Preventing social segregation to improve equity in education
In recent years, levels of social segregation have increased in several European capital cities (see here). Against this background, a recent study analyzed to what extent education systems in European countries are socially segregated, and whether social segregation between schools is related to social inequality in student achievement.
Social segregation in education systems
In socially segregated systems, students from different socioeconomic backgrounds are unevenly distributed across schools. That is, a disproportionate share of disadvantaged students is clustered in specific schools and hence separated from their advantaged counterparts who attend other schools. Where students are highly socially segregated between schools, resources that contribute to students’ educational progression and success are more unequally distributed. An unequal distribution of socioeconomic resources among student populations may lead to inequalities in educational opportunities and outcomes, because schools draw on such resources informally in educating students.
This study shows that social segregation in education systems varied substantially across European countries. Segregation was relatively low in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, but considerably higher, for instance, in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Table 1 provides a ranking of countries according to the level of social segregation in their education system.
Table 1. Levels of social segregation in European education systems.
|Note. Greater figures indicate greater social segregation between schools and therefore greater within-school similarity of students along socioeconomic lines. Own calculations, based on PISA 2012 data.|
The link between social segregation and social inequality in student achievement
The study also examined to what extent social segregation is associated with social inequality in student achievement, that is, the strength of the link between socioeconomic status and student achievement in a given country. Figure 1 shows that there was a moderate positive relationship between segregation and social inequality in achievement. This supports theory in respect to social class inequalities in education being more pronounced in those systems where socially diverse students are less evenly distributed across schools.
The findings from this cross-national study provide evidence of an important correlate of social segregation in education systems, indicating that social segregation may contribute to the perpetuation of inequality across generations.
The study was part of a project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 791804.