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The current Conference time is: 9th Aug 2022, 06:32:11pm CEST

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Overall view of the program
Parallel session - D.5 High School Choices In Tracked Systems. Can School Guidance Be An Effective Means For Reducing Family Background Inequalities?
Wednesday, 02/June/2021:
9:30am - 11:45am

Session Chair: Dalit Contini
Session Chair: Camilla Borgna
Location: Room 4

Session Panels:
D.5. High School Choices in Tracked Systems. Can School Guidance be an Effective Means for Reducing Family Background Inequalities?

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Gianluca Argentin1, Gianna Barbieri2, Carlo Barone3

1University of Milan Bicocca, Italy; 2Italian Ministry of Education; 3Sciences Po

Previous research showed that teachers’ school guidance at the end of lower secondary education is not neutral at all. Family socio-economic background is a crucial predictor of the advice provided to students by their teachers, even after taking into account a wide set of students’ socio-demographic characteristics and their educational performance, both in terms of marks and standardized national assessment scores (Checchi 2010; Argentin et al 2017). Hence, quantitative results confirmed previous qualitative research about the biased nature of teachers’ school guidance (Romito 2016; Bonizzoni et al 2014).

At the same time, ethnographic investigations and qualitative interviews pointed to several micro-mechanisms explaining why teacher provide socially (pre)defined school advice to students. In example, previous qualitative research showed that teachers incorporate in their advice considerations about parental economic resources, parental cultural capital, the specific local school offer and labor market demand, students’ attitude towards studies, etc. To our knowledge, what is still missing is the attempt to – quantitatively – weight the role played by these mediation mechanisms in determining teachers’ bias when formulating their school advice. This contribution is a first attempt to fill this gap in quantitative literature on school guidance.

Using a new and unique dataset built with MIUR and INVALSI, containing detailed information about around 52.000 middle school students, we develop regression models aimed at: a. confirming pre-existing evidence about teachers’ bias in school guidance to students with different social backgrounds; b. identifying to which extent this bias may be explained through several mechanisms identified by previous qualitative research, for which quantitative indicators were available in the dataset.

Empirical results confirm that teachers’ school guidance is biased and extend previous knowledge quantifying the bias on specific lyceum sub-tracks. We show that the classical and scientific lyceums are by large more frequently recommended to students from higher social backgrounds. In addition, results are consistent in confirming the existing bias even after controlling for several local factors, thanks to school fixed effects. Finally, regarding social mechanisms underlying teachers’ bias, we show that a crucial mediation role is played by familiar economic conditions.


Argentin G., Barbieri G. e Barone C. (2017), Origini sociali, consiglio orientativo e iscrizione al liceo: un’analisi basata sui dati dell’Anagrafe Studenti, Politiche sociali, 1/2017, 53-73

Checchi, D. (2010), Il passaggio dalla scuola media alla scuola superiore, Ricercazione, 2/2010, 215-236.

Romito M. (2016), Una scuola di classe. Orientamento e disuguaglianze nelle transizioni scolastiche, Guerini Scientifica

Romito M., Bonizzoni P. e Cavallo C. (2014), Teachers’ guidance, family participation and track choice: the educational disadvantage of immigrant students in Italy, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35/7, 702-720


