Detailed Program of the Conference

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Overall view of the program
Parallel session - D.11.2 Schools as a potential source of inequalities reproduction: how, where and why?
Wednesday, 02/June/2021:
5:45pm - 8:00pm

Session Chair: Gianluca Argentin
Session Chair: Marco Romito
Location: Room 5

Session Panels:
D.11. Schools as a potential source of inequalities reproduction: how, where and why?

External Resource:


Loris Vergolini1, Davide Azzolini1,2

1FBK-IRVAPP; 2Urban Institute

Starting from the experience of Individual Development Accounts (IDA), it has gradually emerged the idea that policies aimed at providing incentives to enhance the accumulation of family assets can be an effective solution for wealth building and for fighting the intergenerational transmission of poverty. IDAs are programs that offer to low-income families incentives to save small amounts of money for the purchase of long-term assets, such as starting a small business, buying their first home and participating in post-secondary education.

A particular type of IDAs are the so-called Children Savings’ Accounts (CSAs). CSAs are typically activated at birth or in the early years of life and families are expected to regularly deposit a small amount of money in a dedicated bank account. These savings are then multiplied on condition that they are spent on children’s education. The advantage of this type of intervention is twofold: first, it encourages the accumulation of financial resources for education, and second, it reinforces family aspirations and expectations about their children’s education.

Our paper deals with the programme WILL “Educare al Futuro”, a policy experimentation aimed at implementing a CSA and at evaluating its effects on the school performances of pupils.

This project was launched in 2019 and is co-financed by Fondazione Con i Bambini and a broad partnership composed of banking foundations and third sector organizations in four Italian cities (Cagliari, Florence, Teramo and Turin). The program is targeted to primary school pupils in their fifth grade from low-income families. The program offers the opportunity to regularly save small amounts of money (6 euros per week up to a maximum of 1,000 euros over a 4-year period) on a dedicated digital wallet linked to a bank account that provides a generous multiplier: each euro saved is multiplied by 4 if the money is spent on proven school expenses. In addition to the savings account, the beneficiaries are entitled to access to: financial education courses, to educational support and to a guidance programme.

The impacts of the program on families' savings, their aspirations and expectations, and students' school careers (e.g., learning, dropping out of school, school completion, choice of education) will be assessed using a randomized controlled trial by 2023. However, important preliminary results for the debate on anti-poverty policies during the pandemic can already be drawn from the observation of the saving and spending behaviors of the beneficiaries. This analysis permits to analyze the determinants of family savings in the sample under study (about 600 families). In particular, the data available allow us to find a substantial stability of savings made by families and a strong reorientation of spending towards those goods or services that are essential in a phase of distance learning (e.g., purchase of a computer, a tablet or an internet connection). Incentivized savings could therefore be a potential social policy tool for combating (educational) poverty not only in "normal times", but also during crisis situations such as that caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Gabriele Pessl

Institute for Advanced Studies, Austria

Educational pathways of students with special needs can be considered an exceptional case of potential inequality reproduction. I will not elaborate on disabilities as social practice related to social inequality (Fasching 2017) but focus on the transition from lower to upper secondary education. This transition turns out to be particularly problematic for students with special needs, as their careers often come to an end at this point. The question how and which inequalities arise in the course of this transitional process has been analysed using administrative data (school and employment statistics) of student cohorts from 2008 to 2013 in Austria (Pessl 2018). Thus, inequalities occur due to factors at system level as well as to social practices.

Inequality related to the recognition of certificates. Upper secondary schools are virtually inaccessible for those who have been assigned special needs in lower secondary education. This can partly be explained by the legal framework: Although not prohibited, any entitlement to continue formal school education for graduates is absent. This is not the case with apprenticeship training, as the legal setup differs from full time schools. Around one third of the cohorts have taken up an apprenticeship post 18 months after graduation. The major share though (44%) does not take part in any formal education.

Inequality related to gender, language and region can be grasped as a matter of reproduction via social practice. The prevalence of special needs differs markedly between Austrian regions, girls and boys and students with and without German as a first language. Among the graduates from lower secondary education, the smaller groups in special education, namely girls, German speakers and students from southern Austria, face more difficulties in further educational careers.

