Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Research Institute of Industrial Economics

No 1476: Free to Improve? The Impact of Free School Attendance in England

Marco Bertoni, Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren () and Olma Silva ()
Additional contact information
Marco Bertoni: University of Padova and IZA-Bonn
Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Postal: Stockholm, Sweden, and London School of Economics (LSE)
Olma Silva: LSE and IZA-Bonn

Abstract: We investigate the impact of attending a free school in England – that is, a new start-up school that enjoys considerable autonomy while remaining in the state sector. We analyse the effects of two secondary free schools with different teaching philosophies: one follows a ‘no excuse’ paradigm, while the other one adopts a ‘classical liberal’, knowledge-rich approach. We establish causal effects exploiting admission lotteries and a distance-based regression discontinuity design. Both schools have a strong positive impact on student test scores on average. However, we also find heterogeneous effects: the ‘no excuse’ school mostly benefits boys, while the ‘classical liberal’ school mainly benefits White British and non-poor students. Both schools similarly reduce student absences and school mobility. Peer quality, teacher characteristics, and inspectorate ratings cannot fully explain the schools’ effectiveness. Instead, a quantitative text analysis of the schools’ ‘vision and ethos’ statements shows that the ‘no excuse’ and ‘classical liberal’ philosophies adopted by the two free schools clearly set them apart from the counterfactual schools where rejected applicants enrol, and likely explain their heterogeneous effects.

Keywords: School autonomy; Quasi-markets; Free schools; Achievement

JEL-codes: I21; I24; I28

Language: English

69 pages, October 30, 2023

Full text files

wp1476.pdf PDF-file Full text

Download statistics

Questions (including download problems) about the papers in this series should be directed to Elisabeth Gustafsson ()
Report other problems with accessing this service to Sune Karlsson ().

This page generated on 2024-02-05 17:12:21.