Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Self-Managing Schools and Access for Disadvantaged Students: Organizational Behaviour and School Admissions

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Self-Managing Schools and Access for Disadvantaged Students: Organizational Behaviour and School Admissions

Article excerpt


New Zealand moved two decades ago toward a self-managing model for schools, which included requiring schools to impose geographic admissions' schemes when oversubscribed. There is global interest in alternative models of decentralized school governance, and this model offers a useful case for studying how schools use autonomy in more competitive environments. A central question is whether such systems can provide access to desired schooling options for disadvantaged students. This paper uses geo-spatial analyses to take a snapshot of how schools draw attendance boundaries relative to the demographic distribution of different communities. The evidence indicates that many more affluent schools create zones that, individually and in the aggregate, limit access to more desirable schools for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The patterns suggest that schools may do this in order to protect or enhance their market positions.

Keywords: enrolment patterns; access; geographic analysis; equity.

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Policymakers across the globe increasingly embrace school choice as a way to improve diverse educational options, especially for disadvantaged students underserved in state-run schools. Research on school choice systems indicates that competition generated by liberated consumer choice can spark administrative innovations (Lubienski, 2009). Indeed, consumer demand can be a powerful force in creating incentives for schools to improve access, especially when per-pupil funding gives schools reasons to serve additional students. Thus, efforts to erase school attendance boundaries have the theoretical potential to open up opportunities for students from disadvantaged communities to choose schools other than their local school, based on academic quality rather than attendance zones.

Where enrolment is by residence rather than choice, affluent families often pay a premium to buy homes near popular schools to secure a place for their children (Dougherty et al., 2009; Holme, 2002). Yet, just as there are concerns that residencebased enrolment plans increase segregation, there is concern that competition may cause schools to adopt policies (such as marketing) or admissions' practices that may also limit opportunities for poorer students. This raises the question as to how market-style competition shapes organizational behaviour for schools as they compete for students.

Research on student sorting in choice systems is mixed (Garcia, 2008; Gorard, Fitz, & Taylor, 2003; Lauder et al., 1999). Most such research examines demand-side parental preferences (Bell, 2008; Schneider & Buckley, 2002). But we know little about the role of schools themselves in advancing or ameliorating segregation, despite the fact that choice systems are intended to incentivize the behaviour of deregulated schools. Much of the work that has been done has been on the United States, even though the policy context in other countries often represents a better test of educational 'markets'. Understanding patterns of access in choice systems is crucial in assessing the potential of choice to shape the incentives necessary for schools to provide all students -and particularly disadvantaged students-with quality opportunities. This project uses geo-spatial methods to examine the spatial arrangement of school enrolment boundaries in New Zealand's largest educational market. There are competing theories about how schools might act when given the autonomy to choose their enrolment boundaries. Market theory (Davies, Quirke, & Aurini, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2013; Smith, 2003; Walberg, 2000) would predict that, faced with competitive incentives and opportunities to serve students dissatisfied with their assigned school, schools will work to attract those underserved students-and their per-pupil funding. But there is also an alternative view: that schools may configure their enrolment boundaries to attract advantaged, easier-to-educate students, thereby limiting access for the more disadvantaged (Pearce & Gordon, 2004). …

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