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Families in the 'Public-markets': School choice in the comprehensive school.

Piia Hirvenoja

University of Turku, Finland

Department of Education

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Edinburgh, 20-23 September 2000

Piia Hirvenoja
Researcher, PhD student, Department of Education
FIN 20014 University of Turku
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School choice in the sense of parental choice has become a major policy adopted to governance of education also in the compulsory phase of education in many countries. As aside of parental choice, school choice refers as well to school selection as many researchers have concluded in their studies. Selection of pupils at compulsory phase of education is opposite to the idea of homogeneous comprehensive school cherished in Scandinavia since the 1970's. Along the 1990's school choice has become a part of the education policy also in Finland, in practise in urban areas that have several schools to choose from.

In this paper I examine the operation of school choice in the Finnish comprehensive school system in detail comparing it to other governance systems. Empirical studies on school choice have conducted particularly in the English speaking world since market-like policy changes took place during the 1980's. These studies use mostly a notion of 'quasi-markets', formulated by Le Grand and Bartlett, for describing the prevailing policy that operates in the local level of compulsory education. The introduction of quasi-markets usually involves a combination of parental choice and school autonomy, together with a considerable degree of public accountability and government regulation (Whitty, Power, & Halpin 1998a, 4). Originally 'quasi-markets' were defined as markets because of the idea that government founding of service provision is separated from its production, which is undertaken by competing agents. Woods, Bagley and Glatter argue that 'quasi-market' is an inadequate model of the types of administrative arrangements and policy structures that characterise school education. Models fail to make other, political and social, factors integral to the 'quasi-market'. Woods & al. set out and argue the case for an analytical model which they name as a public-market. The model is distinguished from the notion of the free market by the structural position and significance afforded to the public interest. State education policy and provision in England and Wales and in many countries combine elements of the free market and of the planned public service. (Woods & al. 1998, 136-137).

The concept of 'quasi-market' can neither be adopted as such to describe the school choice in the comprehensive school system of Finland. However education governance in Finland differs from that of the 'English speaking countries' in the scope of free market elements combined to public planning. For example private schools in a sense of financial, organisational and substance autonomy or even public schools that would be notable independent of national curriculum does not exist in substantial amount in Finland, there are only very few in the whole country. In addition 'accountability' of schools in a sense of 'league tables' based on national exams is absent from governance of the comprehensive school system. Despite public ownership of schools in compulsory education the 'market' as part of the concept can be used referring to local structures where supply of schools and demand of families exist. In other words since families have given an opportunity to choose another school than which is allocated on basis of their residence and schools are able to take pupils outside the catchment area there is market-like situation inside the publicly maintained school system, mainly in cities. Thus I use the notion of public-markets when viewing a market-like situation inside publicly organised compulsory education as comprehensive school is.

Lauder, Hughes and the research team write that markets need to be studied in context because the outcomes generated by educational markets will be determined both by the formal properties and informal arrangements of and within the market. By formal properties they refer to legislation. Informal arrangements within a market are created by actors, in this case schools, who will respond to competition by modifying it to their advantage. Lauder & al. call the outcomes of this combination of the formal and informal properties of a market the lived market. (Lauder & Hughes 1999, 84.) The notion of 'lived market' describes well my aim to capture empirically operation of school choice in Finland. This paper focuses on the formal properties of public-markets and the informal arrangements are studied at the local level, in some case cities.

This paper examines how families have been acting in a new 'public-market' situation in the comprehensive school system. In this paper I present some early results of the data collected in Finland mainly during 1999 and 2000. It would be interesting to see whether the families' choices and thus the operation of public-markets vary in different contexts of educational policies and governance. Thus my wider aim in this paper is to view, whether the school markets in the comprehensive school system follow the same patterns or get similar features as the local school markets described and explained by research done in different countries.

The paper describes first the Finnish context, how the market-like policy has adapted to the public comprehensive school in Finland with a thin comparison to England. Secondly the paper outlines a structure of local comprehensive school markets in three cities of Finland comparing it to research results of 'local school markets' in other countries, mostly in Scotland, England, France and New Zealand. It is asked, does the operation of school choice policies in a comprehensive schools system deviate from other governance contexts of basic education. I focus on an overall activity of families to apply to other than catchment area schools when pupils transfer to the 7th grade of comprehensive school i.e. to lower secondary education. For getting a detailed picture of structure of public school markets I analyse pupil flows, in a sense of families applications to other than allocated school, between the schools in detail. Schools' positions in the public school markets are classified on basis of their gains and losses of pupils in the new 'market' situation.

