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What factors influence school choice, with particular reference to school reputation?

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posted on 2023-08-30, 14:42 authored by Andrew Nicholson
Legislative changes in Great Britain in the 1980s introduced a competitive, quasi-market in education (Woods, Bagley and Glatter, 1998) in which parents are able to exercise choice about the school they wish their child to attend. Parents specify (and sometimes rank) their preferred schools and places are allocated on the basis of those preferences, if school capacity permits (Woods et al, 1998). In order to thrive in this educational market, schools must appeal to parents and will use a variety of means to make a positive impression. This study asks three questions about school choice. 1. To what extent do parents and school staff agree which are the most important factors parents consider when choosing a school for their child? 2. To what extent do parents and school staff have a shared understanding of the concept of ‘school reputation,’ and what is the relative importance both place on it as a factor when choosing a school? 3. What are the implications for schools? The study is based in an all-through (educates children aged 4-18) Academy Trust of three schools (two primary and one secondary) in a socially and economically diverse town in the East of England. The inquiry paradigm adopted is one of pragmatism with the utilization of two data collection methods within a case study methodology. Quantitative data were collected from parents and school staff using a ‘card sort’ of eighteen choice criteria that were placed in order of relative importance. The card sort task was taken home by pupils for completion and returned for collation and analysis using a predesigned ‘Data Analysis Plan’. Fifty-two cards sorts were completed by staff groups and thirty-nine card sorts were returned by parents / families. Of the eighteen criteria for school choice, twelve indicate an extremely significant or very significant difference between what parents say they rank most highly, and what school staff think parents rate most highly. School staff believe parents place greater emphasis on school reputation than parents say they do Qualitative data was collected from ten semi-structured interviews (six parents and four staff) and thematically analysed to elicit a deeper understanding of parental choice in this community. The meaning of ‘school reputation’ is understood in different ways between, and within, groups of parents and school staff. Three implications for practice in the Trust schools arise from the study: 1. School leaders need to understand the social makeup and therefore the likely motivations of the people in the locality from which the intake is drawn. 2. School leaders must recognize the importance of academic achievement in school choice. 3. School reputation can be managed by improving the quality of teaching and learning. I expect my ‘particularized’ study to be of tangible use to the Academy Trust in which it is based, but as this is an issue of contemporary strategic relevance to all school leaders, the findings are likely to be transferable to other settings.



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