Module 5 - What can be done?

In the previous modules we have proposed some learning materials to better understand school segregation as a complex phenomenon, by focusing on drivers and implications of socioeconomic segregation in schools, as well as tools to understand and evaluate school segregation at a local level.

In this module we focus on policies and strategies to prevent, limit or manage the effects of school segregation. Units of this module report evidences from scientific research and practices from different contexts within and outside Europe. They have not been selected as “best practices” but as a catalogue of ideas and tools that can be inspiring for other decision makers.

A number of contextual factors must be considered here as far as they may shape different contours and outcomes of these policies in European cities. First of all, cities experience different levels of residential segregation, which have an impact on the patterns of school segregation and therefore on policies and programs needed to tackle it. Second, the capacity and autonomy of local and regional authorities and schools relies on the governance of the school system, which makes necessary to identify key actors and their capacities when designing a policy in each specific context. Finally, contexts’ characteristics modulate policies effects, so a policy may produce very different outcomes when applied to different contexts. Against this background, policy makers are invited to read these materials taking into consideration the specific context in which they operate.

Objectives of the module: Module 5aims at providing information and reflections on the wide range of policies and tools to deal with school segregation. In particular, the objectives of this module are:

  • Identify different policies and strategies to prevent, limit or manage school segregation and its implications
  • Understand how these policies and strategies may affect different dimensions of school segregation
  • Understand that similar policies may have different effects according to the contexts where they are implemented.

Outline of the module: this module is structured in 5 units

Unit 5.1. School Supply

Unit 5.2. Admission policies

Unit 5.3. Information policies

Unit 5.4. Compensatory policies


UNIT 5.1. School Supply


Governance and management policies in school education systems impact on the quality and inclusiveness of education. Planning and organization of school offer, in terms of geography and rule of access, but also in terms of pedagogical design, can seriously affect the levels and the dynamics of segregation of the educational system. School segregation can, in fact, manifest itself at different scales, between territories, between schools but also between class groups, ranging from macro trends to micro dynamics. States tend to be more reactive than proactive when facing problems of education exclusion and school segregation, an approach which is not likely to result in structural and sustainable changes.


5.1.1 Competences and responsibilities 

Education systems are complex and they operate at national, regional and local levels (vertical interaction). Different education systems respond to a different distribution of power and interaction among actors at different levels. However, recent trends show how national governments transfer greater control to local authorities, while maintaining responsibility for the quality (effectiveness, efficiency, equity) of the overall system (European Commission 2018). The quality is mainly assessed through national or international assessments (i.e. PISA).

Interaction across different levels of governance supports peer learning and development in education. It is important that policies support equity and inclusion, but also allow flexibility to meet the diverse needs of learners in schools, both within and outside of mainstream education. Policymaking needs to involve all relevant stakeholders in order to achieve this and create shared ownership and accountability. Equally, in order to evolve effectively – and to support schools in their development – policies need high quality feedback loops and a flow of information to support evidence-informed action. Both are crucial for the motivation and engagement of all actors to encourage change to happen (European Commission 2018).

5.1.2 Demographic analysis, analysis of urban contexts and opening / closing of schools

The organization of the school year implies to plan the number of buildings and physical equipment, but also teachers and other school staff. To do so, school supply needs to estimate the number of school age students at a specific moment and territory. Census data on school age population are an essential yardstick to assess the school system and to estimate and forecast the future of the school-aged population.
Demographic data can be used as a single or complementary criterion when planning school supply. The relevance of demographic changes and trends for school supply justifies for example that the city of Oslo develops a yearly plan (School needs plan) to offer all students a high quality building to lay the ground for good pedagogical practice. This plan uses statistics and demographic indicators such us the cohort size, the general and historical moving patterns among the population and other data focused on families with children.

In the case of Barcelona, demographic data is combined with proximity as a criterion for planning the school supply. Assuring a proximity school to families can reduce the mobility through the city in peak hours and enhance the sense of belonging to neighbourhoods. The initiative for proximity schools aims at guaranteeing public schools at a 15 minutes walking distance from home. The initiative has different lines of action:

  • opening new schools in those neighbourhoods with insufficient supply to enrol students living in the area
  • merging or closing schools when there is over-supply in a given territory (Neighbourhood, catchment area)

Something similar occurs in Oslo through the Local School Principle that aims to guarantee access to all students to a school within walking distance from their home. Oslo Municipality yearly adjust catchment areas according to the number of pupils in relevant cohorts.

It must be said that this strict geographic catchment area division makes the system sensitive to residential segregation. Supporting such a policy would have a positive impact on the overall segregation dynamics in some cities, but it needs a certain degree of social heterogeneity within neighbourhoods to avoid the translation of proximity into school segregation.

