Around one in three (32%) professional parents with children aged 5 to 16 has moved to an area which they thought had good schools, and 18% have moved to live in the catchment area of a specific school, according to a new Sutton Trust report, Parent Power?, published today.
The research by Professor Becky Francis, of King’s College London, and Professor Merryn Hutchings, of London Metropolitan University, draws on YouGov interviews with 1,173 parents of school-age children and shows the extent to which parent power is dependent on ability to pay.
The research found a much bigger gap between different social classes in the extent to which they employed strategies that cost money, including moving home or hiring a private tutor, to help their children.
A minority of parents with children at state schools also admitted to cheating the system:
* 2% of parents admitted to buying a second home and using that address so that their children could gain access to a specific school, including 5% of the upper middle classes
* 3% admitted using a relative’s address for that purpose, including 6% of the upper middle classes
* 6% admitted attending church services when they didn’t previously so their child could go to a church school, including 10% in the upper middle classes
The research also found that all parents rely more on school visits or open days (70%) and talking to other parents (62%) in choosing schools than Ofsted reports (57%) and school prospectuses (53%).
The report identifies different approaches to school choice, with ‘hyper choosers’ using five or more sources to choose a school and ‘limited choosers’ relying on one or none of the main sources.
Working class parents were significantly more likely to be ‘limited choosers’ than those in other classes, with 17% of the lowest income parents saying they looked at none of the listed sources. By contrast, 38% of professional parents were ‘hyper choosers’, consulting at least five information sources, compared to 13% of working class parents.
Professional parents were also more likely to pay for weekly music, drama or sporting lessons and activities outside school, with more than two-thirds (68%) of professionals doing so compared with 47% of working class parents and 31% of the lowest income parents.
The gap was narrower for free cultural activities such as a visit to a museum or gallery than for paid cultural activities like attending a play or a concert.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: “This research suggests that those with money actively choose to live near good schools, employ tutors and ensure their children have extra lessons and enrichment activities that are often too expensive for other families to afford.
“This provides a significant advantage in school choice and in developing the cultural capital that is so important to social mobility and later success. Education is about more than what happens at school, and providing a more level playing field in school choice and out-of-school activities is essential if every child is to achieve his or her potential.
“School admissions need to be fairer so that the best schools aren’t just for those who can afford to live nearby, with ballots used particularly in urban areas. And the Government should consider extending its pupil premium to provide means-tested vouchers to enable working class parents to provide the extra lessons and cultural activities that many of better off families take for granted.”
Professor Becky Francis, one of the report’s authors, said: “Our research shows just how far equality of opportunity is being undermined by the greater purchasing power of some parents. The ability for some parents but not others to use financial resources to secure their children’s achievement poses real impediments for social mobility, which need to be recognised and addressed as detrimental to society.
“However, our findings also demonstrate the extent to which some working class parents are enacting ‘informed choice’, and policymakers may also learn from their practices.”
The report recommends several steps towards a more level playing field, including:
* Government should introduce means-tested vouchers for working class parents to spend on extra tuition, books and cultural activities for their children
* Better information about schools and about the right for poorer pupils to free transport to a choice of schools should be made available to parents
* Schools should be expected to publish socio-economic data on applications and admissions
* Government should encourage ballots (random allocation) and banding for fairer admissions
1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
2. The report, Parent Power? Using money and information to boost children’s chances of educational success, by Becky Francis and Merryn Hutchings, is available here. The researchers analysed the results of an online survey of 1,173 parents of children aged 5-16 years who attended school, conducted in November 2012 by the polling organisation YouGov. The sample included a larger than average number of parents from the upper middle class social group A to enable clearer comparisons.
3. The researchers used a social grading scale A-E where A is upper middle class (professionals); B is middle class; C1 is lower middle class; C2 is skilled working class; D is working class; E is those at the lowest levels of subsistence (including casual workers, unemployed).
4. The sources of information on school choice offered to parents by YouGov were school visits/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.