Parents admit turning to church to get their children into good school

When choosing a school, most parents prioritise its reputation (Ian West/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Going to church, buying a second home or using a relative’s address are some of the tactics used by parents to get their child into a good school, a report has revealed.

Almost a third (30%) of professional parents said they know someone who has used ethically dubious means to get their children into a good school.

According to the Sutton Trust’s Parent Power report, published on Thursday, these include techniques such as buying or renting a second home to use that address, or using the address of a relative.

The most common tactics for getting into a good school cited by parents include attending church services (31%) in order to get into a religious school, and appealing against admissions decisions (29%).

The report draws on a YouGov survey of 1,017 parents of school-age children who were asked how they choose schools, the strategies they undertake to get into those schools, and the extra support they give their children.

Half of the state school parents polled (49%) reported having been asked for an extra financial donation to their school in the last year.

One fifth (20%) of parents from the highest social group said they know someone who has bought or rented a second home in the catchment area of a good school.

This is compared to just 6% of those in the lowest social class.

A total of 16% of all parents said they know someone who has used a relative’s address.

Both of these strategies are potentially fraudulent.

Attending church and contesting decisions were popular among all social groups, potentially due to the lack of financial implications, according to the report.

But there was a clear social gap when employing the strategies which cost money.

Parents in the top social group were twice as likely to say they know someone who has moved to get into a particular school (33% vs 15%), and almost four times as likely to say they know someone who has paid for private tuition (37% vs 10%) to pass an entrance test.

The survey also asked parents what they take into consideration when making 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.

Working class parents also raised concerns 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.

Parents said they felt under pressure to contribute, with 31% saying they feared there would be negative consequences for their child if they did not do so.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, 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 under-performing.

“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.”

– YouGov conducted an online survey of 1,017 parents of children aged five to 16 who attend primary or secondary school.

School standards minster Nick Gibb said: “If it is established that a school place has been offered on the basis of fraudulent or misleading information, then the local authority or an academy’s governing body may withdraw the place if appropriate.

“Last year, 93.8% of pupils received offers from one of their top three choice of secondary school and we now have 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

“But we want to give parents greater choice when looking at the schools that are right for their children.”