In parallel policies work for improving the quality of all schools in order to increase the retention ability of catchment areas where there isn’t a residence-based criteria, in other words they aim at transforming the supply. An example is the call for Innovative Furniture issued by the Milan Municipality that support initiatives to innovate the educational offerings in public school in Milan through the funding of projects proposed by the school themselves. The call gives priorities to schools with high risk of being segregated.

The most salient actions are the merge of two or more schools or the creation of a single school joining a primary and a secondary education schools. Magnet Schools programme in Barcelona is another measure oriented to increase the demand of low-demanded schools (see Magnet Schools).

The sizing of Comprehensive Institute (A1) is also a measure established by a municipal law by the City of Milan, defining the guidelines for the requalification and strengthening of the primary schools network. The sizing should take into consideration the goal of smoothening the unbalanced distribution of pupils in schools in the different CA.

5.1.3 Design and definition of catchment areas

Catchment areas are usually designed by local authorities based on the walking distance from home to schools. Even in those countries where freedom of choice has been introduced, catchment areas continue to have some administrative value, at least, as a criterion to prioritize access when the capacity of school has been reached.

Catchment areas can be designed taking into consideration different features:

  • The capacity of existing buildings in relation to the school-age population living in the surrounding area;
  • The social composition of the population living in the surrounding area;
  • Existing agreements between different school institutions

The main challenge in defining catchment areas is being able to foresee the evolution of the population. It is especially difficult when catchment areas do not overlap with statistical units such as census tracks or local administrative units.

Gibson and Ashtana (1998) have highlighted that the performance of a school is strongly related to the background of its catchment area. In fact, there is a clear relationship between school performance and a number of indicators of poverty and social deprivation. The wide disparity in the total score between schools, in fact, would appear to have a strongly defined geography, with low scoring schools overlapping with the most deprived areas.

5.1.4 De-segregation policies

Desegregation requires time. However, attempts to desegregate have been too often carried out via short term projects which frequently are based on external funding, and which terminates once the source of funding disappears.

Desegregation strategies must include awareness-raising campaigns, measures to overcome specific vested interests of different educational actors, and actions to ensure high expectations of all children and high-quality education for all of them. They also require funding arrangements to ensure that all schools have the professional expertise and the necessary means to implement inclusive education.

According the Council of Europe (2017) school choice per se does not inevitably generate discrimination. A high number of education systems provide education under quasi-market conditions, or allow for school choice under specific circumstances. In order to fight school segregation, school choice must be governed. In principle this includes measures such as defining school catchment areas, reserving places for students with special needs and limiting ratios of children from some disadvantaged groups in certain schools.

The educational system must rest on the assumption that all children can learn and have the potential to be educated. This implies developing high expectations regarding the learning outcomes of all children.

Here are some examples of de-segregation policies and practices:

  • Germany: The school experiments, Elbinselschule and Ganztagsschule Faehrstrasse, in Hamburg show how involved citizens, school staff and a committed school authority can work together towards the provision of a better educational offer in a disadvantaged urban district. While an impact on pupil outcomes has not yet been shown, in both cases an imminent foundation of a competing private school was averted which could potentially have led to further segregation in the district.
  • Switzerland: The Primano initiative has developed local approaches to increase the use of ECEC provision by disadvantaged parents. District coordinators who connect the many existing stakeholders within a city district are at the heart of this initiative. The networking activities organised by the district coordinators are combined with a house visit programme to reach disadvantaged families and training for ECEC staff. Primano has been shown to be effective in increasing disadvantaged children’s attendance in early childhood education and care. The initiative was introduced as pilot from 2007 to 2012 and mainstreamed thereafter.
  • Milan: a district in the city of Milan has made an agreement among schools (primary and lower secondary) in order to sustain and support among parents the attendance of the catchment area school to avoid the white flight effect. More in detail, the actions taken will be the following: 1) monitoring the re-design of the school catchment areas of the Municipality of Milan in order to maintain a more balanced composition in schools and classes; 2) promoting the knowledge of teaching methods and activities performed at schools; 3) fostering the participation of families to the school life (with a special attention to cultural and language barriers)
  • Barcelona: a new legal framework allows to change the ownership from private to public if there are unsatisfied schooling needs. Different changes in the regulation of the school supply at the State level (LOMLOE) and at Regional level (DECRET LLEI 10/2019) prioritise the obligation of the public bodies to respond to educational needs over families’ school choice priorities

UNIT 5.2. Admission policies


Admissions policy is one of the key areas in which educational policymakers can intervene to alter the distribution of pupils among schools and to achieve a greater balance in school composition. Thus, the regulation and implementation of admission criteria; the possibilities of school choice, the detection and distribution of vulnerable students or students with specific needs; the allocation of late arrivals; or decisions on school ratios may alter the current distribution of students as well as trigger changes in family strategies of school choice.

