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Are Quasi-markets in Education what the British Public Wants?


  • Sonia Exley

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
    • Address for correspondence: Dr Sonia Exley, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. Email:

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In the context of inconclusive evidence on the extrinsic successes of quasi-markets, policy defences of school choice and competition in education have often discussed the intrinsic, empowering value of choice for consumers, arguing that school choice for parents is ‘what people want’. Discourses often imply that choice is desired for its own sake rather than merely as a means by which families can escape what are deemed to be poor quality schools. Support for an idealistic, abstract notion of ‘choice’ is also taken to imply support for quasi-markets overall and is not considered alongside possible competing values that people may hold at the same time as they value choice. Additionally, views of parents are often examined without considering possible differences in views between parents and non-parents. Contributing to debates about how far a public desire exists for quasi-markets in education, this article draws on data from newly designed questions fielded as part of the 2010 British Social Attitudes survey. The article finds that while choice ‘in the abstract’ is supported widely by both parents and non-parents (albeit slightly more so by parents), a valuing of choice among the British public appears to be more instrumental than intrinsic – potentially problematic given evidence on the extrinsic benefits of quasi-markets is mixed. Support for choice is tempered among parents and non-parents by clear opposition to vouchers, school diversity, government spending on transport costs to facilitate choice and by strong support for the idea of sending children to the ‘nearest state school’.