The determinants and clustering of school intakes

The immediate and longer-term impacts of school intakes


The socio-economic composition of the pupil body in schools is plausibly related to equal opportunities, the apparent effectiveness of schools, and the long-term formation of an equitable society. A number of contemporary policies in England are likely to exacerbate the stratification of secondary school intakes, and encourage school competition in terms of attainment, while requiring their increased co-operation and a focus on softer outcomes such as preparation for citizenship. In an era of extended initial education (for students aged 14-19), this new study will answer fundamental questions about the nature of schools, and practical questions about improving and widening opportunities for the most marginalized pupils. The effect on examination outcomes of who one is at school with is so slight that there must be doubts whether it exists (Nash 2003, Gorard 2006), but its impact on citizenship formation is slightly clearer (Donelly 2004, Smith and Gorard 2006). Also clearer is its role in the creation of a ‘learner identity’, filtering future opportunities (Gorard and Selwyn 2005, Gorard et al. 2007), so making the school mix a potentially key element for widening participation strategies.

This new study uses existing data from all secondary schools in England 1999/2000-2009/2010, coupled with a national survey of pupils, to provide a wide-ranging and rigorous test of the immediate and longer-term impacts of school intakes. The outcomes of particular concern are pupil enjoyment, participation and preparation for citizenship. The statistical modelling will uncover the likely determinants of progress in these outcomes, once the individual background characteristics of pupils are accounted for. The results will be of relevance to all national school systems. The initial research questions are:

  • What are the patterns of socio-economic stratification of pupils between secondary schools in England 1999/2000 to 2009/2010?
  • How are pupil aspirations, plans for participation and enjoyment of learning related to the stratification of their school intakes?
  • How are pupil patterns of immediate post-16/17 participation related to the stratification of their prior school intakes?
  • How are pupil patterns of later participation in education and training related to the stratification of their prior school intakes?


The school system in the UK is under considerable pressure to help deliver economic competitiveness, high levels of qualification and social mobility. It is on such factors that the success, or otherwise, of educational policies and practices are routinely judged. Models of school effectiveness and complex methods of assessing school standards are predicated on these factors. This is especially true of England (selected for study here as it has the most complete individual records of pupil progress at school). These approaches have tended to focus political and practitioner attention on a rather narrow range of school outcomes – formal qualifications. They have also tended to encourage competition between schools for those pupils most likely to be successful in these rather narrow terms (Wolf et al. 2004). Such competition is part of the reason for stratified intakes to schools, as judged by indicators of disadvantage such as poverty clustering in specific schools (Croxford and Paterson 2006), while current policies such as increases in faith schools are likely to exacerbate the situation (Walford 2003).

There are other pressures on the school system (Audit Commission 2003, Massey and Denton 1998), such as a demand for equity in terms of opportunity and thresholds for literacy and numeracy. Recent policies, including the 14-19 Reform Programme, demand more co-operation between education providers and, at least rhetorically, widen the focus of school outcomes to include learner enjoyment, future participation in education and training, and preparation for citizenship. At the same time the introduction of new forms of qualification (such the National Diploma), to sit alongside a wide range of more traditional qualifications for pupils aged 14 to 19, might increase the distinction between perceived tiers both within and between schools. Over the next few years, how will these various objectives, reforms and mix of desired outcomes fare?

This project is a combination of three threads from my own work:

  •  Using large-scale existing datasets to monitor the patterns of pupil intakes to schools, and consider their determinants and impact upon pupil attainment (e.g. Gorard et al. 2003, Gorard 2005, 2008).
  •  Large-scale international surveys of the views of pupils on fairness, aspiration and enjoyment (e.g. EGREES 2005, Gorard and Sundaram 2008).
  •  Life history studies of the impact of school experience on subsequent participation and enjoyment of learning (e.g. Gorard and Rees 2002, Selwyn et al. 2006).

What I have not been able to do, because these have been separate projects and datasets is to combine these elements in any way. There are snapshot indications that the changing nature of school intakes has an impact on pupils’ immediate and longer term uptake of educational opportunities, but these are not sufficient to base any kind of national or regional policy on. Whatever the findings of this study, it is important to know whether and to what extent school organisation factors can be manipulated to encourage equity in a wider range of outcomes than immediate qualification.

Thus, I have the necessary techniques and instruments. However, I also see this project as an exciting opportunity to extend the range of techniques and datasets I use. I am leaving some elements of the design flexible, both to meet changes in policy over the next three years, and to adapt to improvements in available data.


The provisional timetable for the project is conceived in three distinct phases of analysing school intakes, relating the ensuing patterns to pupil-level outcomes at school, and then relating them to longer-term pupil-level participation in education and training.