Beyond the particularities of each local context, raising some broader questions can be helpful for practitioners to reflect on the different limits of both the institutional settings in which they work and the diverse measures that can be promoted in order to reduce school segregation.

5.2.1 What is the potential impact of different admission policies on school segregation?

There are different mechanisms used by the educational authorities to manage the allocation of students to different schools of a given territory.

  • The allocation by proximity defines catchment areas of variable size, from only one school to many schools. Students living in the area are normally assigned to a school in the same area. The potential impact on school segregation of this admission policy will depend on aspects such as the size and the social composition of the area, the number of schools in the area or the overall residential segregation in the city.
  • The algorithmic allocation uses a specific operation to rank the school applications and pair them with the available sits in each school. Among the existing algorithms, the Immediate Acceptance (popularly known asBoston mechanism) is one of the most used. It matches students’ priorities with the available sits in successive rounds of allocation (distribution of all first preferences, then distribution of second preferences and so on). Access to oversubscribed schools in one round or the other is decided either through a lottery or according to certain prioritisation scales (proximity, siblings, income, etc.). This mechanism reduces the likelihood of accessing to a school included in the preference list if the first choice school is not accessed. This mechanism encourages families to be strategic when ranking their preferences and selecting the school in first choice (Alegre, 2017). An alternative algorithm used is de Deferred Acceptance (DA) mechanism. In this case, preferred schools are not assigned automatically in cases of overdemand. Allocation is deferred depending on how students are sorted based on the priority criteria. Compared to the Boston mechanism. The DA algorithm is strategy-proof.

Admission policy in Oslo

Admission to schools in Oslo is organized in catchment areas. According to national legislation, all children have a legal right to go to their local school.
The decision of which school is the student’s local school is based on the distance to the school from the student’s place of residence, but also other factors must be considered (safe school roads, sibling affiliation, overall local environments, the capacity of the school or students’ special needs).
However, parents can apply for their children to access another school. If there is a vacancy at the school applied for, the application must be granted. If there are more applicants than vacancies, the applicants are ranked according to the criteria given in the regulations on school exchange rules (distance, siblings, and safe school roads). If the school does not have vacancies, the school will refuse the application.

Admission policy in Barcelona

Admissions to schools in Barcelona combine the definition of catchment areas with the allocation of students through the Boston algorithm, resulting in a system of controlled choice. The proximity criteria defined for the city are complex. Students (their parents or tutors) have proximity priority to all schools within the catchment area of residence, to a minimum number of six public and six private subsidised schools closer to their place of residence, and to all within less than 500 metres from the student’s residence (even if they are situated outside the catchment area of residence).The system ensures a minimum number of 12 schools as geographically priority schools to all students, but results in a real average choice set over 16 schools per student to be enrolled and presents many inequalities among students depending on their place of residence. In cases of overdemand, school admission is based on three sorting criteria:proximity, siblings and low-income). If needed, other complementary criteria are considered (such as single motherhood).

Admission policy in Milano

Admissions to schools in Milano are based on the freedom of choice. The municipality defines the catchment area of each public school in the city. People living in the limits of the catchment area are entitled to attend their local school. However, parents cann freely apply to any school in the city, which are open to admit students if places are available. Since there is not system of planning and controlling oversupply, the admission process becomes a de facto free school choice system. In Milano, 56% of students do not attend to their local school (Cordini et al. 2019).


5.2.2 How to avoid selective practices of certain schools?

School admission regulations set the possibilities of school to select their students.. Despite selection is not permitted in most education systems, regulations may give margin to schools to apply different kind of practices for selecting their students such as fees, alternative schedules or additional educational activities . By offering these type of services, these schools ensure that only those families who can afford certain cost will be interesting in enrolling.. This kind of practices can be banned by regulations by the educational authorities, at least for all publicly funded schools.
On the other hand, regardless regulations prohibit these practices or not, schools can covertly select their students. For instance, providing selective information to families depending on their ethnic origin or social background, or treating them differently from the families they would prefer to enrol in the school. This kind of practices can be prevented, for example, by monitoring the “school open-days” or by promoting the organisation of coordinated open-days by all the schools in the same area. They can also be mitigated by making accessible all the information about the characteristics of the schools –costs, pedagogical project, additional activities, etc.

5.2.3 How are vulnerable or at-risk students detected? How is vulnerability defined?

The ultimate aim of the fight against school segregation is the balanced distribution of pupils with different profiles, so that all schools cater for pupils with more or less educational needs.

The education system must be able to respond to the different needs in all its schools. However, to make this possible it is necessary to avoid high levels of concentration of vulnerable or at-risk students.

