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Choosing a school is not parents' top priority suggests new study

More than eight in 10 people think parents should send their children to the nearest state school, reveal new findings from the first survey to gauge Britons’ attitudes to school choice in detail.

The new data, released today from the British Social Attitudes Survey, shows that 63 per cent take this view outright, with a further 22 per cent saying they would agree if the quality of different schools and their social mix of pupils was more equal.

blackboardThe survey asked around 2,000 members of the British public about a parent’s ‘right to choose’ and found that attitudes were ambivalent.

While a large majority favoured children attending the local state school, there was also broad support for the concept of choice, with 68 per cent agreeing that parents should have a basic right to choose their child’s school and 50 per cent agreeing that parents have a duty to choose ‘the best possible’ school for their child, even if other schools in the local area might suffer.

Dr Sonia Exley of the London School of Economics and Political Science, who led the Economic and Social Research Council-funded study, said the apparent difference showed that parents do not necessarily want to have to make choices over schools.

She said: “People do believe that they ought to have a ‘right to choose’, particularly where they are not happy with their local school. However, public feeling also seems to be that if schools were of an equal and acceptable standard then choice wouldn’t be necessary.”

“Parents don’t necessarily want to have to make active choices in order to secure a good school for their child; they just want their nearest school to be good enough. Government promotion of choice as an agenda diverts attention away from the bigger issue of why this isn’t the case.”

Dr Sonia ExleyIn terms of priorities, only four per cent think that making sure ‘parents have a lot of choice about the kind of school their child goes to’ should be the number one concern for schools. When it comes to choosing a secondary school, seven in ten (69 per cent) do believe that parents ought to put the needs and interests of their own child first. However, six in ten (60 per cent) also believe that parents ought to balance this concern against the needs and interests of other children.

Two thirds (67 per cent) of respondents approve of parents paying for a private tutor to help their children pass school entrance exams. However, only 36 per cent approve of parents moving house in order to be nearer ‘better schools’, and only 16 per cent approve of parents becoming involved in local religious activities to help get their children into high performing faith schools. Overall, fewer than four in ten (38 per cent) believe that families who can afford it should be able to pay for a better education.

Ends

Notes to Editors

These findings form part of an Economic and Social Research Council-funded study on school choice (RES-000-22-3989), undertaken by Dr Sonia Exley at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in collaboration with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Full findings from this project can be found in the 28th British Social Attitudes survey report which will be published on the 7th December 2011.

For more information on the ESRC-funded project on school choice, contact Sonia Exley, s.exley@lse.ac.uk, 020 7955 7348. For information on the British Social Attitudes survey, contact Liz Clery liz.clery@natcen.ac.uk 0207 549 7071.

 

7 December 2011

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