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Parent Power?

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This report uses YouGov polling to present a fascinating insight into the extent to which professional parents are able to gain an advantage over other families in the school system.


1.        Parents’ evenings or discussions with other parents were used to inform parental choice of school more often than league tables or Ofsted reports. A higher proportion of middle class than working class parents reported using multiple information sources to choose a school. Sources included school visits or open days; talking to other parents at the school; Ofsted reports; league tables and attainment data; school prospectuses; local authority websites and advisers; other websites; other sources.

2.        The report identifies different types of parent, according to the extent to which they use different sources of information to choose a school:

–          Limited choosers used only one or none of the listed sources of information.5 This group were mainly, but not exclusively, working class, ranging from 10% of social group B to over 40% of social group E.6

–          Partially informed choosers used more sources than the previous group, but did not generally use independent documentary sources.

–          Informed choosers – those who used at least one independent documentary source of information and one experiential source; this group made up over 60% of middle class parents, and just under half the working class parents.

–          Hyper choosers – a sub-group within the informed choosers; those who used five or more sources of information. A higher percentage of middle class than of working class respondents were found in this group (ranging from 38% of group A to 13% of group D).

3.        13% of respondents from professional social group A sent their eldest child to a private/independent school,7 compared with less than 2% of those from C2 (the skilled working class). Those who did so cited teaching quality, small class sizes and social networks as their reasons. A third of parents sending their children to a private school also paid for additional private tuition. Almost half of those who had sent their children to state schools indicated that they would have preferred private education if they could have afforded it. However, almost as many indicated that they would not want to send their child to a private school.

4.         Parents were asked if they had employed particular strategies to get into a good school. The strategies most frequently used were moving to live in an area thought to have good schools (21%); moving into the catchment area of a specific school (14%); and appealing against the decision to allocate the child to a specific school (13%). Other strategies included employing a private tutor (10%); attending church services to gain entry to a church school (6%); and using an address other than their main residence (either a second home or a relative’s address) to gain access to a school (ranging between 7% of social group A, to 2% of social group D). Middle class parents were significantly more likely to spend money to back their choice, such as moving into the catchment area of a specific school, or employing a tutor. ‘Informed’ and ‘hyper’ choosers were significantly more likely to use strategies such as moving house, employing a tutor and attending church than partially informed and limited choosers.

5.        The majority of parents reported that their child was supported with their school work either by family members or by a private tutor. However, a minority reported no support from either source: ranging from 11% of social group A respondents to 28% of those in social group E. Over half the parents in all social groups said that they supported their child at least once a week. 34% of social group A parents said that their child had received private tuition, compared to 12% of group E. Around 40% of the parents in groups C1, C2, D and E who had not provided their children with private tuition said that they would do so if they could afford it. More parents that sent their eldest child to private school had paid for additional private tuition than had state school parents: around a third (35%) of those parents paying  for private education had paid for additional tuition, compared with a fifth (20%) of those with children at state schools.

6.        Middle class parents were more engaged in their children’s school and more likely than working class parents to feel that the school listened to their concerns. Most parents said that they always attended parents’ evenings. Over half said that what they heard there had changed the way they supported their child at home. Middle class parents were more likely than working class parents to believe that the conversation with teachers at those evenings had resulted in the changing the way they worked with the child. Middle class parents were also more likely than working class parents so more likely than working class parents to have contacted the school to discuss their child’s progress, and to do so more frequently. They were also more likely to have become a governor or to have joined the Parent Teacher Association.

7. Middle class parents were significantly more likely have provided enrichment activities, such as attending plays and concerts, museum and gallery visits, and regular out of school classes (including sports, music and drama). However, the differences across social groups were greater for activities that cost money and smaller for activities that are free.


  • The Government should improve the range and quality of information available to working class parents.
  • Means-tested vouchers should be available to working class parents that can be spent on extra tuition, books and cultural activities for their children.
  • Schools should be expected to publish socio-economic data on who applies and who is admitted, to encourage inclusive practice.
  • Government, Local Authorities and groups of schools should instigate admissions systems that avoid bias.
  • The Government should take action to address the differences between state and private schools in information available to parents
  • More attention should be given to progress and value-added measures in school league tables, so that schools are encouraged to focus on all their students.