Finally the practice of enrolment, either in regular schools or in dedicated special schools, reflects inequality as a matter of inclusion vs. segregation. It is again related to gender, region and language. According to my analysis, the chance to continue education is 1.4 for graduates from an inclusive setting. This result is in line with several studies from the German speaking countries (e.g. Haeberlin et al 2011, Pfahl/Powell 2010, Sahli Lozano 2012).


Fasching H et al. 2017 (eds). Inklusive Übergänge. (Inter)nationale Perspektiven auf Inklusion im Übergang von der Schule in weitere Bildung, Ausbildung oder Beschäftigung. Bad Heilbrunn, 17-28.

Haeberlin U et al. 2011. Schulische Separation und die berufliche Situation im frühen Erwachsenenalter, in: Ludwig L et al. (eds). Bildung in der Demokratie II. Tendenzen – Diskurse – Praktiken. Opladen, Farmington Hills, 55-68.

Pessl G 2019. Jugendliche mit Sonderschulabschluss, in: Steiner M et al. AusBildung bis 18. Wissenschaftliche Begleitung der Implementierung und Umsetzung des Ausbildungspflichtgesetzes. Wien, 224-262.

Pfahl L, Powell J 2010. Draußen vor der Tür: Die Arbeitsmarktsituation von Menschen mit Behinderung, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte Vol. 23 (10), 32-38.

Sahli Lozano C 2012. Schulische Selektion und berufliche Integration. Theorien, Positionen und Ergebnisse einer Längsschnittstudie zu den Wirkungen integrativer und separativer Schulformen auf Ausbildungszugänge und -wege. Dissertation. Freiburg.


Giovanni Abbiati1, Gianluca Argentin2, Tiziano Gerosa2, Patrizia Falzetti3

1Università Statale di Milano; 2Università di Milano Bicocca; 3INVALSI, Italy

The Italian school system is characterized by a wide turnover of teachers among schools and classes and there is abundant evidence of the fact that there are more attractive schools and more repulsive schools (Barbieri et al. 2007; 2011), as there are more attractive and more repulsive classes (Sestito, 2014; Kalorigdes et al. 2013). It seems important to test how this phenomenon is distributed across schools and areas of the country and whether a consequential change of teachers during the course of studies is an harmful factor for students’ achievement, especially for less advantaged students. In other words, is teachers’ turnover a factor exacerbating social inequalities in Italian education?

To answer our research question, we use INVALSI data collected on 8th graders in the 2017/18 school year. We consider the national main sample, for which teachers of Italian and mathematics completed a questionnaire (about 20,000 students and their 1,900 mathematics and language teachers). We classify teachers into three groups: a. the ones rooted in the class for the entire three-year period of lower secondary school; b. the ones rooted in the school, but not in the classroom (therefore teachers belonging for some time to the school community, but unstable in the class); c. the ones unrooted both in the classroom and in the school community. We begin our investigation by assessing if there is a systematic association between stability of teachers and social background of students. Then, we estimate multivariate regression model in which we regress achievement on stability controlling for a wide set of variables (students background, previous achievement and teacher and school characteristics), separately for language and mathematics. Finally, we exploit the possibility of making a more robust causal inference using models based on within student variance component, possible thanks to the presence of an Italian test and a math test.

Results show that instability is widespread all over the country and hits similarly pupils from different social background, with only a slight concentration among worse-off students. Multivariate analysis shows that having a teacher unrooted both in the school and in the class has a negative association with achievement of about 0.7/0.12 standard deviations (statistically significant at 0.01 level), in both language and math; the impact of having a teacher rooted in the school but not in the classroom is less intense. Moreover the negative impact of having a teacher unrooted both in the school and in the class is higher for students coming from a lower socio-economic background, confirming that teachers’ turnover exacerbates social inequalities in Italian education.

  • Barbieri, G., Cipollone, P. and Sestito, P. (2007), Labour market for teachers: Demographic characteristics and allocative mechanisms, Giornale degli Economisti e Annali di Economia, 66(3), 335-373.
  • Barbieri, G., Rossetti, C. and Sestito, P. (2011), The determinants of teacher mobility: Evidence using Italian teachers’ transfer applications, Economics of Education Review, 30(6), 1430-1444.
  • Kalogrides, D., Loeb, S. and Beteille, T. (2013), Systematic sorting: Teacher characteristics and class assignments, Sociology of Education, 86(2), 103-123.
  • Sestito, P. (2014), La scuola imperfetta, Il Mulino.


