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The University of Amsterdam, the University of Groningen, the Dutch Inspectorate of Education, and the City of Amsterdam have recently joined forces in a new research project on school segregation. The research aims to unravel the dynamics of school choice and resulting patterns of segregation and inequality in primary schools by assuming a multi-dimensional approach to segregation.


The issue of segregation in education has traditionally been examined from the individual level (e.g., parent surveys, choice analysis, etc.) as well as from macro-level statistics (e.g., changes in segregation level, region, city or national level). By using a novel complexity science approach, the research team will connect these two levels, to understand how seemingly innocuous changes in individual behaviour or societal context can lead to drastic changes in macro level dynamics.

The research consists of two parts: the first will examine patterns and trends of segregation that lie at the different intersections of class and ethnicity. In particular the project will look at differences within highly educated groups, and intersections of migration background, income and educational attainment. The second part will develop an agent-based model of school choice and school allocation, that will make it possible to study how potential disruptions (e.g. policy interventions, demographic scenarios) impact choice and resulting patterns of school segregation.

The agent-based model provides a way to systematically conduct scenario analysis. The model, once calibrated and validated, can be used to consider different what-if scenarios. For example, if there is new housing planned that may significantly change local demographics the model can assess the impact on local schools. Or, if new schools will be opened or old ones closed, the model can assess the impact on the surrounding schools.

UvA researcher Mike Lees (Informatics Institute and Institute for Advanced Study): "The issue of segregation is known to be a highly complex problem where small, subtle changes can create highly non-linear responses. With this project and the models we develop we hope to be able to provide insights that can be applied in practice". UvA researcher Willem Boterman (Urban Geographies and Institute for Advanced Study): “By modelling school segregation we will be able to understand the complexity of the dynamics, which makes it possible to sketch the various scenarios for how segregation might unfold given different demographic and policy trends”.