School choice and the city: Geographies of allocation and segregation

Deborah Wilson, Gary Bridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (SciVal)


Urban research has increasingly acknowledged the significance of the social and spatial composition of schools in the broader socio-spatial dynamics of cities overall. With increasingly marketised education systems, parental choice of school is a key mechanism affecting wider urban processes such as gentrification. Most research into school choice in cities concentrates on the dynamics of choice (how and what parents say they choose). Fewer studies deal with the relationship between choice and the subsequent allocation of pupils to schools. This paper reports the findings of an international systematic review of the connections between parental choice and pupil allocation in school choice systems across the globe. We find that school choice is associated with higher levels of segregation of pupils from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds between schools. This finding is consistent across all types of choice mechanism, in different countries and cities, and across choice systems that have been in place for different lengths of time. The reasons behind the observed relationship are, however, highly localised and contextual, including particularities of the choice mechanism, social composition of neighbourhoods and mix of school types in a city. Increases in between-school segregation may lead to schools being more homogeneous in their social composition, with broader implications for social cohesion and educational inequalities in cities. Relating the findings to the broader urban school literatures, we suggest that scales and geographies of allocation are critical in understanding the dilemmas and dynamics of choice, the resultant inequalities, and any proposed interventions or solutions to reduce these inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3198-3215
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • school choice
  • segregation
  • urban schooling
  • allocation
  • equality of opportunity


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