Emergence of diversity and choice in Finland

Finland represents a Scandinavian comprehensive school system that has since the 1970's integrated whole age cohort to the non-selective and homogenous public schools for nine years. The most organisational unity was achieved when the streaming by ability was abolished in 1984 because in practise it excluded academic route of post-compulsory education from children from the lower social class families and mainly boys (Committee Report 1975). One of the central ideas of comprehensive school system was to allocate all children to schools on basis of residence by municipalities. Parental choice of school was possible only on grave reasons.

The changes towards school choice have developed gradually during the 1990's in Finland along with other changes in Finnish education policy. Parental choice of school during compulsory education dates at the age of 7 when the child starts the 1st class of comprehensive school i.e. primary education and at the age of 12 when the child transfers to the 7th grade of comprehensive school i.e. to lower secondary education. School choice emerged when municipalities could have allowed pupils' transition between schools since the connection between state subsidy and pupil allocation to schools was separated in 1993. Thus there has been school choice in urban areas in practice since 1994 although there was no mention of choice in the existing school law. Most of the biggest cities have introduced school choice since 1994, the capital city Helsinki among the first. School choice is used only in addition to traditional allocation of pupils to schools on the basis of residence. A pupil has the right to go to the allocated school. An active school choice is needed only in order to go elsewhere.

The new legislation of education that came into force in the beginning of 1999 has stated the prevailing education policy. For the first time the new education law states that pupils "can make a request to other than the allocated school" (Legislation over basic education 28 628/1998). The term 'school choice' is absent from education law itself, but 'school choice' is mentioned in the argument part of the government's proposal over education law to parliament (Education legislation 1999, 223-224).

Up to the end of 1998 when the new school was adopted most of the biggest cities in Finland already offered families more or less automatically an opportunity to choose a comprehensive school. Part of the cities' policy to promote school choice has been to print brochures over information about schools. Also schools have information evenings to parents before the choices have to be done. Thus consciousness of school choice has gradually spread among families. (Hirvenoja 1998.)

These shifts towards school choice have taken place at same time with the introduction of school based curriculum in Finland. In 1994 Finnish legislation dismantled its prescriptive National Curriculum, which had been in use for over 20 years. The National Board of Education defined the national core curriculum and curricular guidelines. In addition to core curriculum schools are encouraged to develop their strengths and specialise by taking 'profiles' as the Head of Finland's National Board of Education stated it in the main national news paper, Helsingin Sanomat: "The profilesation and [school based]curricula should take place so that in addition to education that provides equal basic abilities, pupils are provided as supportive and high-quality teaching as possible also in the subject areas which support the development of pupil's personality the best and prepare the pupil for the choice of future career" (Sarjala 1996).

Versatility, individuality and thus choice have been the main slogans and trends in Finnish education policy during 1990's (Ministery of Education 1991; Ministery of Education 1995; Committee Report 1996). The policy change of education started from deregulation and decentralisation process of the whole state governance gradually in the middle of 1980's in Finland. This deregulation of whole national steering policy took place also in the governance of education. Municipalities and schools have become more autonomous than ever during the 30 year history of the comprehensive school. The historically deep economic recession gave impetus to decentralisation in the early 1990's. Cutbacks in education were easier to accomplish in the local level. By the end of 1990's strict norm steering, that was needed when building up the comprehensive system, has been replaced by goal steering. Centralised evaluation has emerged as a new steering mechanism. (Laukkanen 1998; Laitila 1999; Simola, Rinne & Kivirauma 1999; Rinne, Kivirauma, Hirvenoja & Simola 2000.)