Dalit Contini1, Camilla Borgna2

1Università di Torino; 2Collegio Carlo Alberto, Torino

This paper investigates the consequences of social inequality in educational aspirations within a highly stratified but rather unselective tracking system. By exploiting a unique longitudinal administrative dataset from the city of Turin (N=6,759), we analyze students’ trajectories at a crucial turning point for educational careers in Italy, i.e. the transition to secondary schooling. We unpack the decision-making process of students from different family backgrounds by examining: (i) how initial intentions develop into actual track choices, (ii) the role played therein by school guidance, and (iii) the consequences in terms of school failure in the first year of secondary school. We show that, even when school guidance is not socially biased, it can contribute to social inequalities in track choices and outcomes. This is partly due to its non-binding nature, from which high-SES families take most advantage, and partly to the attention reserved to student’s initial intentions. Educational intentions are heavily socially stratified, as they reflect aspirations and acquaintance with the educational system. School guidance professionals factor them in because they consider them a proxy of motivation and family support, which could sustain children in their future educational careers. Yet, our analyses on student performance during the first year of secondary school reveal that, net of prior ability, ambitious intentions do not actually protect from the risk of failure neither low-SES nor high-SES students. We conclude that, especially within institutional contexts where freedom of choice over educational transitions is large, school guidance might fuel negative push factors for high-achieving but low-aspiring students, with harmful consequences for both equity and efficiency at the system level.


Giulietta Zanga

Università degli Studi di Brescia, Italy

The mass schooling that has taken place in the last century in Western countries hides enormous educational inequalities between students with different social origins and other ascribed characteristics.

Teachers’ guidance at the end of middle school contributes to the reproduction of educational inequalities in the Italian case. Sociological literature has investigated the effects of the guidance counsel on diversifying the choices of the higher curricula of students with different social and migratory backgrounds. Less attention has been paid to gender, another ascribed characteristic.

The objective of this contribution is exactly to identify how teachers’ school guidance contribute to gender segregation within Italian upper secondary education. Is teachers’ school guidance shaped by student gender? How do teachers manage gender when defining their advice?


This research was conducted using mixed methods and two data sources: a unique dataset built with MIUR and INVALSI data, containing data about 52.000 middle scholars, and 25 semi structured interviews with privileged witnesses of school guidance processes, in large majority experienced teachers.

The dataset was analysed through multivariate regression models, to estimate the role played by guidance in shaping gender segregation among high school tracks. Qualitative interviews were analysed highlighting the dynamics of school guidance from the point of view of the actors defining it.


Our analysis shows how the guidance advice differ not only according to the social conditions of the students but also with respect to their gender: boys and girls, even with equal marks and standardized performance in different subjects, obtain guidance advice towards different high school’s addresses. Teachers consider as “natural” incorporating students’ gender and related stereotypes in their definition of school advice. At the same time, once made aware of their role in the reproduction of gender segregation, interviewed teachers manifested genuine interest in receiving specific training on this point, to overcome actual common and biased practices.


Argentin G., Barbieri G. e Barone C. (2017), Origini sociali, consiglio orientativo e iscrizione al liceo: un’analisi basata sui dati dell’Anagrafe Studenti, Politiche sociali, 1/2017, 53-73

Biemmi I. e Leonelli S. (2016), Gabbie di genere: Retaggi sessisti e scelte formative, Torino, Rosenberg & Sellier

Romito M. (2014), Provenienze sociali e orientamento scolastico, Etnografia e ricerca qualitativa, 3/2014, 481-504

Romito M., Bonizzoni P. e Cavallo C. (2014), Teachers’ guidance, family participation and track choice: the educational disadvantage of immigrant students in Italy, British Journal of Sociology of Education


Camilla Borgna2, Dalit Contini3, Stella Pinna Pintor3, Roberta Ricucci3, Nathalie Vigna1

1Université de Lausanne, Switzerland; 2CCA-Collegio Carlo Alberto; 3Università di Torino

Educational inequalities are a feature of all modern societies. In addition to differences in performances, tracked school systems are characterised by social inequalities in path choices. In these contexts, school guidance can play a role in shaping inequalities. The aim of this paper is to investigate that role. We do so in Italy, where secondary tracks are heavily stratified in terms of social prestige and families are completely free to choose.

Previous research has highlighted a possible positive impact of targeted guidance project on reducing school choice inequalities (Carlana et al. 2018, Barone et al. 2018). Nevertheless, little evidence exists on untargeted interventions. Against this background, we evaluate the effect of a guidance intervention implemented in 2018 and delivered to 7th-8th grades in several schools of Turin. By reducing the information gap and encouraging students to deeply reflect about their interests and aptitudes, the project might have reduced the propensity of disadvantaged students to disproportionately choose less prestigious tracks, thereby reducing inequalities in school choices.

