Marco Bertoni, Stephen Gibbons, Olmo Silva (2020).

School choice during a period of radical school reform. Evidence from academy conversion in England. Available at

We study how demand responds to the rebranding of existing state schools as autonomous ‘academies’ in the context of a radical and large-scale reform to the English education system. The academy programme encouraged schools to opt out of local state control and funding, but provided parents and students with limited information on the expected benefits. We use administrative data on school applications for three cohorts of students to estimate whether this rebranding changes schools’ relative popularity. We find that families – particularly higher income, White British – are more likely to rank converted schools above non-converted schools on their applications. We also find that it is mainly schools that are high-performing, popular and proximate to families’ homes that attract extra demand after conversion. Overall, the patterns we document suggest that families read academy conversion as a signal of future quality gains – although this signal is in part misleading as we find limited evidence that conversion causes improved performance.