Scottish parents feel just as empowered as those in England when it comes to deciding where children receive their education, research suggests.

This is despite the default assumption that pupils here will attend their local school. Parents in England, on the other hand, are actively encouraged to choose and there is an expectation they will apply to multiple establishments.

The difference is reflected in figures showing only 39 per cent of pupils living south of the Border apply to their nearest secondary school as first choice. In Scotland, 87% attend their catchment school.

However, a new study from the Social Market Foundation (SMF) indicates attempts by successive Westminster governments to give families more sway over where a child enrols have not translated into a greater sense of control.

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Drawing on a survey of nearly 1,000 parents and interviews with 57 families, researchers discovered individuals in England were no more satisfied with the degree of choice they have. In fact, a slightly higher proportion of participants in Scotland (76%) said they had enough choice. The figure for English parents was 75%.

Those in England were also more likely to express frustration and feelings of disempowerment. Several described the offer of school choice as an “illusion”.

Dr Aveek Bhattacharya, SMF chief economist and author of the new paper, said: “These findings show that parents offered a range of options for their children’s school are no happier than parents who have less choice about education.

"That might vindicate Scottish policymakers that have resisted the marketisation of school education.”

The SMF paper provides a range of explanations as to why English parents feel no better off, despite apparently having more options.

HeraldScotland: The paper was authored by Dr Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation.The paper was authored by Dr Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation.

It says the more limited choice offered in Scotland – an "opt out" system whereby parents who do not like their local school can make a placing request for another – is nevertheless seen by many to be sufficient.

And because they are less likely to make an application, families north of the Border are also less likely to be rejected by a school. Seventeen per cent of English pupils fail to get their first choice. This compares with only 3% of those in Scotland.

England’s system also subjects families to a high degree of uncertainty. While most Scottish children know which school they will be attending many months - or even years - in advance, English families face a nervous wait before they learn the outcome of their applications.

Moreover, government and societal rhetoric around choice in England may be raising expectations beyond what is realistically achievable.

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Dr Bhattacharya said: "This research adds to the growing evidence that school choice policies have failed to bring the benefits they were supposed to.

"For all the emphasis that policymakers in England have put on increasing choice, parents south of the border are no happier with their lot than their Scottish counterparts. Indeed, many are disenchanted and dismayed.

“These findings show that parents offered a range of options for their children’s school are no happier than parents who have less choice about education.”

Dr Bhattacharya also warned that English parents, while unhappy in many cases, may still resent having choice taken away from them now it has been granted.

He added: “Having raised expectations, policymakers might only be able to limit the frustration.

“They can do this by minimising unsuccessful applications - for example, by creating more places at the most popular schools - and reducing the uncertainty of the process – for example, by guaranteeing children a place at their nearest school.”

The SMF study has been published as over half a million families in England submit their primary school applications, which are due on January 15.