We apply two complementary research approaches. We assess the causal impact of the project with a counterfactual approach, employing a difference and difference design. We use administrative data on school enrollment linked with data on cognitive abilities, aptitudes and interests collected through a test administrated to all the students enrolled in 8th grade in the municipality. We also analyze the implementation of the project through large non-participatory observation and through interviews to key actors.

We show that the impact of the project on inequalities was very small, since disadvantaged students in the school participating in the program do not seem to have made more ambitious choices compared to their peers who did not participate. We highlight several factors contributing to this result, such as the difficulty in following the program for students with little command of Italian, and the lack of coordination between the actors involved in the various phases of the guidance process. Moreover, the concern to reduce the risk of early school leaving led the counselors to put much emphasis on past school performances during the meetings in class. The same concern later led the teachers to take into consideration students’ family background while formulating their recommendation, which was delivered to treated students after the end of the school guidance intervention and before actual school choice.

The results of this study highlight the need of integrate a reflection on choice inequalities into counselors’ training and, more generally, into the national guidelines on school guidance.


Barone, C., Assirelli, G., Abbiati, G., Argentin, G., & De Luca, D. (2018). Social origins, relative risk aversion and track choice: A field experiment on the role of information biases. Acta Sociologica, 61(4), 441–459

Carlana M., La Ferrara E., Pinotti P. (2018), Goals and Gaps: Educational Careers of Immigrant Children, CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1812, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.


Paola Menapace. PhD

Dipartimento Istruzione e Cultura PAT, Italy


During the first Covid-19 lockdown, we, as provincial office for the school policies evaluation of the Autonomous Province of Trento, proposed a questionnaire to our middle and secondary schools’ reference teachers for career guidance, to understand their working practices and projects in the pre-Covid period (the last two school years until February 2020). Our aim was to understand the status quo at a provincial level of the projects and the way of working/collaborating between schools in formal/informal networks for offering better quality projects which may have in turn an impact on students’ choices in transition between different orders of schools or to work and tertiary level education. The present work wishes to contribute to the debate on the evaluation, impact and quality of career education programs in schools (Gatsby Charitable Foundation, April 2014, Final Report). The questionnaire was divided in two main sections: the first one about the quantification and analytical description of the current projects, the second one about the networks of collaboration between schools (SNA). We discovered that in Trentino all schools have some core projects mostly regarding the typologies “informative” and “formative” of orientation activities and that the “counselling” typology is mostly but not only delegated to external experts, mainly psychologists working already at the school. Regarding the "inclusive" typology there are very few innovative projects about gender issues and career guidance of students with a migration background. Another part of the questionnaire investigated the role of formal and informal networks of schools collaborating in jointed projects about career guidance. In Trentino there are some well-established formal networks of middle and secondary schools on a local level which have a particularly important role in organizing and planning mostly jointed information and formation activities for students and their families, which in turn may have an impact on the further choices of the students. Data revealed that there is also an interesting “parallel” informal network of schools, mainly regarding the schools around the Town of Trento, where some middle schools and VET schools have a role in connecting as brokers more dispersed schools in the whole province. Despite in Trentino in the last years a lot of efforts were put in implementing a kind of provincial system for career guidance, still each school and/or formal network of schools are quite independent and autarch in developing and carrying out their projects. The sharing of good practices among the schools and the networks of the whole province is still limited and in a very initial phase. It is argued that these more territorial based projects would benefit from such exchange to prevent an asymmetric and quality differentiated access to information which may impact the desired “equity” of the whole system in giving to everyone the same opportunities despite of the location of the school. We are planning a post Covid-19 follow-up questionnaire to verify the differences and behaviours of schools on this issue and to highlight the risks that students face in this period also in the management of transitions.


