Building a system of equivalent schools

  /    /  Building a system of equivalent schools

Regardless of the distribution of responsibilities and cooperation among actors at different levels, governments can develop basic regulations and establish other policy measures to ensure quality for all in the education system. To tackle school segregation, all schools should enjoy a similar quality. Two main objectives may serve as the basis for the adoption of specific measues by regional or local authorities.


Objective 1: Ensure heterogeneous compositions in all schools.

School diversity has many positive impacts, especially for most vulnerable students (Dronkers et al. 2011). First, good students can help their weaker peers (both through the provision of help and their acting as examples); second, students with greater difficulties enjoy a better curriculum (since teachers prepare it for the highest performing students) and, third, best students deepen their learning thanks to their dedication to the lower level students.

These benefits cannot occur in a context of school segregation, where there is no diversity among classmates and the interaction is limited to peers with a similar background. In this segregated scenario, contact among peers will have a minor impact on students’ learning experience. The homogenisation of students’ profiles limits the possibilities of gaining from the different attitudes and expectations that can take place in more diverse classrooms.

Measures within Objective 1 include those related to achieve a balanced distribution of students across schools and those addressed to improve the quality of the school supply, specifically in schools in deprived areas where most vulnerable students are enrolled.


  • Measure 1.1: Define catchment areas that facilitate enrolment in schools nearby students’ residential areas. In most European cities levels of residential segregation are lower than school segregation. With some exceptions, favouring enrolment nearby students’ homes can help to reduce school segregation. Therefore, systems of some form of controlled choice are better than open enrolment systems to ensure more diverse schools. Regulations on catchment areas should meet the following basic criteria.
    • Public and subsidised private schools must belong to a single, common school map in each catchment area.
    • Each catchment area must be socially heterogeneous (according to level of education, economic level, etc.) to prevent socially homogeneous catchment areas being translated into socially segregated schools.
    • The number of school places must be sufficient and balanced according to the needs of each catchment area. Shortages or oversupply in the availability of school places can neutralise the positive effects of the establishment of heterogeneous catchment areas by forcing students to enrol in other catchment areas or by attracting students from other areas.


  • Measure 1.2: Reserving seats for socially disadvantaged pupils. Evidence shows that socially disadvantaged students are more likely to experience educational needs associated to socio-economic reasons. Quotas for these children should be equivalent among the schools in the same catchment area, while catchment areas should be designed considering social heterogeneity. For example, a detection of a 15% of ‘socioeconomic special needs’ pupils in a catchment area would result in an equivalent 15% of reserved seats for these students in each school belonging to that area.
    • While the general recommendation should be to reserve the same number of places for each school within the catchment area, differentiated quotas could be allowed when these might contribute to increase the heterogeneity of schools’ social composition. For instance, in a school with a high percentage of socio-economic advantaged students in a heterogeneous area, it could be recommended to reserve a number of places for socioeconomically disadvantaged students above the average of the catchment area.


  • Measure 1.3: Establish school admission procedures to avoid middle-class families’ strategic behaviour in the school choice process. Different allocation algorithms may favour or neutralise families’ behaviour in the school choice process. The “Differed acceptance algorithm” is strategy-proof and eliminates the capacity of choosers to strategically use the system rules to maximise their admission possibilities. Since information is unequally distributed, eliminating strategic behaviour in school choice may favour a better school social composition.

Objective 2: Boost the system’s quality and cohesion.

Regardless of the system of school choice prevailing at each country, rising the quality of education is an objective to benefit all pupils, and in particular those in a vulnerable situation. In contexts of high competition among schools to attract students, it is especially important to develop initiatives of cooperation among teachers, students, and families. Developing policies boosting ‘a sense of educational community’ beyond the individual school is essential, while providing those schools facing more difficulties with extra-resources to improve the opportunities for their children may help to improving the educational quality of most disadvantaged schools.


  • Measure 2.1: Providing a network resources to segregated schools that build alliances with public or private reference institutions in a specific field of knowledge: museums, research centres, professional organisations, etc. These alliances are aimed at developing innovative and quality education projects in the most vulnerable schools in order to improve their education projects and to attract new families.


  • Measure 2.2: Allocating trained professionals in segregated schools through career or economic incentives. Socio-economically disadvantaged schools usually face high levels of teacher turnover and teachers with little experience, which prevents the consolidation of stable and long-term educational projects. Improving the allocation of trained professionals in these schools may contribute to improve their projects and to rise their education quality standards.


  • Measure 2.3: Opening schools as community resources -and for other schools-, promoting the concept of school as a civic centre, a place for inclusion, open to the territory and for the community, through the activation and support of initiatives such as:
    • the expansion of after school activities
    • sharing facilities and spaces among schools of the same neighbourhood to build a sense of community and belonging.


  • Measure 2.4: Organise join campaigns by all schools in a neighbourhood or territory able to reduce the logics of competitiveness and to transmit a sense of public service. These campaigns may focus on the quality of the whole supply (i.e. open days) or can structure extra-curricular common activities for the students, regardless of the school they are enrolled.