26 January 2023

Various intake rules for upper secondary schools affect segregation among students. The effect is less than from other factors, but still clear. This is the conclusion of a new study written by researchers at Linköping University.

Eduardo Tapia. Thor Balkhed

New results

The fact that housing segregation and the students' own educational choices create segregation in schools is well established and has long been the focus of debate. However, the possible effect of schools' own intake rules on segregation has up to now remained relatively unknown and unexplored.

In the scientific article Schools priority rules and ethnic school segregation, Eduardo Tapia from the Institute for Analytical Sociology, IAS, investigates precisely this – how admission based on grades and geographical proximity affects the composition of students compared to random intake. The study is based both on hundreds of thousands of upper secondary school applications in Stockholm between 2013 and 2017 and large-scale computer simulations.

Two factors

The simulations kept the number of schools, programmes, educational places and applicants constant for the period in question. In this way, the researchers were able to isolate the impact of the intake rules and remove other factors.

Photo credit Thor Balkhed

“Now we know not only that intake affects segregation, but also why it does. This is something we always strive for as analytical sociologists,” says Eduardo Tapia.

The study shows that intake based on grades increases ethnic segregation by 6.7 percent compared to random intake. Intake based on geographical proximity also increased segregation, but to a somewhat lesser extent.

The explanation for segregation through grade-based intake is that ethnic Swedish students generally have higher grades than students with foreign-born parents, and thus more often get into their first choice of school. And these are usually schools where ethnic Swedish students are over-represented. The reason for segregation through distance-based intake is the strong correlation between school and residential segregation. The closer a student lives to the school they go to, the greater the chance that the school has a large proportion of students with the same ethnic background.

Powerful model

In both cases, the correlations examined are clear. At the same time, they are considerably weaker than for the two most important factors behind ethnic division in schools: housing segregation and the students' own choice of school. Previous studies have shown that housing accounts for 86 percent of segregation and school choice for the remaining 14 percent.

Photo credit Thor Balkhed

“It’s important to remember that other correlations carry greater weight. But segregation is complex, and we now know that these factors also play a part. As a researcher, I put the problems on the table and then politicians and others have to decide what to do,” says Eduardo Tapia.

In addition to the main results, the study also shows that the students' ranking of different education options in itself increases the over-subscription of various schools. Over time, this reduces the chance of getting into first choice schools, and also increases the number of students who do not make it into any school at all. This was an unexpected result, which was shown by the simulations that were conducted.

In the future, Eduardo Tapia hopes to deepen the understanding of school segregation and to explore several factors that influence the division of students. This study is just the first step. For example, he is working with an index of the reputation a school can have – a factor that can then be used in the simulation tool utilised by IAS researchers.

“There was a lot of work involved in the development of this model for simulations. But now we have a tool that is populated with data from a wide range of different areas. It’s a powerful model for future research,” he says. 

Article: Schools priority rules and ethnic school segregation, Eduardo Tapia (2022), British Journal of Sociology of Education, published online 15 December 2022, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2022.2154640

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