Elisa Manzella

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italia

The transition from lower to upper secondary school is a crucial passage in the Italian system, in order to identify mechanisms underlying the reproduction of social inequalities.

The advice formulated by teachers and provided to parents and students seems to influence their choices when enrolling in different high school tracks and seems to be biased and unequal, reflecting students’ socio-economic background (e.g. Romito, 2016; Argentin et al., 2017; Argentin & Pavolini, 2020).

This is critical, considering that the advice coming from teachers arrives to family in a crucial moment for the generation of high school segregation among tracks and it could be even effective in counteracting the reproduction of inequalities.

Previous studies were focused on average trend, but they tell us only few about factors underlying differences in school guidance (e.g. Argentin et al., 2017; Barone et al., 2017); while qualitative studies investigated more in-depth the advices’ formulation, but describing local contexts and exploiting only partially the existing variability (e.g. Romito, 2016).

This essay explores the dimensions of heterogeneity in the formulation of school advice by teachers, through interviews to teachers from different social contexts, but also focusing on several characteristics of the advice usually not adequately considered (i.e. how it is provided to parents, its level of specificity, the criteria considered by teachers, etc.). We aim to investigate whether the advice may be considered as a unique intervention, thanks to an underlying homogeneous process leading to it, or if we have to consider its multiplicity as generating different interventions in different schools.

Our analyses relies, now, on thirty semi-structured interviews conducted with teachers from all over Italy, identified through a snowball sampling.

Results clearly show the great variety in teachers’ advice. Heterogeneity is relevant along all the dimensions considered: in the advices’ form, communication channel, criteria perceived as relevant by teachers, etc..

This variety is also enhanced by the fact that guidance councils are strongly rooted in the local context, i.e. specific training and employment opportunities.

Implications for a policy re-definition of teachers’ school guidance are exploited, also in light of its potentiality as a tool to contrast the reproduction of social inequalities in education.


Argentin, G., Barbieri, G., & Barone, C. (2017). Origini sociali, consiglio orientativo e iscrizione al liceo: Un’analisi basata sui dati dell’Anagrafe Studenti. Politiche Sociali, 1/2017.

Argentin, G., & Pavolini, E. (2020). How Schools Directly Contribute to the Reproduction of Social Inequalities. Evidence of Tertiary Effects, Taken from Italian Research. Politiche Sociali, 1/2020.

Barone, C., Assirelli, G., Abbiati, G., Argentin, G., & Luca, D. D. (2017). Social origins, relative risk aversion and track choice: A field experiment on the role of information biases. Acta Sociologica, 60(4).

Romito, M. (2016). Una scuola di classe. Orientamento e disuguaglianza nelle transizioni scolastiche. Guerini Scientifica.


Markus Kohlmeier

University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

At the transition to upper secondary education immigrant students decide more often to continue schooling in an academic track than non-immigrant students. The latter are more likely to choose a vocational alternative. Yet students with an immigrant background do not benefit from their more ambitious educational choices in terms of subsequent success. The mechanisms behind this so-called aspiration-achievement paradox remain unclear. This article therefore aims to explore the specific challenges that hinder the educational success of immigrant youth in processes of educational upward mobility. Previous research shows that academic self-concept has a direct impact on school performance, even when controlling for academic ability and prior educational attainment. For this reason, empirical investigations focus on factors that influence adolescents' academic self-concept. However, the academic self-concept is influenced by performance-related comparisons (Marsh et al. 2000) as well as socio-structural comparisons (Schwarzer et al. 1982) and parental expectations (Frome & Eccles 1998). To shed light on migration-specific challenges that accompany processes of educational upward mobility, this paper also argues that family dynamics (normative expectations, family cohesion) and acculturative stress influence adolescents' academic self-concept. Mediation and moderation analyses based on linear regression models confirm this hypothesized influence of normative learning environments on the academic self-concept of immigrant students. The results thus provide an important piece of the puzzle for the missing link between aspirations and achievement. The data are based on the National Education Panel Study, which monitors the German education system and its outcomes.