The educational diversity inside the traditionally homogeneous national curriculum has increased. Schools have been offering differentiation/specialisation in particular subjects in curriculum or placed emphasis on some more general themes (such as the environment or communication) through every class. The most specific emphasising on one subject has mostly concerned few classes per school. These so called 'specialised classes' have more lessons (for instance in music, sports, science, languages or arts) than the National Curriculum requires(1). Some of this kind of classes have been in operation already during the 1970's and 1980's in the non-academic areas, mostly in music, but since the middle of 1990's the amount and scope of them has widened consisting academic areas as well. (Hirvenoja 1998; 2000.)

The policy trends of diversity and choice in Finland are similar to ones in e.g. in England all though the education regulation and governance differ (see more Hirvenoja 1999). Whitty & Edwards (1998b) see considerable shift within official discourse from an espousal of common schooling towards an espousal of difference in England. When England's Education Reform Bill 1987 was under discussion influential new right pressure groups argued for raising standard by creating an open, competitive educational market in which 'autonomous' schools would be 'shaped, nourished and controlled by consumer demand'. The 1993 Education Act was preceded by Government's White Paper that promoted grant-maintained schools and was dominated by an insistence that 'specialisation' would be the key theme of the next stage of reform. In 1997 the new Labour Government's first education White Paper, adopted without any evident reservations, declared the 'modernising principle' that 'a single model of schooling' is obsolete and that the school should be positively encouraged to develop 'their own distinctive identity and expertise'. (Whitty & al. 1998b.)

Explanations have been stated why choice policies have adopted to education, particularly why to compulsory education that holds the crown of basis for social equality. Ball (1998) suggests that uncertainty and congestion are the aspects that have particular significance in making sense of the current global change in education policy making. The trajectory of economic growth and patterns of employment which provide the basis for the massive post-war expansion in the middle classes and the creation of the so called 'new middle-classes' has changed very dramatically. The 'imagined futures' of 'new middle-classes' and those of their offspring are now under threat from the 'unmanaged congestion' in the old and new professions and in management positions. One effect has been the loss of support among the new middle classes for efforts to democratise education. It is claimed that education is being 'transferred back into an "oligarchic" good'. (Jordon, Redley & James 1994; Ball 1998.) Green, Wolf and Leney hypothesise that, all other things being equal, parents will seek to enter their children for secondary schools that provide the most direct route to most prestigious qualifications that are usually academic qualifications. This particular middle-class parental pressure for academic qualification is the reason why the selection to secondary school remains. (Green & al. 1998, 70.)

Empirical study in Finland

In order to examine empirically how families have been acting in the new 'public-markets' of the comprehensive school system I focus on pupils' transfer (at age of 11-12) to lower secondary education i.e. compulsory secondary education(2). At this phase of compulsory education the choice over school is more popular than in the primary level, because pupils are older to travel alone and schools differ more outside the core curriculum. A pilot study showed a tendency that in the year 1997 on an average at least 27% of the age cohort applied to other than allocated school at compulsory secondary phase compared to those 11% of the 1st grade starters that applied other than local school in the 13 biggest cities of Finland (Hirvenoja 1998; Hirvenoja 2000). As the research has progressed it seems that the share of age cohort of those who attend a school outside their catchment area is wider because of the so called 'specialised classes' mentioned above.

For outlining the structure and operation of comprehensive school markets I have chosen to examine 'local public-markets' in a couple of Finnish cities. The data in this paper consists of three cities in Finland (the fourth is not analysed yet) that belong among the 10 biggest cities in Finland. They are located in different parts of the country. The population of case cities differs from each other when education level, socio-economic status or average income are measured.

The case cities are called in this paper by pseudo names: Southern City (S-City), Western City (W-City) and Northern City (N-City). There are between nine to thirteen lower secondary schools in the case cities and on an average each city has an age cohort of 1000 pupils that transfers to lower secondary schools. Basically every case city uses catchment area division to allocate pupils to schools. The case cities have introduced schools choice in addition to catchment area division gradually after 1994.

I collected various data from the case cities during the years 1999 and 2000. For painting a picture of local 'comprehensive school markets' in the case cities there were collected data school by school about an amount of pupils belonging to each catchment area in the 7th grade, pupils applications to other than allocated school and an intake of pupils to 7th grade. Municipalities were sent a questionnaire concerning these amounts. In most of the municipalities there were no statistics about pupils' applications to other than allocated school but information was counted school by school from applications. In addition pupils' address information was used to identify pupils' catchment area schools in such cases that municipalities did not do it(3). Aside to this statistical data I used brochures that displayed lower secondary schools characteristics printed by municipalities as data.

