Advocates of reforms aimed at increasing school autonomy and parental choice in education argue that market-based incentives have the potential to improve standards. However, one potential concern with such settings is that students with different backgrounds might end up segregated in different schools if parental preferences over school attributes are heterogeneous. In this paper, we study parents’ demand for autonomous schooling using English administrative data about school applications for three cohorts of children choosing secondary schools. We focus on parental preference for public schools that convert to ‘academy’ status – that is, state-funded schools that change their institutional settings to gain independence from the control of the local education authority in terms of taught curriculum, length of the school day and staff management practices (among other things). In order to partial out the effect of time-invariant student and school unobservables, we control for school and pupil fixed-effects. We also conduct a number of checks that deal with time-varying confounders at the school, neighbourhood and student level. Our findings reveal that on average parents express higher demand for autonomous school, although this effect is not very sizeable. However, there is substantial heterogeneity in parental preferences for autonomous education. Parents of high-achieving pupils and better-off households show much stronger preferences for autonomous schools than families with more disadvantaged backgrounds. This finding highlights a potential equity/efficiency trade-off of education systems centred on parental choice and autonomous schooling.
Joint work with: Stephen Gibbons (LSE & IZA) & Olmo Silva (LSE & IZA)
Keywords: school choice and autonomy; parental preferences; segregation.
JEL Classification: I21; J24, H75; C23.