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Fair school admissions: What is the contribution of the Choice Advice initiative

By John Coldron, Caroline Cripps, Lucy Shipton and Bernadette Stiell


This paper assesses the contribution of Choice Advice to making admissions to English secondary schools fairer. The initiative characterises the unfairness of admissions as unequal opportunity for poorer parents to access good schools because they are less able to negotiate the admissions process. A major objective of Choice Advice is to enable more poor parents to gain access to popular and high performing secondary schools. The results of an evaluation in 15 Local Authorities are presented showing that Choice Advice provided a valuable service to some families but the proportion of poorer families helped was too small to make a significant impact on the numbers of poorer parents gaining access to popular schools. The characterisation of the problem is, we argue, flawed and, as a consequence, so is the way this policy was designed. Choice Advice is an example of a discursively complex initiative that is ambivalent in its effects. It provides a symbol of political will and is of real benefit to some parents, but it sustains a way of characterising the problem that plays a part in labelling poorer parents as deficient while making no significant impact on the unfairness of admissions

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