School markets get similar structures across the countries

In this chapter I analyse the structure of public school markets in Finland comparing it to research results of 'local school markets' in some other countries. It is asked, does the operation of school choice policies in a comprehensive schools system deviate from other governance contexts of basic education. I focus on an overall activity of families to apply to other than catchment area school when a pupil transfers to the 7th grade of comprehensive school i.e. to lower secondary education.

Similar research on 'local school markets' has done in some countries, mostly in Great Britain and New Zealand. Thus loose comparisons between structures of 'local education markets' in the different countries are possible. Especially the comparisons of Finnish data with research done in two cities of Scotland are realistic because the data is similar. Also the comparison is meaningful because the governance of basic education has been similar in both countries and similar reforms have been done although a decade later in Finland than in Scotland. A comprehensive secondary schools system has prevailed in Scotland since the early to mid 1970's. All Scottish education authorities adopted transfer schemes for allocating pupils to comprehensive secondary schools based either on catchment areas or on feeder primary schools. Parents were discouraged from making non-district placing requests and requests were granted only in special circumstances as has been the case in Finland. Education Act in 1981 in Scotland established parents' right of school choice. The data of Scottish research is collected since this reform, during years 1982-1985, in order to assess it's consequences. (Adler, Petch & Tweedie 1989.) Comparisons to the Scottish study are done all along as I present the Finnish data in this and the next chapter.

I shall start viewing structure of local school markets by the overall amount of placing requests done to other than allocated schools in the Finnish case cities. Consistent amounts of requests were first difficult to measure in each case city. Statistics of placing requests given by municipalities differed because of different principals to specify applicants. Two case cities did not account to statistics of applicants those pupils who attended such specialised classes that were started already at primary level even though the school located outside the area their lived in. Nevertheless during the data collection it became possible to measure the amount of requests with same principals in every case city by using pure address information of pupils school by school. Thus in the following the share of pupils attending to specialised classes continuing automatically after primary level outside their residential area and other placing requests are possible to present also separately.

The data for total amount of requesters consist year 1999 in Southern- & Northern cities and year 2000 in Western City. This is five years since school choice policies have gradually been adopted in these cities. In the Southern City (S-City) there were 13,5%, in the Western-City (W-City) 13,2% and in the Northern city (N-City) 9,1% of age cohort those who attended such specialised classes that had started at primary level and continued to lower secondary school outside the catchmentarea. In addition, there were those who applied to other than allocated lower secondary school in the S-City 21,8%, in the W-City 21,6% and in the N-City 10,3% of age cohort. Altogether pupil flows between secondary schools were wide in the S- and W-Cities, close to 35% of age cohort, whereas the movement in the N-City was more modest, close to 20% of age cohort(4).

In Scotland in 1985, four years after the reform that introduced school choice the level of placing requests activity were among the highest in Maxton City (medium sized region), where 23,7% of pupils applied other than the allocated secondary school. In one of the smallest regions in Scotland, Watt region requests were 6.0% of pupils in secondary transfers. In Burns City (twice the size of Maxton) an increase in placing requests to other than allocated school since the last year of Burns' restrictive policy, in 1980 to 1984 was from 6,1% up to 22.1%. It has to be noted that the research in Burns City did not cover the entire age cohort, but the twenty non-denominational schools. In addition, the Burns City contained a number of independent secondary schools that were "attended by almost 20% of secondary school pupils and disproportionately high number of the most able children". (Adler & al. 1989, 59, 74-5, 83-84, 86, 88-89.)

Also Lauder, Hughes and their research team looked at the enrollment patterns in one local school market, that of Green City in New Zealand when testing the polarisation thesis of school markets. Data were collected on new entrants to 11 state and integrated schools that covered 90% of Green City's secondary school provision between 1990, which was the last year when catchment areas were in operation, and 1995. On an area-by-area basis, the different schools were categorised as being either local, adjacent or distant. Schools were considered local when pupils lived within the original (1990) catchment area of the school. Schools which were not clearly local schools and for which travel was required were considered adjacent. To get to distant schools, pupils bypassed their local school and at least one other in a way that involved considerable travel. During the period 1990 - 1995 share of pupils travelling to a distant school remained stabile at around 10% whereas there was a remarked increase from 14% to 25% in those attending adjacent schools. The flow that increased over the years was from local to adjacent schools. In sum, five years after the introduction of school choice policy share of those who did not attend to local school was 35% in a case city of New Zealand. (Lauder & Hughes & al. 1999, 84-85, 90-91.)