Identifying educational needs as early as possible allows, on the one hand, to develop an early intervention on the causes of the problem, to reverse them when possible, or, at least, to reduce their impact on children’s educational trajectories. On the other hand, this early detection must allow for a balanced distribution of pupils with educational needs between schools from the very beginning of their school career.

Vulnerable or at-risk students can be defined as those students whose social,physical or mental conditions could threaten their opportunities to succeed in education. The detection strategies to develop depend on the causes of their vulnerability, . However, all strategies should count with the cooperation between educational and non-educationalactors. For instance, students with physical handicaps can benefit from an early detection by paediatric services, and students in situation of socioeconomic disadvantage can be detected at an early stage by social services.

5.2.4 What criteria can be used to ensure a balanced distribution of vulnerable students among schools?

Detection is crucial to ensure a balanced distribution of vulnerable students and to avoid their concentration in some schools. Once they are detected, however, some other strategies need to be developed.

For example, based on the detection done, educational authorities can reserve some places in each school for students at-risk and set a maximum number of these students to be enrolled in each school.

Education authorities can also intervene in the process of allocation of late arrival students (that is, students who enrol once the course has already started). Depending on their social and educational situation, educational authorities can set procedures of allocation to different school to avoid their concentration in the most deprived ones. the risk of concentration of late arrivals exists as students may reside in marginal areas and attend schools with high number of vacancies.

Another kind of measures can also be promoted such as reducing or increasing the size of the groups depending on the schools’ particular situation. A reduction of the school ratio in a school with many vulnerable students can both improve the educational attention they receive and at the same time prevent the entrance of other late arrivals to that school. Instead, in other cases rising the school ratio in some class groups to facilitate the entrance of late arrivals can be an interesting strategy to increase the heterogeneity of some schools with low presence of vulnerable students.. The promotion of one or other measure, or the desirable combination between them, will vary according to the particular geographical, socioeconomic and even legal situation of different education systems and contexts.

5.2.5 How can school or family frauds to access specific schools be detected? Which mechanisms are in place to react to fraud?

In systems of controlled choice or residence-based school admission systems, some schools or families may have incentives to commit fraud, either to facilitate the enrolment of certain students or to ensure access to specific schools. A common practice has been the declaration of a false residential address to get access to desired schools. In these cases, educational authorities . can review situations that are particularly prone to this fraudulent behaviour: changes of home registration in the months prior to the enrolment process, assessing the number of people registered at the same address, or the non-correspondence between the address that appears on the ID card of the registered parent or legal guardian and the address that appears in the enrolment form. In addition, preventive measures can also be promoted, such as sending a letter some time before the enrolment period starts to all families with children of school age, notifying them the current address in the municipal register, and warning that any change in the address before the enrolment period must be duly justified.

5.2.6 How to detect and prevent non-desired effects of regulation on family strategies to choose school?

Families’ strategies to choose school are deeply influenced by their knowledge about the school system and, particularly, about the admission policies and processes. This knowledge, in turn, is conditioned by the families’ socioeconomic and ethnic background. To prevent non-desired effects of regulation on families’ school choice tactics, some strategies can be developed. First, the admission policies and processes need to be as simple and transparent as possible. While this is a complex issue, information needs to be adapted to the different audiences–language, code.

More ambitiously, the measures can also be addressed to offer a more positive image of the education system as a whole, regardless of the characteristics of each school. The aim of this approach is to reduce the competitiveness among schools and to increase the social value of the public –or publicly funded- education system. Measures such as the coordination of the information provided by all schools or the involvement of the educational autthoritties in the organisation of collective open-days can improve families’ perceptions about public schools and reduce the pressure on the school choice decision.

UNIT 5.3. Information policies


Information is a key aspect of policies to tackle school segregation. Research has shown that access to information is unequally distributed and that different families use different strategies to gather information about the school system. Some families are more active than others in scanning the educational market, and may have more resources to access not only objective information about schools, but to contact to key informants to gather informal knowledge about the enrolment process, the school pedagogies or other relevant aspects to guide their choice. Local education authorities may play a crucial role in avoiding inequalities in accessing to privilege information that often results in higher levels of school segregation. This unit reflects on what, how and when specific information should be provided and offers examples of good practices to develop information strategies to prevent segregation processes.

5.3.1 Households’ choices and strategies

Households’ choices play a relevant role in school segregation. Market oriented reforms have increased the role of school choice in shaping school segregation. In countries with free or controlled choice, preferences are based on different characteristics of schools within a set of constrains (economic, logistic, religious, cultural). In residence-based school admission systems, school choice is closely related to the housing market. Families have residential preferences strongly connected to the educational aspirations for their children. Strategies are significantly heterogeneous among households, not only regarding the outcome of choice, but also in the way the choice process is made. Policymakers may need to know which criteria households use to choose a school and what type of information they search. Likewise, they may need to know which sources of information they trust and whether they use or not official information channels.

