If we want a fairer education system we must start by putting less pressure on kids

Richer parents will always buy into extra provision – so why not ensure all pupils are put on a more equal footing

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One thing is for sure – you could never legislate to stop ambitious parents seeking out private tuition to help boost their children’s exam grades.

That having been said, the Sutton Trust – the education charity which campaigns for a better deal in education for children from disadvantaged areas – does have a point in alerting us that the increase in take-up of private tuition could hinder the progress of the less well-off students. The decision of its sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, to throw its weight behind a scheme in Manchester to provide tuition for some pupils for free is therefore to be lauded.

Likewise, the decision by some state schools to use the pupil premium – the money they get for taking in pupils from disadvantaged communities – to provide extra coaching for their children also makes sense.

Some might see it as a criticism of the teaching standards in the school, and others may have an ideological objection to spending taxpayers’ money on private providers in education. In truth, it is a realisation that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

Richer parents will always buy into extra provision – so why not ensure all pupils are put on a more equal footing (even if it may only be being done to ensure the school obtains a good placing in the exam league tables)? Some of the drive towards providing private tutors is caused by a general freneticism about GCSE and A-level qualifications.

The stakes seemed to have been raised far higher over the years.

Some of it is also undoubtedly caused, as Professor Alan Smithers points out, by parents believing their child’s school is not stretching the brightest – capable of getting A* or A grade passes at GCSE – enough as they concentrate on making sure that their borderline C/D grade candidates end up with a C grade, thus boosting the school’s performance in the tables. Happily, Education Secretary Michael Gove is abreast of that problem – and is seeking to outlaw the controversial ‘five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English’ measure.

A little tweak of his proposals, to concentrate on ranking schools on a point score based on pupils’ best eight subjects, is all that is needed.

At present it is to be coupled with a target based on the percentage of pupils obtaining A* to C grade in English and maths, which could cause precisely the same problems as the present measure. Giving more weight to English and maths in the eight subject measure seems to be the answer.

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