Elena Gremigni

University of Pisa, Italy

The OECD-PISA 2018 survey, which had reading as its main focus, highlights that Italian 15-year-old students’ scores are overall below the OECD average in tests aimed at assessing this competence. However, considerable differences remain between the good points obtained by students attending liceo, compared to those who study in technical and, above all, vocational schools, where low SES teenagers are more frequent. Research shows that school systems can implement forms of equalization of educational opportunities when they promote the access of disadvantaged students to the best tracks. As a matter of fact, it is much more likely that blue-collar workers’ children who attend schools together with white-collar workers’ children will be able to get a degree than those who study in education paths where peers have the same social background.

This pilot research ‒ conducted on a limited number of cases with the CAWI technique among 19-20-year-old liceo graduates from Livorno and Pisa areas ‒ seems to confirm the role played by the “institutional habitus” in reducing the influence determined by ascriptive variables, such as parents’ educational qualifications, on regarding reading practices. Although the data that emerge from this small survey does not assess the real competences achieved by graduates, the habit of reading detected is still an essential condition for the acquisition of adequate language skills. In this sense, this pilot research confirms the positive effects produced by general education and therefore the need to overcome an early tracking that risks channeling students to different schools mainly on the basis of their social origin, reproducing already existing social inequalities.


Azzolini, D., Vergolini, L. (2014). Tracking, Inequality and Education Policy. Looking for a Recipe for the Italian Case. Scuola democratica, 2: 1-11. doi: 10.12828/77685

Ball, S.J., Davies, J., David, M., Reay, D. (2002). “Classification” and “Judgement”: Social Class and the “Cognitive structures” of Choice of Higher Education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(1): 51-72.

Contini, D., Scagni, A. (2013). Social Origin Inequalities in Educational Careers in Italy: Performance or Decision Effects? In M. Jackson (ed.). Determined to Succeed? Performance Versus Choice in Educational Attainment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Giancola, O., Salmieri, L., (2020). Family Background, School-Track and Macro-Area: the Complex Chains of Education Inequalities in Italy. DiSSE Working Papers 4/20. Roma: Università “La Sapienza”.

OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being. Paris: OECD Publishing.

OECD (2019). PISA 2018 Results (Volume I). What Students Know And Can Do. Paris, OECD Publishing.

Parziale, F., Vatrella, S. (2018). Can Schools Help Working-Class Students Access University? Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 10(3): 245-268.

Pensiero, N., Giancola, O., Barone, C. (2019). Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes in Italy. In L. Volante. S. Schnepf, J., D. Klinger (Eds). Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes. Education Policy & Social Inequality (pp. 81-94). Singapore: Springer.

Reay, D. (1998). “Always Knowing” and “Never Being Sure”: Familial and Institutional Habituses and Higher Education Choice. Journal of Education Policy, 13(4): 519-529.


Chiara Cavarra

RomaTre, Italy

In this essay, schooling drop-out understood as the loss of human potential is seen from a historical-political-economic perspective, taking the Italian national case as an example. This experience will be followed by the international one. Respect to educational policies the analysis will start from the economic and consequently social disparities between Italian natives starting from first post-war period. This case could be related to the situation of immigrant students especially for those of the first generation. History teaches in Italy that the low level of education of native parents tends to repeat the same pattern in their children as it does for immigrant parents. Due to the migratory process, they often do not finish their studies and arrive in the country of destination with children to raise. Invalsi 2018 report points out how tests carried out by second generation students produce better marks than those carried out by first generation ones. From the first legal achievements that allowed all children to go to school and therefore support policies for families in the growth and development of potential, a school model will be outlined in a welcoming and motivating social context. A legislative framework from the 1960s to the latest EU regulations characterized the issue of equal opportunities and school autonomy in contrast to dispersion not only to support the most disadvantaged classes (poor people, immigrant, etc) but in general to emphasize the uniqueness of the individual. The dynamics between the humanist and technocratic tendencies since the 1990s has been unbalanced on the latter. All of this has underlined by contrast the relevance of the school to the fore, conveying an education based on social commitment and attention to needs and phases of development. The best practice App in progress applied in the classrooms of the multiethnic Roman suburbs (european, asiatic, south american, russian and rumenian student, etc), will be an example of how the use of various technological aids together with the commitment of the educating society can support an inclusive path capable of unlocking human potential.


