Supporting Families
  • banner6
  • banner8
  • banner12
  • banner10
  • banner7
  • banner3
  • banner13
  • banner2
  • banner4
  • banner11
Friday, 23 March 2018 23:07

How much does private tutoring matter for grammar school admissions? A flawed study?

Written by

Note: Some data updated

A study by two researchers at the London Institute of Education has discovered some unsurprising facts about tutoring for grammar school places across the country.

For me, the most important one is that taking school achievement at the end of Key State One into account, children are 20% more likely to be found selective if they have been tutored than not. Actually, I am surprised by this one as I would have thought it higher than this, as explained below.

They also come up with the slightly bizarre proposal to tax tutors and use the funds raised to provide vouchers to assist lower income families to purchase tutoring, an idea that has gained much media coverage. I consider this counterproductive, unworkable nonsense, as also explained below.

The research has received considerable media attention including two interventions by me on BBC SE and Meridian TV. Interestingly the BBC has rapidly dropped the item from its website! 

However, the headline is that children living in prosperous areas and who receive tutoring are far more likely to be offered a grammar school place than those living in deprived areas without tutoring, but who may not have chosen to apply for grammar school. 

The key table is as follows:

 Coaching for grammar school


In other words, just 14% of those living in selective areas who were not coached gained grammar school places. But surely, as seems likely, the large majority of those not coached never applied for grammar school in the first place (and so presumably should not have been counted in the statistic) this is an utterly meaningless finding. To underline this, of the sample taken, 661 of the 819 children in the sample were not coached, an astonishingly high proportion if only children applying to grammar school had been considered. There is a minority of areas, such as Buckinghamshire, where all children (except) those whose parents opt out, take the test, and this is likely to swell the proportion of children who took the test, who had no tutoring and did not pass (they may not have even wished to be part of the process!). However, by lumping Kent (where taking the selection test is completely optional) and Bucks together the data becomes even more meaningless. 

Indeed the whole exercise appears based on the flawed causation that it is primarily tutoring that makes the difference between attending grammar school or not.  There may well be other reasons why more children in prosperous areas gain grammar school places, than tutoring; parental aspiration, private schools that focus on selection issues, more more able children as demonstrated in Kent by differential Key Stage 2 results in West and East Kent; primary school attitudes to selection; school experience post Key Stage One; etc.

 One of the Main Findings of the Study
Families with the same level of income are much more likely to pay for private tutoring during primary school if they live in an area with a large number of grammar schools, than if they live in areas without grammar schools - Wow!

None of this denies that coaching often makes a difference and there is no doubt it is a factor of unfairness in school allocation. However, the data in this article suggests the difference is less likely than I would first have considered. You will find in many comprehensive areas that selection by Post Code or religious affiliation is equally if not more contentious to families, but of course it is not a  media or political issue. 

You can find the full academic Report on which the article from Education DataLab is based, here

West Kent
There is no doubt that the Tutoring Industry flourishes most in West Kent and increasingly in Dartford, led by the attraction of the Super Selective Schools  which require select the candidates with the highest scores. I recommend in the latter case that tutoring from the beginning of Year 5 is advantageous to gain each valuable point in a highly competitive business. I consider that quite sufficient and feel sorry for the poor children who are tutored from as early as the age of five, or else go to private schools dedicated to securing grammar school admission and then get sent to a private tutor afterwards, to no advantage. For many other families whose children are comfortably of grammar school ability, the pressure to tutor can come from fear of failure or else peer group pressure.  
The two researchers explain that they have carried out their study, as issues with tutoring need to be resolved before grammar schools are allowed to expand by government in 2020. However, certainly in Kent, this appears a lost cause already as for 2018 admission, 717 additional grammar school places have been created since 2014. This takes the number up to 5449.
The Elephant in the Room
What I can’t understand is why educational researchers consistently fail to explore by far the greatest area of social unfairness and lack of mobility in education.

Kent and Medway have some 20 academically and socially selective Independent schools. Entry to these s usually by entrance exams, for which there is extensive tutoring often in preparatory schools. Surely this sets out to create a social gulf and barrier to mobility through an independent sector that is considerably greater and more influential than anywhere else in Western Europe. 

With 8% of the countries school children in private schools as against 5% in grammar schools, is there anyone offering to research this area of education. 

The Researchers'Solution
On the surface this appears quite straightforward. It is to place an extra tax on Tutoring Companies and then use the proceeds to provide vouchers for less privileged families to pay tutors. Very idealistic. 

Unfortunately, it is riddled with flaws and impossibilities, which suggest the authors have little idea of the workings of education on the ground. Let us first consider the established tutoring companies. Most not only prepare children for the Kent Test, but provide general support in key subjects for children who need extra help, perhaps being failed by their primary schools, or perhaps with Special Needs. Many also prepare children for GCSE and sometimes A Level. Some for admission to selective private schools. Are all these to be taxed for all their work, as otherwise many of these institutions will in any case work to recategorise their preparation as curriculum support. It is starting to get complicated, so overheads will rise? Then there are the private schools teaching up to and sometimes beyond the age of eleven. Many of these exist just to get children into grammar school. Are these all to be taxed, or just those that advertise eleven plus success?

Then there is the vast industry of less formal private tuition, which will be impossible to pin down, although even if it could, again a surprisingly high proportion of it exists to provide curriculum support.

Let us assume funds can be raised. I suspect an army of less privileged families will present themselves as suitable for vouchers. How will the lucky few (for I doubt there will be that much to go round) be selected: free school meals or pupil premium – will all receive vouchers or just those recommended by the primary school. Sadly, too many primary headteachers already run a mile to avoid giving a firm recommendation, yes or no. Or perhaps it will be self-nomination, with someone again having to make comparative judgments on insufficient objective information.

The only conclusion I can come to is that this has been put forward as an Aunt Sally, to be knocked down and ‘no solution’ declared.

As Professor Jerrim said on television on Thursday, he hoped that he would be asked by the Department for Education to expand on his views. I can only hope the DfE uses due diligence about any such proposal. 

Kent County Council
In 2016, KCC set up a Select Committee to look at Social Mobility and Grammar Schools, most recent article here. This identifies 15 strategies it recommends to reduce the gap which it identified. It found that 57% of high achieving pupils on Pupil Premium gained grammar school entrance, against 79% of non-disadvantaged pupils. Yes, this is a discrepancy but nowhere near the alarmist figures in the Study.

More importantly, KCC has started to implement some of these strategies to reduce the discrepancy and recommend others to academies where it has no power to direct.

It is good to see super-selective schools such as Judd and Skinners offering a set number of places to the highest achieving children on Pupil Premium.

One example of the complexity of the issue found was the identification of some primary schools in areas of deprivation where the powerful government priority of achieving the then Level 4 at KS2 took all of the  schools’ effort. This meant that  high achieving pupils were too often neglected so that work on higher levels in English and maths which would have been supportive of success in the Kent Test was diminished. Nothing to do with tutoring, but I very much doubt the study took this into account!

Education Data Lab
Education Datalab, which describes itself as a research organisation that produces independent, cutting-edge analysis of education policy and practice. I analysed a previous article published by the organisation, co-authored by Joanne Bartley, leader of the nebulous Kent Education Network and Campaign Support Officer for Comprehensive Future, which was riddled with errors.  


Read 1723 times Last modified on Monday, 26 March 2018 02:47

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.