Poorer pupils in England get less help with their homework than their better-off classmates, according to new analysis of the OECD’s PISA survey published by the Sutton Trust today. Just half (50%) of the most disadvantaged 15-year olds said their parents regularly helped with their homework, compared to 68% of their better-off classmates.

Extra Time, by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education looks at how private tuition and out-of-school instruction varies from country to country. It finds the gap between rich and poor students reporting help with their homework is significantly bigger in England than in 12 of the other 21 countries taking part. Only two East Asian nations (Hong Kong and South Korea) and Italy have a significantly bigger poverty gap.

The research also looks at the amount of time Year 11 pupils spend in extra tuition – whether provided by the school, the family or by private tutors – outside of normal lessons. Year 11 pupils in England spend an average of nine-and-a-half hours per week in additional instruction, which is significantly less than pupils in 12 of the countries surveyed.

However, there are big gaps between socio-economic and achievement groups in the amount of time spent on additional instruction, with bright but poor pupils losing out, even though Sutton Trust research shows many of the latter fall behind in secondary school. Low-achieving pupils from the most advantaged homes spend more than twice as much time in additional instruction as high-achieving pupils from disadvantaged families (15 hours per week vs seven hours per week). High achievers in science who are from better off backgrounds are twice as likely to receive extra instruction as high achievers from disadvantaged homes. For pupils of the same level of achievement, better-off pupils get about two and a half extra hours of instruction a week.

The report warns that this creates a ‘glass floor’ for children from better-off homes in danger of low achievement, a substantial barrier to social mobility.

Also published in today’s report is the Sutton Trust’s annual barometer of how widespread private tuition is in England and Wales. The polling by Ipsos MORI of 2,612 11-16 year olds in England and Wales finds that 30% of them have received private tuition at some point, up from 25% in 2016 and 18% in 2005. This figure rises to 48% in London (up from 37% in 2014), where young people are more likely to have had private tuition than in any other region of the UK.

However, students who receive private tuition disproportionately come from better-off backgrounds. Those from high affluence households (35%) are twice as likely as those from low affluence households (18%) to have received such tuition at some point.

To level the playing field outside of the classroom, the Trust is recommending that schools establish ‘homework clubs’ to give disadvantaged pupils the extra support they need and adopt proven ‘whole school’ approaches to parental engagement.

They’d also like the government to introduce a means-tested voucher scheme through the pupil premium to provide additional tuition for children. These tutors should be experienced and well-qualified (not all tutors have specific teaching qualifications) – evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation, the Sutton Trust’s sister foundation, suggests that good teaching skills are crucial in improving the attainment of disadvantaged students, who often lag behind their advantaged peers.

The Trust would also like to see more private tuition agencies provide a certain proportion of their tuition to disadvantaged pupils for free, as well as an expansion of non-profit and state tuition programmes that connect tutors with disadvantaged schools. Agencies like Tutorfair, MyTutor and Tutor Trust operate innovative models in this area.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“Outside of the classroom, an educational arms race entrenches advantage for those who can afford it. Our new research shows that pupils from better-off homes get much more help with their homework and private tuition than those from less well-off homes.

“We need to make sure that the academic playing field is levelled outside of the school gate by the state providing funding for private tuition on a means-tested basis.”

Dr John Jerrim, author of the report, said:

“These figures show that in the UK children from poorer homes receive significantly less help with their studies outside of school than in many of the other countries surveyed. As a result, children of high ability from low-income families are not receiving the kinds of educational opportunities they should. More support is needed to ensure these pupils are given vital additional support with their learning in order to keep up with children of similar ability from more affluent backgrounds.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 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. Ipsos MORI interviewed 2,612 school children aged 11-16 in schools in England and Wales. Pupils were selected from a random sample of schools, and self-completion questionnaires were completed at school between 6th February and 17th May 2017. Data are weighted by school year, sex and region to match the profile of school children across England and Wales. The same methodology has been used to conduct this research with 11-16 year olds in England and Wales each year since 2003. The numbers of 11-16 year olds interviewed in the other quoted years are as follows: 2016 (2,555), 2014 (2,796) and 2005 (2,709).
  3. Ipsos MORI determines the affluence of young people’s backgrounds through a series of four questions in the questionnaire (frequency of family holidays, having one’s own bedroom in the family home, number of computers in household, whether the family owns a vehicle). Of the 2,612 11-16 year olds interviewed in England and Wales in 2017, 1,449 have been determined to come from ‘high’ affluence backgrounds and 220 from ‘low’ affluence backgrounds.
  4. The remaining data are drawn from the 2015 round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA); a study of 15 year-olds’ knowledge and achievement conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). In 2015, PISA was conducted in November, when children were in their final year of compulsory schooling and just six months away from taking their GCSEs. The PISA consortia state that the test measures children’s ‘functional ability’ (how well they can use the concepts examined in ‘real life’ situations) in three domains (reading, mathematics and science).
  5. High and low achieving pupils are defined as the top and bottom 25% of performers on the PISA science test within each respective country.
  6. A total of 72 countries participated in PISA 2015 (increasing up to 75 countries when separating out the four countries that form the UK). Out of these, 22 countries (including England) completed an additional ‘educational career’ questionnaire. In England, a total of 5,194 pupils from 206 schools took part in PISA, and are the focus of this analysis.
  7. When investigating socio-economic differences, the report focuses on family background as defined by the Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) index in the PISA dataset. Most and least advantaged pupils are defined as the and bottom 25% of performers on the PISA test within each respective country.
  8. Additional instruction as defined in the PISA questionnaire might take place at school or somewhere else, but is not part of pupils’ mandatory school schedule. Participants were asked to consider all regularly attended, institutionalised, organised additional learning activities in which they received some kind of instruction, guidance, or support. It is rather different to the definition used in the Sutton Trust’s polling on private tuition which is more explicit about the use of home tutoring.

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