While the school attended explains a relatively small proportion of the variation in pupil outcomes it still matters. The difference in outcomes between the highest and lowest performing schools on the government’s key measure of performance is equivalent to around two grades in each GCSE subject.
It is not simply about attainment. For example, the school a child attends might affect whether they have appropriate support for special educational needs, and whether they are more likely to be excluded or experience an unexplained exit.
But access to high performing schools is still not equitable, and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to attend good schools than are their peers. School admissions criteria, the location of high performing schools, parental preferences, and family resources available to navigate the admissions system (financial, social and educational), all appear to play a role in determining this outcome.
None of the parties have presented an evidence-based suite of policies that will improve access to good school places and address inequalities of access across the country.
The research evidence suggests that large scale structural reform is unlikely to have a significant impact – positive or negative – on pupil outcomes. While the Conservative Party support the ongoing expansion of academies and free schools they are perhaps less vocal than they have been in the past, particularly on the former. The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats would reduce the powers of multi-academy trusts but appear to have stopped some way short of abandoning academies altogether. It is the Green Party that are proposing the largest changes, calling for academies to return to local authority control.
Such an approach represents a significant suite of reforms for unknown, and unproven gains. They would also attract significant cost and capacity demands in both central and local government.
Grammar schools have not been the significant factor they were in manifestos in 2017, however there are indications that the Conservative Party would retain the option of expansion without saying so explicitly. The Liberal Democrats have ruled out any support for such an expansion.
Commitments on providing places for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are somewhat limited. While most parties have discussed additional funding for these pupils there is a paucity of other policy and the Conservative Party’s commitment to the expansion of alternative provision is framed as a mechanism for managing pupils who have been excluded rather than a setting that is necessarily in the child’s best interests.
You can download the full analysis of this priority here.