To sum up, it seems that the level of parental secondary school choice activity is along the same lines in case cities of Finland, Scotland and New Zealand since the policy changed towards schools choice. Although one has to bear in mind difficulties in diversity of measuring the exact number of requests in every study.

During the data collection it came evident in the Finnish case cities that schools were in different positions in relation to parental choice and heterogeneity of intake, although schools are public and supposed to be comprehensive. When measuring a school by school a size of their catchment area and total intake of pupils to the 7th grade of comprehensive school i.e. to lower secondary schools a 'level of comprehensiveness' of each school was seen. The S- & W-cities contained a set of schools with exactly the same policy: Their total intake was between 90 and 145 pupils to the 7th grade but only approximately 30 pupils belonged to schools' catchment areas on basis of residence. In other words these schools' catchment areas allocated by municipalities were only the size of one school class and two to three classes where taken through ability test, mostly already in the third grade(5), or on basis of previous school success among those who made a request into school. Thus these very small catchment areas gave to these schools privileged position in the local school markets. These 'privileged schools' represented 20%-30% of schools in the S- and W-cities. In the N-city catchment areas of counterpart schools were wider than described above, but they took more pupils outside their own catchment area than any other school in the city.

If we look more closely characteristics of these 'privileged schools' in the 'public school markets' of Finland, it is noted that each of them has a history of being (selective) private grammar schools (attached to sixth forms) under the parallel school system before the mid 1970's. The transition to comprehensive school system transferred them under the ownership of municipalities and homogenous central governance. Some of them introduced specialised classes mostly in music, but also some in visual arts and sports during the 1980's. During the 1990's as the prescriptive national curriculum was changed into more loose core curriculum and as schools have taken 'profiles', specialised classes have become more common and widened to academic areas. Especially former private grammar schools have introduced (or on support authorities and politicians in community) such classes that specialise in foreign languages and mathematics. Language classes offer a part of the teaching in a foreign language or the class studies Latin. Also a common feature of these schools is that they are situated in the city centre sharing the buildings with upper secondary schools in every case city. In the brochures over schools in case cities ethos of internationalisation and culture education is typical as well to all of them.

To conclude, it seems that in spite of the fact that all schools in the Finnish comprehensive school system are owned by community and are basically comprehensive, market relations of schools under the parental choice policies remind considerably school market structures in Scotland and England. The Scottish independent secondary schools "attended by almost 20% of secondary school pupils and disproportionately high number of the most able children" in Burns case city (Adler & al. 1989, 59) seems to serve similar policy demand and the same proportion of age cohort as selective specialised classes in Finnish case cities. As well in the circuits of schooling of three Local Education Authorities (LEA) in London defined by Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz included "cosmopolitan, high-profile, élite, maintained schools", that recruit often many of their students from outside their immediate locale. They had reputations which extend well beyond their home LEAs, some of which were (overtly) selective and others which had 'pseudo-selective' or limited catchment criteria. They were different from two other circuits of London school markets: "independent, private schools" and "local, community comprehensive schools" that recruit the majority of their students from their immediate locality and have highly localised reputations. (Ball, Bowe & Gewirtz 1995.) Description of cosmopolitan maintained schools in London is surprisingly very much the same as description of specialised class schools in comprehensive school system of Finland.

Cumulative pupil flows polarised the markets

A closer picture of structure and operation of school markets is reached when viewing in detail the pupil flows between the schools, in a sense of families' choices to other than allocated school. In this chapter I analyse school by school requests of families made into (gains) other than catchment area school and out of (losses) catchment area school when pupils transfer to lower secondary school in the three case cities of Finland. In addition to analysing these gains and losses of pupils separately, I have tried to capture as well their joint effects on the intakes of individual schools. Schools are classified on the basis of their gains and losses of pupils. In other words division of schools in the markets are captured through they popularity. Similar classifications have done in some case cities of England, Scotland and France. My aim is to view, whether the families' choices in the comprehensive schools system follow the same patterns or get similar features as the local school markets in different governance contexts.

