Secondary school choice and academic attainment

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

Recent research appears to show substantial inequalities in access to chosen schools, for minority ethnic families, when compared to white families. This is puzzling, given that admissions oversubscription criteria are tightly circumscribed by regulations intended to protect children from discrimination. This project therefore seeks to investigate variation in choices and admission decisions, exploring the role of preferences and strategic-decision making in admissions success.

It asks the following questions:

• How do different demographic groups, in different locations in England, weigh up the trade-offs (between performance, proximity and chances of admission) involved in choosing schools?
• How do these trade offs (i.e. the quality of schools on offer, and the chances of admission to those schools) differ for different demographic groups in different locations?
• To what extent does the design of admission systems affect the quality of choice that parents experience? This includes the design of admission markets, the design of choice architecture and availability of relevant information, and the design of schools’ oversubscription priority rules. Are there simple interventions that can improve choice for parents?

These questions will be answered through statistical modelling based upon, national preferences data from the Department for Education, in conjunction with data on pupil outcomes from the National Pupil Database.

Project details


Professor Ian Walker, Dr Andrew Titman, and Matthew Weldon

Lancaster University

Grant amount and duration:


January 2017 - December 2019