Parents using 'ethically dubious tactics' to beat school admissions

Almost a third of professional parents know someone who has used ‘ethically dubious tactics’ to get their child into a school, a new report from the Sutton Trust finds

Almost a third (30%) of professional parents know someone who has used ethically dubious tactics to get their children into a good school, such as buying or renting a second home to use that address, or using the address of a relative, according to new Sutton Trust research.
The report also showed a social divide in tactics; one fifth (20%) of parents from the highest social group said they knew someone who had bought or rented a second home in the catchment area of a good school, compared to six per cent of those in the lowest social class. Sixteen per cent of all parents said they knew someone who had used a relative’s address. Both of these strategies are potentially fraudulent.
Parent Power 2018 draws on a YouGov survey of 1017 parents of school-age children and shows the extent to which parent power is dependent on ability to pay. Respondents were asked questions about how they choose schools, the strategies they undertake to get into those schools, and the extra support they give their children.
The most common tactics for getting into a good school cited by parents included attending church services (31%) and appealing against admissions decisions (29%). These were popular across all social groups, potentially due to the lack of financial implications.
However, there were substantial social gaps in the strategies that cost money – moving house to the catchment area of a good school, for example. Parents in the top social group were twice as likely to say they knew someone who had moved to get into a particular school (33% vs 15%) and almost four times as likely to say they knew someone who had paid for private tuition (37% vs 10%) to pass an entrance test.
Parents were also asked about the reasons they considered when they made their school choice. Local reputation (93%), meeting the particular needs of the child (92%) and proximity to the home (83%) were the most commonly cited reasons given by parents.
There were also rising concerns among working class parents about the hidden costs of a state school education: the cost of travel, uniforms, and the recent trend of schools asking parents for ‘voluntary’ contributions. In fact half of state school parents (49%) reported having been asked for an extra financial donation to their school in the last year. Despite such payments being voluntary, parents also felt under pressure to contribute, with more than one in three parents (31%) saying they felt that there would have been negative consequences for their child if they had not paid.
Parents were also asked about the support they gave their child, whether though extra-curricular activities, or academic help. Across all social groups, the majority of parents do regularly help with their child’s homework, with over 50% of parents in every social class doing so more often than once a week. However, those from higher social classes were more likely to help with homework on a very regular basis.
There was a similar pattern for parents’ evening, with the majority of parents from all social groups said that they always attend parents’ evenings. However, when parents are not able to help with homework, middle-class parents turn to private tuition, with professional parents five times more likely to have paid for private tuition than working class parents (31% compared to 6%).
But when it came to extra-curricular activities like music lessons, language classes, sports and performing arts clubs, results varied considerably by social group. Just 45% of parents in the lowest social group said that their child took part in such activities, compared to almost twice as many (84%) of parents in the highest social group. Money here was also clearly a barrier, with those from less well-off homes were more likely to take part in activities that didn’t need to be paid for.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:
“Parents from all backgrounds and walks of life want to do the best for their children. Those with money, education and confidence are more able to give their children the best possible chance of succeeding.
“Middle class and professional parents gain an advantage for their children at every turn. They do this by buying homes in the catchment areas of good schools, paying for private tuition and out of school extracurricular activities, and providing support with post-18 educational choices.
“However, there are some practical measures that can be taken to level the playing field, such as fairer school admissions and providing tuition to those who can’t afford it.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“The reason that families use various tactics to get their children into certain schools is often that other schools are stigmatised by a punitive accountability system which labels them as underperforming. These judgements make it more difficult for them to attract leaders, teachers and pupils, and traps them in a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape. We need a new approach which is less harsh and more supportive, enabling sustainable improvement and ensuring every family has access to a good local school.
“Requests for voluntary contributions have increased because schools are so cash-strapped. This is a sign of the severity of the funding crisis caused by the government’s under-investment in schools. Funding per pupil has fallen in England by about eight per cent in real terms since 2009/10, according to a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Schools are very conscious of guidance on voluntary contributions, which states that it must be made clear there is no obligation to make any contribution, and that parents must not be made to feel pressurised into doing so.”
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