5.3.2. Criteria driving school choice

Far from reducing inequalities, reforms enhancing school choice often increase differences in the strategies used among households. Beyond socialorigin or income, choice in itself becomes a new ground of stratification dynamics. As observed in previous modules, school choice can be read as the result of households’ adaptation to the school allocation system.. While in school systems with centralized allocation mechanisms the school choice is usually performed by residential choice, in quasi market systems school choice can be guided by a wide range of factors. Information that families search and value plays a pivotal role to understand their choice criteria, and is a key aspect to design policies that can influence households’ choices to contain segregation dynamics.

Beyond the aspects that restrtict choice opportunities, such as high fees or the geography of school supply, the choice process is also based on availability and effectiveness of information. Availability and effectiveness of information are strongly connected and are unequally distributed among the population.

In the academic debate low-income parents or those with lowercultural capital have been considered often as “passive choosers” or “low interveners” (Haylett 2003) as they do not seem to be active in exploring the education market, even if they have the opportunity to do so. However, this vision has been criticized by its reductionism. Low-income households
actually makes choices that are not based on the same criteria used by the middle-class parents, which are understood as the most “active-choosers”. Low-income or low-educated households are certainly less strategic than the middle-class, which can be highly competitive to access the most desired schools.

Generally speaking, households with higher status seem more oriented to progressive-type school curricula, while lower SES households orparents from ethnic minorities tend to prefer more traditional academic programs.. In fact, despite academic quality is a transversal choice criteria, there are differences on which aspects of academic quality are valued by different types of families. Wealthier households seem to give importance to pedagogical values and environment, as well as to the opportunities that specific educational experiences could have on and the learning outcomes of their children. On the other hand, lower income parents seem to be more interested in accessing to basic information regarding educational attainment. Indeed, research has underlined that academic quality seems not to be the first criteria used by households when choosing a school, who give more relevance to school’s social composition, especially in the first grades. In particular, this kind of criteria is particularly used by households with higher status, that search for schools with fewer concentration of low-SES children (avoidance strategy).

On another matter, despite the existence of an education market and the increasing choice possibilities should potentially increase the parents’ inclination to be informed, both access and understanding of this information carries “costs” and difficulties.

To reduce the cost of providing basic information, educational authorities have made several attempts to promote standardised information systems. Strategies have mainly consisted in gathering basic information about schools and facilitating access to it to all potential choosers. These strategies have the risk of assuming that a standardised information to all families is a good practice, since the same information is made accessible to all potential users. However, the use of homogeneous and standardised information by different choosers differ, because choosers may prioritise different aspects and because there are household with much higher capacity to obtain alternative knowledge from other sources. This fact is not sufficiently considered when policymakers design information policies.

5.3.3. Information sources

Relatives and friends’ educational experiences tend to be one of the most relevant sources of information about schools, regardless of families’ socio-economic background. While this highlights the role played by informal networks in school choice it also makes more difficult to reduce inequalities in accessing to information, given that access to informal networks is strongly linked to the individuals’ social capital.

Scholars agree that the choice process is based on multiple sources of information, among which those based on “word of mouth” are considered the most useful and trustable.
Among low and middle-income households, information provided from parents or friends often focuses on “soft factors”, such as atmosphere and culture, which are less present in objective information and less accessible in discussions with teachers and administrators. In addition, research has shown how minorities and low-income parents tend to have smaller and less-quality social networks, and have also lesser capacity to evaluate the gathered information.

The differences among social classes are not necessarily based on schools’ characteristics. Rather, differences among classes are the result of different ways to feel affinity and different ways of perceiving the authority of the social network ties mobilised in the school choice process.In other words, the unequal capacity of families to mobilise trustable sources of information may explain who has access to what and even the different nature of priority criteria used by different social groups. Since low-income families have less access to reliable sources of information, they may compensate it with a higher access to official sources, which opens a possibility for information policies to guide choices to avoid school segregation.

5.3.4. Outcomes (of choices and strategies) at a territorial level

Despite outcomes of school choice processes are strongly dependent on local contexts, some general findings can be considered. Beyond differences in terms of choice criteria and educational aspirations, in educational quasi-markets inequalities increase because of information asymmetries. On the one hand, the cost of gathering information, alters families’ choice sets. High-income households can include private or more distant schools in their choice options because they have more resources, but also due to their better access and management of more information sources. On the other hand, actual quality and perceived quality of these sources matter. While all social contexts prioritize sources based on “word of mouth”, the crerdibility and reliability of the information source may be crucial to produce specific choice outcomes.

