A version of this blogpost also appears on the Sutton Trust website.

When the PISA results are released, almost everyone is fixated upon the average scores children have achieved in reading, science and mathematics, and our latest position in the “international rankings”.

However, a lot of other information is captured within the study, some of which is actually a lot more interesting than the headline results themselves.

My report for the Sutton Trust today looks at one such issue: how much time do 15-year-olds spend in additional learning activities outside of their core timetabled hours?

This captures not only the use of private tutors, but also access to after-school clubs. Here are four of the key messages coming from the report.

1. Although there is a socio-economic gap in total time spent on additional learning activities, it is actually quite small (on average)…

In England, Year 11 pupils report spending an average of 9.5 hours per week on some kind of additional learning outside of their core timetabled hours.

However, somewhat surprisingly, differences by family background are actually quite small.

Specifically, the difference reported by Year 11 pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds is only around 40 minutes per week.

England is similar to most of the other 21 countries included in the report in this respect.

2. …though there are some important differences in how children from different family backgrounds spend this time

As the table below illustrates, those pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds actually spend slightly more time on additional instruction in academic subjects than their more advantaged peers (up to 45 minutes per week in English and maths).

By contrast, Year 11s from the most affluent socio-economic groups spend significantly more time in additional lessons developing their music or foreign language skills, or training in a sport.

This may reflect the timing of the PISA study – just six months before children sit their GCSE examinations – with disadvantaged pupils (and their schools) focusing their time and effort on reaching the pass mark in core academic subjects such as English, science and mathematics.

3. Big differences can be observed when we look across achievement groups

This is true both in terms of total time spent upon additional instruction, and in the use of private tuition.

As the tables below illustrate, those Year 11s from affluent backgrounds who are in danger of failing their GCSEs spend 15 hours on additional instruction per week, with one-in-three receiving one-to-one private tuition.

In contrast, the most able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds spend only half as much time upon additional study (seven hours), with less than one-in-twelve receiving one-to-one tuition.

This highlights how affluent families may use such additional instruction services as a kind of safety net to ensure that, if their offspring are struggling in schools, they are given the best possible chance to pass their GCSE exams.

4. Actually, much bigger differences by family background can be observed in parental help for homework

While two-thirds of children from affluent backgrounds regularly receive help with their homework from their parents, this falls to just half of those from the least advantaged families.

In only three of the 21 other participating PISA countries is the gap in homework help significantly bigger than in England (these countries are Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy), while in 12 it is significantly smaller.

Moreover, low-income pupils in England are particularly likely to report that nobody regularly helps them with their homework. Together, this serves as an important reminder that it is not only schools who are responsible for children’s GCSE grades; families also have a critical role in their achievement as well.

Find the the full Sutton Trust report here.

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