For analysing parental choice in detail it was counted how many pupils belonging to each catchment area applied out and how many pupils applied in to each lower secondary school in relation to the 7th grade intake. These proportional measures that were related to size of the catchment area and to size of intake are needed for comparing pupil flows between the schools in three cities. Also they are comparable to the data in the Scottish research. In the following detailed analysis pupils are basically accounted to belong to the schools on basis of their residence even if they have attended some specialised class out of their residential area already during primary school.

The data showed that pupil flows out of schools and into schools were not in balance between the schools in Finnish case cities. Every case city included schools that attracted a lot of pupils and schools which flow of pupils was only out. The Scottish research found exactly the same pattern in its two case cities (Adler & al. 1989, 185). Three (out of twenty) secondary schools in Burns City and two (out of ten) in Maxton City gained more than 25% of their intake outside the catchment area over the period 1982 and 1985. Likewise, the other three schools in Burns City and other two in Maxton City lost more than 25% of their catchment area population.

When the Finnish case cities were viewed with the same criteria as in Scottish research there was five (out of ten) lower secondary schools in the S-City, seven (out of thirteen) in the W-City and three (out of nine) in the N-City that gained more than 25% of their intake outside their catchment area.

On the other hand losses of pupils were spread to wider group of schools in the S-City where seven (out of ten) lower secondary schools and in the W-City where ten (out of thirteen) lost more than 25% of their catchment area population. In the N-City two (out of nine) school lost the same share. The most substantial gains and losses of pupils laid mainly on different schools as was the case in Scotland. However as seen especially in two case cities there are same schools in both categories, having over 25% gains in intake as well as over 25% losses of catchment area population. Explanation for this lies mostly on a set of schools that had specialised classes and small catchment areas. They gained 60 - 85% of their intake because of the specialised classes and already close to 10 pupils out of the small catchment area population made a proportion of losses over 25%. Thus it is also necessary to view a difference between proportions of gains and losses of each school to get an adequate picture from operation of public school markets in case cities.

For viewing the joint effects on the intakes of individual schools, gains and losses ought to be viewed together. First there had to be found measures of placing requests for joint effects that could be compared between the schools because of their sizes deferred. One solution was to add up gains and losses as 'net choices'(e.g. in the S-City school G gained 11 pupils and lost 28 pupils, so the net loss was -17 pupils), but this did not tell choices' relation to the size of the schools, to intake or catchment area. Thus a better measure was to view the proportional shares abreast (e.g. in the S-City the school G gained 13,8% of intake and lost 36,4% of catchment area). An extreme measure was to add up proportions for viewing their distance between them (e.g. the school F got negative 'indicator' of - 22,6%).

Some measures and classification of schools in relation to their popularity have been used in the previous research done in different countries. In the following I will present some classifications and compare the Finnish data to them.

A detailed classification is presented by Ballion based on an assessment of lower secondary schools ('colléges') in Paris that belonged in 1984 to the first areas of school choice ('assouplissement') policy since the French government drew up precise catchment areas in 1963. There were schools of "highly-demanded: a positive balance of more than 30% of pupils", "demanded: a positive balance of 10-29% of pupils", "rejected: a negative balance of 10-29% of pupils", "highly-rejected: a negative balance of more than 30% of pupils", "balanced: inflow of pupils roughly matches the outflow" and "flat: with little movement in either direction". A positive or negative balance means net gains or losses in relation to intake of each school. 10% of schools in the French case belonged to 'highly-demanded' and they attracted pupils from a wide geographical area, mostly from professional and managerial families. 13% of schools belonged to 'demanded' and had 'fewer pretensions' than highly-demanded schools as well had strength of being relatively small. 'Rejected' and 'highly-rejected' schools covered 17% and 7% of schools. They had large number of less-desired characteristics, especially in terms of racial and social balance. 31% of schools were 'balanced' and frequently more popular in working-class suburbs, that loose some pupils to schools in higher-class neighbourhoods but gain pupils from other working-class areas. 21 % of schools were 'flat' and typically in rural areas with no realistic alternatives. (OECD 1994, 138-139.)

