Parents using 'dubious tactics' to beat school admissions criteria

Survey finds wealthy UK families renting or buying second homes to secure places

Wealthy parents are renting and even buying second homes in the catchment areas of highly sought-after schools to circumvent admissions criteria and secure a place for their child, according to a study.

A YouGov poll of parents for the Sutton Trust indicates there is widespread cheating among middle-class families, with one in three parents claiming to know families who have used “ethically dubious” tactics to win a place at their school of choice.

While they are less likely to admit to fraudulent tactics themselves, when asked whether they knew of others nearly one in six parents (16%) from all social backgrounds said they personally knew families who had used a relative’s address to secure a place.

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A fifth (20%) of parents from the highest social group said they knew someone who had either bought or rented a second home in the catchment area of a good school, compared with just 6% among those in the lowest social class.

The wealthiest parents were also twice as likely to know someone who had moved house to get into a particular school – 33% compared with 15% of the most disadvantaged parents.

The Parent Power 2018 report, published on Thursday, reveals the extent to which a parent’s capacity to access the best educational opportunities for their child depends on their ability to pay, not just for an address in the right area but also private coaching and extracurricular activities.

The most wealthy parents were almost four times as likely to know families who had paid for private tuition to pass a school entrance exam – 37% compared with 10% of those in the lowest social group.

Extracurricular activities were also beyond the reach of many of the poorest families. Less than half (45%) of the least-advantaged parents said their children had taken part in extracurricular activities like music lessons, language classes, sports and performing arts clubs, compared with 84% of parents in the wealthiest group. Children from less-well-off homes were much more likely to take part in activities that were free.

The most commonly used tactic to get into some of the most desirable schools is to develop a newfound faith and attend religious services to meet school admissions criteria where pupils are selected on the basis of church attendance.

According to the poll, which was conducted among more than 1,000 parents of school-age children, one in three parents (31%) from all backgrounds knew families who had done this. A slightly smaller proportion of parents surveyed (29%) said they knew families who had appealed against admissions decisions.

Asked about the lengths they had gone to personally to get their child into their school of choice, the figures were predictably lower – 10% of those in the top social group said they had moved house into a specific catchment area, compared with just 1% of working-class parents.

Schoolchildren playing football
Less than half of the least-advantaged parents surveyed said their children had taken part in extracurricular activities. Photograph: Alamy

Just 4% of the wealthiest parents admitted to having bought or rented a second home in a specific catchment area to get their child into a school, while 2% of the same group confessed to having used a relative’s address. The authors said figures were down from a similar survey five years ago, probably because of greater awareness of the disapproval of such tactics.

Responding to the report, the Sutton Trust founder, Peter Lampl, 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.

“If we are to tackle social mobility, it is key that these unequal opportunities are recognised and confronted.”

A Department for Education spokesperson 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.”

The report by Rebecca Montacute and Carl Cullinane also looked at the hidden costs of education in terms of school uniforms and travel, as well as the growing demand for voluntary donations from parents to supplement school funding.

Just under half of state school parents (49%) reported having been asked for an extra financial donation to their school in the last year. Although the payments are supposed to be voluntary, many parents feel under pressure to contribute, with just under one in three (31%) concerned there would have been negative consequences for their child if they had not paid.

• This article was amended on 13 September 2018. An earlier version said 16% was one in five and 31% was more than one in three. This has been corrected.


Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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