Interestingly, similar choice behaviours do not result automatically into similar choice outcomes. Despite more affluent households seem to give less importance to logistics, all parents tend to prefer schools nearby their home, but this may result in very different choice outcomes due to housing segregation. Similarly, despite all parents give a great importance to academic quality, the criteria and the opportunities to assess schools’ academic quality may differ, increasing educational stratification.

The mobilization of values in choice logics on the one hand, and “affinity” criteria in information source evaluations on the other, may lead similar households to choose the same school.

5.3.5 Which information for whom?

When public authorities attempt to increase choice opportunities for minority groups and low-income households, the risk of failing is high. Some families may not consider the supposedly objective information as the basis of their choice (such as school performance, for instance). In addition, public information may ignore other aspects which can be crucial to guide school choice, such as school climate or students’ security.

Such risks may increase in case of generalized and standardized communication strategies. While attempts to ensure “equal information for all” may represent an important goal, this cannot reduce the bias in decision making based on specific prejudices or on the legibility of information, such as data on school performance. As we have observed, household give different degrees of trustiness to different sources of information and this is the reason why the same information may have diverse impacts on the choice process.
One of the differences in the way different social groups gather information about schools lies on the intensity of the searching process. Middle and high-income households are significantly more active in the process of scanning the education market.

(Source"opening doors", by Teske et al. here:

(Source”opening doors”, by Teske et al. here:

According to these findings, the lesser activity of low-income households may depend on the lack of trusted and independent actors able to address/help parents in the school-choice process. This absence may favour no-choice behaviours, choices based on responses to marketing campaigns of some schools or choices based on superficial aspects which are not strategic in terms of maximising children’s educational opportunities.

UNIT 5.4. Compensatory policies


The fourth group of policies refers to strategies oriented to improve the situation of most marginalized pupils and/or most vulnerable schools. Compensatory education policies aim at offsetting educational inequalities between socially and academically disadvantaged children, ¡ and the more advantaged ones. This is usually done by providing underprivileged with (sufficiently) more resources in order to improve their learning progress and, ultimately, close the gap between schools and between pupils.

These policies first appeared in the 1960’s in Western countries, when mass schooling and equal access to education were found to be insufficient to ensure equal opportunities for all. Compensatory education was first introduced in the United States under Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This approach was soon imitated in England, Australia and the Netherlands, with countries like France, Belgium, Portugal, Greece and Romania following later (Ferraz et Al. 2019 Compensatory measures can be oriented to individuals (individual-based compensatory education) or schools (School- or place-based compensatory education).

All these programmes, albeit their significant differences, still form the core of policies to combat educational disadvantage in many Western countries. However, the effects of these programmes on educational inequality and school segregation show ambiguous results and underline the need to adequately implement these strategies to tackle school segregation. In this unit we first introduce these policies (both school-based and individual based) and the describe some critical aspects for a successive implementation.

5.4.1 School-based measures

School-based (or area-based- if oriented to specific districts or catchment areas) compensatory education, traditionally target schools in socially and academically deprived areas. The selection of the targeted schools is often made on the basis of social and academic criteria (location in deprived areas, poor academic achievement, large proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities or from disadvantaged social backgrounds, etc.). On the one hand, providing underprivileged schools with (sufficiently) more resources is expected to improve pupils’ performance and, ultimately, close the educational gap. On the other hand, providing better social and physical infrastructures in schools, as well as additional and innovative education opportunities, has been thought to be a good policy to enhance the reputation of schools and avoiding segregation processes.
Compensatory programmes have been implemented through several strategies and tools. In this unit we focus on strategies and policies such as monitoring segregation trends in schools; allocating additional economic resources to support the most vulnerable students or schools; allocating trained and/or experienced teachers to specific schools; supporting local community involvement in school’s activities.

Tools to monitor segregation trends in schools

In order to plan adequate compensatory policies, it is strategic to adopt tools to select the schools or areas to be targeted. This is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of the selection process and to avoid additional inequalities in the distribution of resources. A good example is the development of “Criticality Indices” by the Municipality of Milan. The main goal of the action is the determination, maintenance and development of a set of indices that function as descriptors of school’s vulnerability. Data refers to indices of school segregation) and the level of school demand attractiveness (developed by the Municipality of Milan). The segregation index is determined by the difference between the percentage of foreign students enrolled in a school and the percentage of foreign citizens in the corresponding age group residing in the school’s catchment area.
The overall demand attractiveness value is a ratio between the change in enrollments in a school and the change in the last ten years in the school age children living in the catchment area of that school.. Other sub-indices are also calculated beyond the overall attractiveness index, including attractiveness index for native Italians or attractiveness index for foreigners, The indices are routinely used by many Municipal services to ensure an effective and equitable targeting policy . However, these indices need to be used carefully in order to avoid schools’ stigmatization.

