it….vouchers for “the basic package” with juicy profits made from “supplementary services” and “premium services” is where this little story is going.
    The shrill and confident cant of the neo-liberals that “choice = quality” is wearing thin but the profits to be made from privatizing state education are so vast that the vultures are impossible to shoo away!

  • Barakzai

    ‘ . . . a tendency to put equality and integration on a pedestal in most areas of society. ”

    Unfortunately, it’s a ‘tendency’ not as ordinary folk regard the word, but as socialist zealots, including the Millar-Benn sorority, mean it; that is as the one truth path. And it’s not restricted to ‘most’ areas, it’s for universal application, since there can be no alternative, anywhere, to progressive socialism.

  • tele_machus

    This is the single most sensible post on the subject I have ever read
    Your system to ensure total fairness must be coupled with actual abolition of private schools

    • Fergus Pickering

      How do you do that, tele?

      • tele_machus

        First remove charitable status
        Then apply a progressive tax on the premises
        you will find they progressively close

        • neotelemachus


        • Fergus Pickering

          How do you remove charitable status from what is a charity? Do you mean remove charitable status from Oxfam etc? OK by me if that is what you mean. Bloodsucking leeches the lot of them.

        • Colonel Mustard

          A totally negative proposition. Oppress, suppress, abolish, ban, proscribe, tax, impose, coerce, intimidate, demonise, label. Few if any of your posts omit those guiding principles of the wolves against freedom in sheeps clothing.

    • neotelemachus

      Abolish everything you don’t like idiot.

  • monty61

    There’s a naive assumption here that all parents care. I would say at least 50% of them (probably more) don’t care much except to minimise hassle, and their kids don’t care either, bothering more about which of their friends from primary are coming with them to any particular school.

    Where parents care, they are usually the motivated ones, and motivated parents produce motivated kids (to say nothing of more intelligent ones – the impact of genetics is complete absent from the hand-wringing article above).

    I guess it’s heresy to suggest this but while ‘choice’ agenda matters to a sizeable minority, for most it’s a distraction. Choice allows a self-selecting few to escape the bad, while making the bad even worse by removing the intelligent and the motivated. Add in the impacts of social deprivation and inertia and you get the paradoxical result that by allowing choice for the motivated few, you improve their lot at the expense of the greater number.

    I don’t have an answer to this BTW but the effects are clear – it’s just a question of which outcomes you’d rather see. What annoys me greatly though is the pretense that ‘choice’ is a magic cure all, which it patently isn’t.

    • tele_machus

      14% of parents only do not care
      Our duty to these is to distribute their children also fairly

      • neotelemachus

        Nonsense. Idiot.

  • Daniel Maris

    This could be resolved at a stroke. Let parents choose whatever school they wish for their child in the state sector. We’ll soon see a massive reduction in parental anxiety and a massive increase in standards.

    To answer the inevitable objections:

    1. Successful schools will be oversubscribed. True. But schools that are oversubscribed could take over less successful schools, let buildings from less successful schools or simply expand. The decision can be made at age 9, so schools and LEAs have time to plan for the required numbers.

    2. Parents will have unreasonable expectations. Children should still be assessed for their interests, strengths and their needs. Parents will generally take advice I think. There may be need for some system of appeal where an LEA thinks a parent is making a big mistake. But for 99.9% of parents choosing the school would be trouble free.

    That said, I think there should be a limit on journey times for children. Perhaps, no more than 40 mins each way. Long commutes for school children are not healthy.

    • tele_machus

      But the key is to have a level playing field of schools and resources
      1 Abolish Free Schools
      2 Abolish Academies
      3 Proscribe all private schools

      • Fergus Pickering

        Why not abolish ALL schools while you are about it. Then we can have a level playing field of sheer bloody ignorance.

        • rubyduck

          Far and away preferable, as we woud all make our own provision.

      • neotelemachus

        4. Abolish Labour ministers who went to private schools.
        5. Abolish Labour ministers who send their children to private schools.
        6. Abolish Labour.
        7. Idiot.

      • Colonel Mustard

        All negative. Just as I say – Labour is all about negativity and hatred.

        • tele_machus

          All negatives went when revisionist New Labour was vanquished
          There is a positive side to this tendency…….. Miliband draw political strength in forming what his old friend and now chief speechwriter Marc Stears calls “unlikely alliances”, which sees a much more positive role for Labour as a living, breathing movement – it is also a substantive shift from the New Labour political strategy which saw defining yourself against your own party the default setting of leadership. As Miliband wrote in his pitch to the Fabian Society to be Labour leader, New Labour had behaved as if the “role of the Labour leader was to protect the country from the views of the members of the Labour party”. Miliband has a much more powerful sense of the positive force that Labour could be around the country. But Falkirk showed that vested interests can be just as present within the Labour movement as without, and so it became crucial to Miliband’s status as a genuine reformer that he take on Len McClusky with the same zeal as he would Rupert Murdoch.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Another unattributed cut and paste job from here:-


            And really, you should appreciate that anything appearing from the Fabians (sinister symbol a wolf in sheep’s clothing) is no recommendation to any free minded, conservative Englishman.