  • What are the patterns of socio-economic stratification of pupils between secondary schools in England 1999/2000 to 2009/2010?

This continues my prior work assessing SES segregation between schools, using annual schools census (ASC) data, expanding the range of measures used and bringing the analysis up-to-date (1999/2000-2009/2010). All available indicators will be mapped (including free school meals, ethnicity, first language, special needs, and sex). A range of summary techniques will be used (including graphical methods, the dissimilarity index, and the Gorard Segregation Index). The analysis will be national, by economic region, local authority, and school type. The individual school-level results will be linked to geographic and contextual information in Edubase, and then modelled to help explain differences in school intakes.

  •  How are pupil aspirations, plans for participation and enjoyment of learning related to the stratification of their school intakes?

A large-scale national survey of school pupils, using an instrument and delivery derived from EGREES (2008), will uncover family background characteristics of pupils, and give pupils a clear voice in the study. The outcomes considered include their developing sense of justice, citizenship criteria (part-based on vignettes), and occupational and educational aspirations. These will be modelled in terms of background and linked to the appropriate school-level findings in Phase 1. A number of multi-layered techniques, including logistic regression, will be used for this and other analyses.

  •  How are pupil patterns of immediate post-16/17 participation related to the stratification of their prior school intakes?

The results from Phase 1 will be used to help explain actual patterns of pupil immediate post-compulsory participation, using prior attainment as a plausible predictor, once individual background is accounted for. The data for individual pupil trajectories will be developed from the Pupil-Level Annual Schools Census and the National Pupil Database (2002-2009), linked across Key Stages 4 and 5.

  •  How are pupil patterns of later participation in education and training related to the stratification of their prior school intakes?

It is hoped that by 2010/11, it will be possible to follow students once they leave immediate post-compulsory education to extended further and higher education or training, by linking the existing datasets held by DCSF, LSC and HEAS (used as above). If not, the best alternative is to extend Phase 1 back to the 1980s, and link these school intakes to individual trajectories of the BCS70 cohort born in 1970.

While much of the data comes from official statistics, the cleaning, linking and modelling involved, plus the national survey of pupils, makes this project a time-consuming operation. More importantly, it is a project that requires considerable focus on these complex datasets. At each stage, field notes, documents and ad hoc interviews with participants will help enrich the picture.

This work will produce one book, around six journal and six practitioner articles. Summaries of results will be presented to policy-makers, advisers, think tanks, and the media.


Audit Commission (2003) School place planning: the influence of school place planning on school standards and social inclusion, HMI587,

Croxford, L. and Paterson, L. (2006) Trends in social class segregation between schools in England, Wales and Scotland since 1984, Research Papers in Education, 21, 4, 381-406

Donelly, C. (2004) Constructing the ethos of tolerance and respect in an integrated school, British Educational Research Journal, 30, 2, 263-278

EGREES (2005) Equity in European Educational Systems: a set of indicators, European Educational Research Journal, 4, 2, 1-151

EGREES (2008) Developing a sense of justice among disadvantaged students: the role of schools, Birmingham: European Group for Research on Equity in Education Systems, 141 pages

Gorard, S. (2006) Is there a school mix effect?, Educational Review, 58, 1, 87-94

Gorard, S. (2009) What are Academies the answer to?, Journal of Education Policy, (forthcoming)

Gorard, S. and Rees, G. (2002) Creating a learning society?, Bristol: Policy Press

Gorard, S. and Selwyn, N. (2005) What makes a lifelong learner?, Teachers College Record, 107, 6, 1193-1216

Gorard, S. and Sundaram, V. (2008) Equity and its relationship to citizenship education, pp.71-79, in Arthur, J., Davies, I. and Hahn, C. (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, London: Sage, ISBN 978-1-4129-3620-0

Gorard, S., Taylor, C. and Fitz, J. (2003) Schools, Markets and Choice Policies,London: RoutledgeFalmer

Gorard, S., with Adnett, N., May, H., Slack, K., Smith, E. and Thomas, L. (2007) Overcoming barriers to HE, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books

Massey, D. and Denton, N. (1998) American Apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass, Harvard: Harvard University Press

Nash, R. (2003) Is the school composition effect real? A discussion with evidence from the UK PISA data, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 14, 4, 441-457

Selwyn, N., Gorard, S. and Furlong, J. (2006) Adult learning in the digital age, London: RoutledgeFalmer

Smith, E. and Gorard, S. (2006) Pupils’ views of equity in education, Compare, 36, 1, 41-56

Walford, G. (2003) Separate schools for religious minorities in England and the Netherlands, Research Papers in Education, 18, 3, 281-299

Wolf, P., Macedo, S., Ferrero and Venegoni (Eds.) School choice and civic values, Washington: Brookings Institution

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