Additional financial resources to segregated schools

Providing additional financial resources to deprived schools is one of the most important tools in compensatory education policies. A good example is the Financing model for primary schools implemented in Oslo. The main goal is to develop a financial model to benefit those schools with a challenging student population, (defined as a student population from low socio-economic background or of foreign origin with limited knowledge of Norwegian language).The model consists in five different budget items: 1. A basic amount equal to all schools 2. A fixed amount per pupil 3. A socio-demographic allocation (This share is calculated on the basis of parental level of education, parental income level, proportion of welfare measures for children of primary school age in the school district. 4. A special language training element 5. An amount for students in 1st and 2nd grade (and a mobility rate), which takes into account the presence of a high number of foreign pupils.
Other compensatory programs aim to both provide more resources to segregated schools and de-segregate the students’ population. This case of the The Magnet Programme in Barcelona. It is inspired in the US Magnet schools traditional programmes Adapted to the Catalan context, it is based on the settlement of an alliance between a public primary school with a high percentage of vulnerable students and a public or private institution of reference and excellence in a specific field of knowledge: museums, research centers, professional organisations, etc (Picasso Museum, National Theatre of Catalonia, National Museum of Contemporary Arts, Science Museum -CosmoCaixa-, Mathematics Research Centre, The British Council, among others). These alliances are aimed at developing innovative and quality education projects in the most vulnerable schools in order to attract new families. Additionally, in order to improve the conditions of those schools with a high percentage of vulnerable students, two lines of action are developed. First, the reduction of the teacher/students ratio; second, the transfer of funds to develop cultural activities and other additional educational activities, and providing the necessary materials o develop the school’st educational project. In general, the impact of Magnet schools on the learning and social conditions of students is clearly positive. These programmes materialise the collaboration among many different organisations at the political level (promoters) and at the school level (alliances); additionally, the programmes provide Other compensatory programs aim to both provide more resources to segregated schools and de-segregate the students’ population. This case of the The Magnet Programme in Barcelona. It is inspired in the US Magnet schools traditional programmes Adapted to the Catalan context, it is based on the settlement of an alliance between a public primary school with a high percentage of vulnerable students and a public or private institution of reference and excellence in a specific field of knowledge: museums, research centers, professional organisations, etc (Picasso Museum, National Theatre of Catalonia, National Museum of Contemporary Arts, Science Museum -CosmoCaixa-, Mathematics Research Centre, The British Council, among others). These alliances are aimed at developing innovative and quality education projects in the most vulnerable schools in order to attract new families. Additionally, in order to improve the conditions of those schools with a high percentage of vulnerable students, two lines of action are developed. First, the reduction of the teacher/students ratio; second, the transfer of funds to develop cultural activities and other additional educational activities, and providing the necessary materials o develop the school’st educational project. In general, the impact of Magnet schools on the learning and social conditions of students is clearly positive. These programmes materialise the collaboration among many different organisations at the political level (promoters) and at the school level (alliances); additionally, the programmes provide participant schools with training and support for three years which can contribute to the maintain the education quality of the school However, Magnet schools’ impact on demand behaviour is uncertain and therefore their ability to tackle school segregation can be limited. Despite significant changes in the educational project and results, middle-class families are reluctant to attend.

Allocation of trained professionals

Socio-economically deprived schools usually face high levels of teacher turnover. Social problems, low educational expectations, difficulties related to career development and the absence of incentives to work in deprived schools stimulate teacher turnover and prevent the consolidation of stable and long-term educational projects. Some states have a system of incentives for teachers’ professional development in which career paths are defined depending on the school or teacher performance. However, measures that connect career paths to professional experience in schools located in socially and economically deprived neighborhoods are less frequent. For these reasons, some municipalities have introduced specific strategies to allocate and keep trained and/or experienced teachers in vulnerable schools. This is the case of Oslo, where the most vulnerable schools needed experienced teachers and leaders, able to produce and manage plans to increase the educational opportunities of vulnerable children. The city of Oslo has therefore focused for several years on recruiting and retaining skilled leaders and teachers in vulnerable areas. They have introduced salary incentives among other measures The project is led by the local city administration in collaboration with the national government. The project started in 2007 with a the timeline of 10 years. Based on the successful results in terms of reduced turnover among teachers, in 2017 there was a new agreement to continue for another 10 years until 2026.

Another interesting strategy is the integration of specialized personnel in the schools’ teams. One example is the case of allocation of socio-educational and emotional counsellors in Barcelona schools, in the context of The Neighbourhood Plan strategy. It is a 4 year strategy developed by the City Council of Barcelona that targets the most vulnerable areas of the city. It aims at improving and enhancing the social capital of their inhabitants so they can set objectives and actions to collectively and innovatively improve their living conditions. Education and public health is one of the dimensions of the intervention Plan. Within this dimension, the Programme “From the teaching team, to the educational team” incorporatessocio-educational and emotional counsellors in schools to enlarge their communitarian glance and, in particular, to emphasise the relevance of mental and emotional health for students’ wellbeing. The programme expects that these professionals will improve the tools of teachers to manage daily activities with vulnerable students and families. At the same time, beyond particular tools and methodologies, the Progamme aims at enhancing the communitarian approach among members of the the school team.