            The idea that Labour is a movement – actually closer to a cult religion – is a direct follow-on to Blair’s comment that Labour is nothing less than the political wing of the British people as a whole and to Miliband’s previous boasts about being a movement rather than a party and of course his creepy one nation nonsense. Incredible and arrogant boasts given that the Labour party attracts a minority of votes mainly from those with vested interests within our population – or imported foreigners. But we know and understand Labour’s belief that only it should have the right to rule over us. That imperative drives their negativity, which seeks to destroy any opposition, to suppress any dissent, to coerce the groupthink that is the characteristic of all authoritarian national socialist parties.

            And of course that groupthink is key to Labour oppression. Their legislative coercion to control what people might write or say, firmly behind the Leveson charade, is echoed by you almost daily here in your attempts to dominate the political discourse and denigrate anyone who dissents from your orthodoxy. It is quite a ridiculous proposition because however much you seek to control what is expressed you can NEVER control what people think. A lesson lost on your comrades in Eastern Europe for over forty years.

            Yours is a vile, pernicious cult, a wolf against freedom masquerading as a “reasonable” and “caring” sheep. Ha! No matter how much propaganda you peddle here, no matter how many labels you seek to demonise with, the struggle for freedom from your kind of crass ideological tyranny will continue.

            • telemachus

              I remain astonished at the lack of appreciation of history on this blog

              What was good for Romulus and Remus and what they created is good for us all

              Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells recognised this and the need for the good of our country to adhere

              • Colonel Mustard

                Another deflection which merely parrots more unfounded assertions. The only similarities between the Roman invasion of Britain and what New Labour did between 1997 and 2010 are the resort to imposition, coercion and force against the native populations. The benefits of Roman Britain are documented in history – and debated still. The “benefits” of New Labour’s genocidal and sectarian folly have yet to be judged.

                Even you, with your giant arrogant ego (apparently now requiring multiple identities) and even bigger mouth, cannot predict where mass immigration will lead.

              • grammarschoolman

                It’s unlikely that anybody educated in a state school will have heard of Romulus and Remus, as Classics has long been banned from them, because studying it is ‘elitist’.

              • neotelemachus

                So Romulus and Remus were historical figures were they Idiot Number 1? And what did they create that was so good? Modern day Italy? Not for the first time I wonder whether the decline in education standards are real – after all, modern day graduates can’t be more stupid, or less well educated than you.

  • Austin Barry

    “The rich live with the rich, and the poor with the poor. School choice has the potential to break this pattern of social segregation.”

    A rather simplistic view of both social segregation and school choice. There are many more factors at play.

    • Fergus Pickering

      That first sentence is true nevertheless. And the British por are remarkably nasty, brutish and short..

      • tele_machus

        True indeed
        And it began to happen in the 70’s

        • neotelemachus

          The poor have always been with us forever idiot and Labtard want then to remain as voting stock. The gulf between rich and poor widened in the 13 years of labour misrule and has narrowed since 2010; but you knew that didn’t you troll.

          • rubyduck

            The “poor” don’t vote. Hard-up people who cut their coat according to their cloth and thereby manage to stay afloat do vote, and they don’t vote Labour.

        • Tom Tom

          Shirley Williams as Education Secretary

    • Daniel Maris

      I agree it’s way too simple. Some people like striving for professional or academic success and some don’t. Some people feel at home with books and earnest discourse. Some don’t.

      I certainly don’t feel superior to a car mechanic, construction worker, plumber or electrician. They all do vital work, necessary to modern life and most of it is beyond me.

      There should be more vocational schools that don’t torment non-academic kids with complex maths, language tuition and all the rest.

      • rubyduck

        “I certainly don’t feel superior to a car mechanic”

        not sure why the question of feeling superior or not should arise.

  • sir_graphus

    I dispute the use of the term “progressive” as their chosen euphemism for socialism, and particularly for Fiona Millar’s opinions on education.

    • The Laughing Cavalier

      I agree wholeheartedly. The term “progressive” implies progress, which is why socialists have hijacked the word.Harking back to long discredited marxism is hardly progress.

      • tele_machus

        The world was not ready
        As we see the problems of untrammelled selfish get rich quick post Thatcherism we will see a progressive drift back to the fairness of socialism
        Caring for each other and the weak is what differentiates us from animals

        • neotelemachus

          What differentiates you from the animals is that most people like animals but we don’t like you. Idiot.

      • crosscop

        As CS Lewis pointed out, progress, when applied to an apple is called “going rotten.”