Arianna Santero

University of Turin, Italy

Students with immigration backgrounds have become a structural presence in Italian schools. Qualitative and quantitative studies have shown immigrants educational disadvantages compared to natives [Miur 2020; Barban & White 2011; Borgna & Contini 2014; Azzolini 2016; Bonizzoni Romito & Cavallo 2016; Triventi 2020]. Despite the relevance of this topic for equality and social cohesion, the experiences of transnational families [Bryceon & Vuorela 2002; Merla, Kilkey & Baldassar 2020; Santero 2021] with children in upper secondary school and their transitions from secondary to tertiary education and to the labor market are still little explored issues in Italy [Mantovani Albertini & Gasperoni 2014].

The paper investigates from an intersectional and life course perspective the school experiences and the educational trajectories of 56 families with immigration backgrounds with children who graduated in Italy in 2011 and 2012, 11 of which were re-contacted in 2019 and 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. The qualitative analysis focused on representations, discourses and everyday practices of students, parents and teachers for the inclusion of foreign students at school. It was based on 104 semi-structured interviews with 56 migrant students, 17 parents and 22 key informants (secondary school teachers, principals and educators) in Piedmont, where the percentage of foreign students on the total population at secondary school is higher than the Italian average.

The paper highlights the coexistence of divergent institutional discourses [Wahlström & Sundberg 2018], between schools and within the same school, regarding measures to support the inclusion of migrant students as well as the “appropriate” assessment, orientation and didactics with foreign students.

The upper secondary school migrants attended in Italy have influenced their propensity to continue studying at the university. Students’ expectations regarding the transitions to adulthood, information from the peer groups, the transnational families’ economic resources and intergenerational obligations effect the migrant graduates’ perspectives on tertiary education, as well as their expectations and experiences in the labor market. Migrants previous educational paths, and in particular the upper secondary school choice and reorientation they experienced, tend to influence the post-graduation trajectories, trapping migrants who have graduated from vocational institutes in secondary level qualifications.

Results indicate also the advantages of using the transnational family as a lens through which to understand education and mobility paths and the role of schools in inequalities reproduction processes, at the intersection between gender, generation, social class and citizenship.


Giovanni Abbiati

University of Milan, Italy


In Italy the law allows families to enrol their children in primary schools one year in advance (the so-called "primina"). This possibility is allowed mainly for children who turn six by the 30th of April of the reference school year. This practice sparks a lively debate among psychologists, pedagogists and school staff. However, the literature is currently rather scant on this issue.

Research object

The following contribution aims at sheding light on early schooling by describing its evolution over time and the profile of families who make use of it, highlighting the link between territorial factors, the strategies adopted by families and their impact on their children’s learning. In doing so, we will estimate the effect of early enrolment on students both in the short term (on learning and attitudes) and in the medium term, measuring the regularity of the school path from primary to upper secondary school.


In this contribution I will make use of two databases. The first have been constructed by aggregating all INVALSI students from 2009-10 school year to 2018-19 taking the grade 2 and grade 5 tests. The database counts about 10,000,000 observations, similarly distributed between grades 2 and 5. The second, which counts 470,000 observations, examines instead the cohorts that took the INVALSI grade 5 test in the school years 2012-13 and 2013-14. By now, these are the only two cohorts for which it is possible to longitudinally reconstruct the school career at grades 8 and 10.


The evolution of the phenomenon over time and the description of the family profiles will be investigated using multivariate statistical analysis. In particular, I will try to understand in what context and under which conditions families opt for early enrolment.

Impact estimates of early enrolment will be produced by comparing the outcome of early enrollees with their birth cohorts peers born in May, that in vast majority took the test one year later. I will hence exploit the 30th of April threshold to achieve identification by means of fuzzy regression discontinuity design models, comparing the outcomes of the students born in April and those born in May; in order to study the effects far from the threshold (e.g. for those born in January) I will instead make use of local randomization models, under the that the assumption that the position of the individuals on the running variable (i.e. date of birth) can be conceived as a quasi-random event.


Preliminary results show that early enrolment is a phenomenon that characterizes the experience of Southern schools, while it is marginal in the rest of the country. Early enrolment is particularly pronounced among those born in January, (80% in the South) especially if they come from high status families (97%). Impact estimates of early enrolment show that it negatively affects students' learning in both second and fifth grade by about 0.3/0.5 standard deviations; early enrolment, furthermore, is also more likely to be associated with grade repetitions and enrolment in non-academic secondary schools.