In the following I look at the net gains in relation to intake in the Finnish case cities according to the Ballion's classification above. One can end up to similar classification also on basis of 'indicators' that take into account the size of catchment area as well and thus 'indicators' are milder. It seems that the movement between the Finnish case city schools is surprisingly polarised, because very few schools belonged to category of 'balanced' or 'flat'. Detailed comparisons between cases in Finland and France are not meaningful because geographical areas studied may differ that may make the share of flat schools wider in France and also at the time of study in France amount of choices outside the catchment area was mild, 11%, compared to 20-35% in Finnish case cities. Any way the Ballion's classification gives an interesting tool to illustrate and compare the Finnish case cities to each other as follows.

In the S- and W-City school markets seems to be more polarised than in the N-City. 30% of lower secondary schools were highly-demanded in the S-City. In the W-City 23% of schools belonged to highly-demanded and 15% to demanded schools. In both cities one third of schools belonged to highly rejected. Only few schools had balanced pupil flows or no flows at all. Net gains of the most popular schools were a bit milder in the N-City (33% of schools were demanded) because pupils moved also much between them(6). Other schools in the N-city were balanced (22%), rejected (22%), highly-rejected (11%) or flat (11%).

Table 1. Division of lower secondary schools in relation to their popularity in the Finnish case cities.

Popularity of schools

Southern City 1999

Northern City 1999

Western City 2000

Highly demanded 1)




Demanded 2)




Balanced 3)




Flat 4)




Rejected 5)




Highly rejected 6)




1. Pupils' net choices in relation to intake of school is over 30% positive.

2. Pupils' net choices in relation to intake of school has a positive balance of 10-29%.

3. Inflow of pupils roughly matches the outflow.

4. Little movement in either direction.

5. Pupils' net choices in relation to intake of school has a negative balance of 10-29%.

6. Pupils' net choices in relation to intake of school is over 30% negative.

All highly-demanded schools in the S- and W-City and the most demanded in the N-City are former grammar schools founded in the turn of the 18th century and nowadays as public comprehensive schools offering many specialised classes as described in the previous chapter. They attracted pupils from every part of the city and the most demanded school in every city got requests also from other municipalities. These schools are similar to highly-demanded schools in France that attracted pupils form wide geographical area (OECD 1994, 138-139) as well to the "cosmopolitan, high-profile, maintained schools" in the case LEAs of London that were usually considerably oversubscribed and recruited pupils well beyond their home LEAs (Ball & al. 1995). Also the research done in New Zealand found "high circuits schools, that had relatively high numbers of students who travelled long distances to attend them" (Lauder & al. 1999, 97).

In Scotland Adler & al. use similar classifications as Ballion in France. As Adler & al. select a representative sample of schools with different patterns of movement they write about "level of placing request activity" with classification of "high losers, high gainers, schools were gains were balanced by losses and schools with little movement in or out". In their actual analysis they use the notion of "over-subscribed schools" that experienced substantial net gains, "under-enrolled schools" that experienced substantial net losses and the schools that were neither over-subscribed nor under-enrolled and had intakes that fell within the acceptable range were named as "acceptable range schools". For example in Burns City, that has twenty (non-denominational) secondary schools, there were three (15%) "over-subscribed schools", five (25%) "under-enrolled schools" and twelve (60%) "acceptable range schools". (Adler & al 1989, 97, 187-189, tables 6.7 - 6.12.) The exact measures of "substantial net gains or losses" or "acceptable range" and nor the criteria of allocating schools into these classifications were not expressed so explicit in the study that the Finnish data could be allocated with the same criteria for the comparison. However the conclusion of Adler & al (1989) is the same as what can be drawn from the Finnish case cities: Set of schools in every case city were clearly over-subscribed and by contrast similar amount of schools were clearly under-enrolled.

