Panel A.08 — Mapping School Segregation

Convenors Andrea Parma (Polytechnic of Milan); Debora Mantovani (University of Bologna)

Keywords school segregation, educational inequalities, school choice


Many European countries have recently promoted political reforms aimed at liberalizing the public education sector introducing schools’ autonomy and school choice (Whitty 2010), which should have reduced the relationship between residential and school segregation: parents and their children have acquired freedom of choice, which has also nurtured competition between schools.

Paradoxically, a side effect of these reforms has been an intensification of inequalities. Research has stressed that middle- and upper-class families are highly engaged in school selection strategies (Van Zanten and Obin 2010). In particular, they are more likely to avoid schools where there is a high concentration of socio-economic and culturally disadvantaged students and/or foreign-origin pupils by either enrolling their children in private fee-based schools or selecting public schools located outside their catchment area with a low concentration of groups perceived as disadvantaged. This can lead to exacerbate the uneven distribution of students with certain characteristics between schools and give rise to so-called “ghetto schools”.

Educational inequalities may also be encouraged by school systems based on tracking: academic vs. vocational institutes. The former are characterized by students with higher educational performances detected by international and national standardized tests (Oecd 2019; Invalsi 2022). Furthermore, if tracking – usually implemented in high school – is aimed at adjusting curriculum to students’ interests, empirical evidence stresses that native and middle- and upper-class children are more likely to attend an academic track – which leads to tertiary education – whereas students with disadvantaged families and/or with a migratory background are more likely to opt for a vocational track – which permit to achieve educational credentials required to enter immediately the labour market.

Additionally, analysis about school segregation should not be reduced to the most visible between-school disparity but should also be investigated as differences within schools. Indeed, in order to avoid the “school flight” strategy – the phenomenon played by socio-economic and culturally advantaged families consisting in withdrawing their children from the mixed-race public schools (Boterman et al. 2019) – principals may opt for grouping pupils belonging to poor socio-economic and/or ethnic families in some classes.

Exploring school segregation in its multifaceted dimensions is relevant considering its consequences on pupils – especially those concentrated in “ghetto schools” – such as the potential presence of the so-called “school effect” on students’ learning achievements (Carbonaro et al. 2023; Dronkers 2007) and the impacts on students’ future educational trajectories (type of track chosen, decision to drop-outs).

This session aims to stimulate interdisciplinary knowledge exchange of the interrelation between school choice and the reproduction of educational inequality. In particular, this session will focus on the following topics:

– forms of social and/or ethnic school segregation;

– trends of change in educational segregation forms in metropolitan areas;

– comparative studies of educational segregation in different urban contexts;

– relationship between residential and school segregation and its determinants;

– exploration of the educational effects of segregation

– families’ school choice patterns and their consequences on school segregation;

– (un)even distribution of students among classes within schools.


Guidelines and abstracts submission