Sutton Trust, admissions and selection

The Sutton Trust was founded in 1997 by Sir Peter Lampl to improve social mobility through education.  The Trust has commissioned over 135 research studies and funded over 200 programmes helping tens of thousands of young people and addressing social mobility. The Sutton Trust describes itself as a ‘do-tank’ as well as being a think-tank.  It says its most significant achievement and source of leverage is its impact on Government education policy and education spending and that its work is highly influential among leading politicians and opinion formers. Much of its research on schools has focused on school admissions.

In June 2013 research carried out by the Sutton Trust looked at the composition of 500 comprehensives with the highest GCSE results. Although 10% of them had a larger than average proportion of poorer pupils the majority had less than half the average proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals compared to their local authority areas. Schools controlling their own admission policies ie voluntary aided schools and academies are over-represented in the top 500. The report says ‘while the schools in this study are by and large not using forms of overt selection, they are exercising covert selection’.

Research funded by the Sutton Trust and published in November 2013 showed that only 3% of pupils in grammar schools are entitled to free school meals compared to 18% in the areas in which they are situated. Four times as many children from fee paying primaries or pre schools are admitted than children entitled to free school meals.  The research by  Cribb, Jesson, Sibieta, Skipp and Vignoles also found that children eligible for free school meals who attain the same level in KS 2 tests as those who are not eligible are less likely to go to grammar schools. Grammar schools have proportionately more Asian and Chinese pupils than other schools but proportionately fewer Black pupils. The researchers interviewed grammar school heads who said primary schools should do more to encourage disadvantaged children to apply.

As a result of these findings the Chair of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl said that ‘politicians of all parties have accepted that grammar schools are here to stay’. Rather than calling for an end to selection he called for publicly funded tuition to enable more applicants from state primaries to get to grammar schools.

The Sutton Trust is also lobbying Government to publicly fund places at private day schools for pupils who pass their selective entry tests and has enlisted a large proportion of private schools in support. It is also looking at ways to improve selective tests to bring about ‘fair access’ to grammar schools. But as Local Schools Network has reported tutor proof tests are not the answer to a divided education system. The answer is to end selection!

Research funded by the Sutton Trust and published in December 2013 looked at the strategies used by parents to aid their children’s educational outcomes. The findings are based on an online survey of parents of children aged 5-16. The research was conducted by Allen and Hutchings. Researchers found that parents relied on information derived from parents evenings or discussion with other parents more often than league tables or OFSTED reports.  Middle class parents were more likely than working class parents to use a wide range of information. 21% of respondents said they had moved to live in an area thought to have good schools. 10% had used private tutors and 7% of middle class parents and 2% of working class parents reported using another address than their actual address to get a place at a school.  Unsurprisingly middle class parents were more likely to spend money either moving house or using tutors to get their children into a particular school.

The researchers say that ‘the Government needs to take strong steps to address the social segregation that characterises the English education system, impeding social mobility’. One recommendation of the report is that schools should be expected to publish socio-economic data on those who apply and are admitted, to reveal any trends in social segregation and encourage inclusion. They suggest the Schools Adjudicator should monitor this. They also call for more random allocation and banding, admission policies which are supported by the Sutton Trust.