Are private schools hypocritical over the 11+?

October 3rd, 2014, 1 Comment

The headteacher of a private prep school has claimed that many children who are tutored for 11+ exams go on to ‘flounder’ at grammar school.

Angela Culley, headteacher at The Mead School, Tunbridge Wells, was talking on the BBC’s You and Yours programme. These were her words:

…Our responsibility surely has to be to ensure that the child that gets to these schools through the tutoring actually thrives at these schools and at the age of 18 says, ‘thank you, that was absolutely right for me’. And the problem we’ve got is that for many children that is not the case. And they pass and they get in and then they flounder. And that is the most dreadful form of education.

Aside from being unsubstantiated, the problem with Angela’s criticism is that she runs a private prep school which boasts of its own success in coaching pupils for these same tests. To quote from her school website:

“85% of the [Mead School] children who took the Kent Selection Test transfered to Grammar Schools in 2013. In 2012, this was 82%, and in 2011 this was 71%” (

In 2013, over 400 places at Kent’s grammar schools were offered to pupils from fee-paying schools, with over a third of places going to children from independent schools in some cases. It is similar in Buckinghamshire, where around 70% of private school pupils pass the 11+, compared to 20% from local state schools.

Angela Culley cannot have it both ways. Either preparation for the 11+ is justifiable or not. The sophisticated coaching provided by private prep schools makes it much more likely that their pupils will pass the test, and yet we don’t hear concerns from private school headteachers that these children might have been set up to fail later on in their school careers.


Tutoring and middle class angst

September 7th, 2014, 0 Comments


It was only yesterday that I blogged about a report showing that wealthy families are by far the most likely to employ private tutors to help their children get into state grammar schools. As if on cue, a Daily Telegraph article has just delved into this topic under the headline, ‘I went to private school – but I can’t afford the same for my children’.

What the figures only hint at, and what this Telegraph article articulates brilliantly, is that some parents are facing a crisis in how they educate their children. This angst-ridden article in the Telegraph suggests that:-

  • independent school fees have risen by 20 per cent over the past five years, meaning that parents with even a combined six figure income say they can’t afford this route for their children;
  • grammar schools have become the middle class ‘holy grail’, but the fight to get a child into one borders on the deranged (extreme secrecy over the employment of the best tutors; moving into a school’s catchment area, but paying the hugely inflated house prices associated with the school’s proximity; talking of extra-curricular activities such as music lessons as if they are only a means to getting a child a school place; paying for a private primary education in the hope that this will give a child an edge in the selection procedure);
  • some middle class parents are (even!) considering making peace with the state sector.

It is the last point which seems most interesting. The article suggests that some parents who would previously have considered independent or grammar schools are now hoping that, if enough like-minded others send their children to the local state school, standards in the state sector will inevitably rise. Perhaps this is an emerging trend, and a welcome one too, in that it will lessen the ludicrous pressure which some children are now under at the age of 11.

Who is taking private tuition? Best data so far.

September 6th, 2014, 2 Comments

Earlier this year, I blogged about some of the latest trends in private tuition from the tutor’s (supply-side) perspective. Now, thanks to a new research report by the Sutton Trust, we now have a clearer picture than ever before of the demand-side; that is, the children in the UK who are taking private tuition and the parents who are paying for it.

Key findings – pupil survey

The Sutton Trust’s annual Ipsos MORI poll of children in England and Wales has shown that the numbers who reported having received home or private tuition increased from 20% to 23% between 2009 and 2014. Moreover, as the following graph illustrates, there is a significant gap between the percentage of low affluence and high affluence families affording tuition.

percentage of young people taking private tuition

Key findings – parental survey

In a separate survey from 2012, the Sutton Trust were also able to obtain data on the social backgrounds of parents who employ private tutors. As the chart below illustrates, parents in social group A (higher managers, administrators or professionals) were 70% more likely to employ tutors than those in social groups B and C1 (intermediate managers etc/ supervisors, clerical workers, administrators etc), and around two to three times more likely to do so than parents in social groups C2, D and E (skilled manual workers / semi and unskilled manual workers / casual or lowest grade workers, the unemployed or state pensioners).

percentage of parents employing private tutors

This survey also revealed that:-

  • among parents whose children attend state selective schools, those in social group A were three or four times more likely than any other group to have used private tuition to help their child pass the school entrance exams.
  • children attending private schools are substantially more likely than those attending state schools to receive private tuition (27% vs 14%).

It is the above two findings which are the most stark. They illustrate that parents in the top social group are using their significant financial clout to ensure the best educational outcomes for their children. They do this firstly by investing heavily in tutoring to facilitate their children’s entry into state selective schools. Secondly, many of these parents will not only send their children to private schools, but will pay for additional private tuition as well, perhaps in a bid to help their children gain an even greater competitive edge over their peers.


The Sutton Trust – which campaigns to improve social mobility through education – is clearly troubled by these findings, and has recommended the introduction of a means tested voucher system as part of the state school ‘pupil premium’ through which lower income families could purchase additional educational support.