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Secondary school choice and academic attainment

Researchers: Professor Ian Walker | Dr Andrew Titman ...

Project overview

This study aims to provide insight into how parents reach decisions about school preferences in real contexts.

In recent years, the idea of introducing competition into education systems has moved into the mainstream of English education policy. At the same time, concerns have been raised at the extent of segregation in English schools. Despite these policy changes, there is currently no academic consensus on whether choice and competition improve education outcomes, and on whether they improve or worsen social segregation.

This study stems from the view that the operation of an educational market in a specific place is contingent upon both the mix of schools in the local area and the preferences of the local population. The contribution of the market to school effectiveness, as well as its contribution to segregated school populations, will depend on local characteristics. These contributions will in turn feed back into the market conditions for future cohorts.

The researchers will aim to show that it is possible to model educational markets to provide insights into choice, competition and segregation in a specific context. They will demonstrate this using rich data sources, an expressive structural model and state-of-the-art statistical and computational methods. The model’s rich structure will enable the researchers to simulate hypothetical scenarios to examine the effects of further deregulation, admissions reforms, or allocative mechanisms.

The project aims for this market analysis approach to be able to provide not only academic insights, but also to be useful for decision-making ‘in the field’. To this end, the researchers will collaborate with national and regional policy-makers to simulate scenarios designed to answer their strategic and operational questions.


  • Professor Ian Walker
    Lancaster University
  • Dr Andrew Titman
    Lancaster University
  • Matthew Weldon
    Lancaster University

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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