Open schools as resource for the neighbourhood

Another compensatory education strategy is to develop the concept of school as a civic center, a place for inclusion overcoming any discrimination, open to the territory and for the community, through the activation and support of initiatives for the expansion of the educational offer in after school hours.
In Milan, The “Scuole Aperte” (Open Schools) project aims to ensure that every child/youth has equal opportunities for educational success and personal growth. It has been developed though a call for: a) the implementation of activities in after-school hours and during school closure periods aiming to combat early school leaving and make schools attractive; b) collection and distribution of private donations (corporate, citizens, associations) to support distance learning for children and young people without the necessary equipment during the COVID-19 emergency; c) free offer of a range of activities promoted by the Third Sector with the objective to value shared spaces; the production of culture in neighborhoods and local communities to facilitate social cohesion, education and training.

Also the Municipality of Oslo has developed a strategy to open schools in the evening and during vacations. Since 2006, Oslo has arranged summer schools for children and young people in the city. The purpose of the Oslo Summer School is that all students may learn something new, meet academic challenges and have good experiences in a safe social environment. The Summer School is a free offer for students in grades 1-10 and upper secondary education living in Oslo. All courses are based on one of the subjects follwong subjects: Norwegian, mathematics, science, ICT, foreign languages or vocational subjects. In addition, many courses are combined with topics such as language, dance, photography, outdoor life, drama, journalism and programming. The learning arena are classroom, the schoolyard, the school’s local environment and the city. Every day, students have a session of physical activity, and many have swimming lessons. Additionally, several districts and schools have set up extra offers during holidays.

5.4.2 Individual-based compensatory measures

These policies target pupils at risk of academic or social disadvantage, regardless of the school /area where the pupils are located. These measures include, for example, the provision of separate or additional training in the local mother tongue, or extra support in other subjects. Other individual compensatory measures include economic support to vulnerable students.

Additional training in the local mother tongue

In Oslo, all the students, both in primary and secondary education, have a legal right to “adapted education”. Pupils with a mother tongue other than Norwegian have the right to special language education. They may also be entitled to mother tongue training and / or bilingual vocational training if they need it. Specifically, Special Norwegian language training is a reinforced, adapted teaching in Norwegian; bilingual vocational education is education in subjects in Norwegian and in the student’s mother tongue.. Special Norwegian language tuition and bilingual vocational training are provided at the school the pupil attend. It has not been determined how many years the pupils can receive special language instruction, but special language instruction shall be a transitional arrangement until the pupils have acquired good enough Norwegian skills to follow ordinary instruction. Special Norwegian language teaching and bilingual vocational training are given within the ordinary number of hours, while mother tongue instruction is given in addition to the ordinary number of hours. The special language training was evaluated in 2016. The vast majority of the informants in the evaluation considered itas very positive. This is stated by pupils, teachers, school leaders and school owners in both primary and secondary education. «. However, in many cases the offer is not well enough adapted to the individual pupil, and that the transitions between different schools and between special language teaching and ordinary education do not work satisfactorily. In many schools, it is challenging to get teachers with competence in teaching the target group. In order to establish a good connection between special language teaching and ordinary teaching, it is necessary that the teachers work closely together.

Support for other students’ needs

Students detected as vulnerable by some of the responsible institutions (see Detection) are granted with 50% to 100% of the school meals’ cost in Barcelona. Additionally, a variable number of these students (those who participate in the Shock Plan Against School Segregation), are granted with gratuity (publicly funded private schools) and other economic costs such as school material and excursions (public schools). These expenses are assumed by the local education authority. Free school meals are a direct measure to ensure that vulnerable students would have at least a complete meal per day and are also an indirect measure for preventing absenteeism of those students that go home to eat and don’t return to school in the afternoon.

Additionally the Barcelona’s city council also provides funding to improve the participation of vulnerable students in after-school activities. The objective of the LEA is to stimulate vulnerable families to send their children to these programs. Therefore, guidance and support to vulnerable families have been promoted to easy their access to the information about the existing supply and to guide them in the process of enrolment. In addition, those students already considered as vulnerable by the administration automatically obtain a grant. Reducing the economic barriers for vulnerable students to access after-curricular educational activities can improve their educational experiences and outcomes and reduce inequalities among the youth in the city. However, the participation of vulnerable families in extra-school activities is still low.


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