Despite of the fact that set of schools in the Finnish case cities attracted a lot of pupils, they also lost a little amount of pupils belonging to their already small catchment areas. A school by school detailed analysis of pupil flows between the schools showed that in every case city mostly pupils who preferred to transfer out of a popular school did not request to suburban schools but to another popular school situated in the city centre. Also in case study of New Zealand there was found no signs of "two-way traffic" between city centre and suburban school (Lauder & al. 1999). Inevitably policy of school choice seems to polarise the intakes of pupils between the schools.


Comprehensive, public school system created in the 1970's has adopted school choice policies since 1994 in Finland. Pupils are still allocated to schools on the basis of residence but in addition parental choice of school is used in the biggest cities. Similar policies have been introduced in many countries during 1980's. In this paper I compared the Finnish data on structure of 'public school markets' to research results on features of quasi-markets operating in the compulsory phase of education mostly in Scotland, England, France and New Zealand.

It seems that the families' choices over schools when transferring to the 7th grade in the Finnish comprehensive school system i.e. to lower secondary education create surprisingly similar structures as in the countries with different governance of basic education. First, level of families' activity to make requests out of their local school was in the same lines in every country. There were families at most up to 35% of age cohort who used choice in most of the case cities in every country.

Secondly, the structure in the market-like situation between schools got similar features independent from the education governance tradition of a country. The 'public school markets' in Finland included a similar set of schools with privileged position in the local school markets as in the other countries although the ownership of schools differed. Every case study in different countries located 10-20% of age cohort attending to such schools that were (pseudo-) selective and with limited catchment area. The fact that schools at the compulsory level are public and comprehensive in Finland did not make a difference to market structure as position of schools to each other under school choice policy.

The last conclusion concerns the operation of schools markets. Many case studies independent from the country showed that choices of schools by families were cumulative and pupil flows were not reciprocal between the schools in suburbs and in city centre. The pupil movements between the Finnish case city schools were surprisingly polarised. The same pattern was seen in every case cities: some schools made substantial net gains while others substantial losses of pupils.

It seems that policy of school choice polarises the intakes of pupils between the schools also in the comprehensive school system of Finland. As the research in Finland progresses it will be seen is there also social segregation between the public comprehensive schools more than on the basis of residential socio-economic segregation. Finland is ethnically quite homogenous thus that may not be a substantial matter. Also families' reasons of school choice are analysed in the comprehensive schools system. A lot of praiseworthy research testing the social polarisation thesis and explaining its origins has been done in many countries and thus comparisons on operation of education policies between different governance contexts may develop further as well.


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1. All thought the differed classes described here do not specialise to academic, vocational or other tracks in Finland as is the case of the structure of the lower secondary education for example in The Netherlands and Germany.

2. The term compulsory secondary school does not exist as such in single structure of basic education, i.e. comprehensive school of Finland. When pupils transfer to the 7th grade of comprehensive school, they transfer to lower secondary education. The last three years of comprehensive school, starting at age of 12, are generally located in cities to separate buildings collecting pupils form several feeder primary schools. This used to be called upper stage of comprehensive school, but since the school law reform 1999 the term was abolished and administration prefers the 7.-9. grades of comprehensive school or basic education. In spite of various terminology in this paper the term lower secondary education in the sense of compulsory secondary education is used because it is comparable to terms used in research done in such schooling systems that separate secondary education at compulsory level.

3. The address information was mainly used for sending a postal survey to families whose child transferred to the 7th grade of comprehensive school i.e. to lower secondary education. The postal survey was conducted to detailed sample of families in the spring 1999 in two of the cities and in the spring 2000 in other two case cities. In all there were sent 2377 questionnaires and return per cent is around 63,7. The questionnaire data (N= 1514) is not analysed in this paper, but it gives a lot for the research in the future.

4. As a comparison there has to be noted that most wide school choice activity among those who transferred to lower secondary education, as well as the variety of differed classes, was in the capital city, Helsinki. Helsinki introduced school choice policy among the first in the country in 1994. Proportion of placing requests to outside a catchment area school increased from 27% to 42% during the period of 1994-1997. All the specialised classes are included to the number.

5. Thus they had automatic path to continue to the 7th grade of comprehensive school to specific lower secondary school.

6. Until 1998 they used to belong to the same catchment area and pupils preferences on what school they will attend were taken into account automatically.


This document was added to the Education-line database on 08 January 2001