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The headmaster of a leading Battersea prep school recently described private tutoring as a “hideous concept” that can undermine education.

In the Times article, headmaster Ben Thomas bemoans the amount of tutoring in London, arguing there is far too much.

TutorhubI can see his point of view. According to the Sutton Trust 18% of UK children received private tuition in 2005 but by 2011-12 the figure had increased to 23%. In London 38% of children are thought to receive private tuition and it’s rising fast.

But that’s exactly what it is – it’s a headmaster’s point of view. It’s time someone started looking at this from a parent’s point of view. And here I am.

Firstly, let’s examine the headmaster’s view. High on the worry list is the fact that private tutoring is essentially an unregulated and unproven phenomenon. Also, headteachers are witness first hand to the incredibly busy day an average child has – they are set an enormous amount of homework and there shouldn’t be time in the week for two extra hours of tuition. It’s eating into the time when they should be being children.

Some believe private tutoring can undermine classroom learning because children tend to think, “I don’t need to listen to my teacher, I’ll ask the tutor when I get home”.

Mr Thomas believes “[…] that there is a significant industry which trades on insecurity and exam anxiety, sometimes undermining rather than building confidence. There should be a charter which requires all tutors to register with the school any child they tutor attends, so that all parties can work together.”

I’m not saying that these and the worries of parents are mutually exclusive, of course many are shared. But a lot of parents feel obliged to tutor their kids and this isn’t only driven by a fear of missing out.

Statistics published by the Department for Education show thousands of teachers are giving lessons in English, maths and science when they do not have a relevant degree.

Figures reported by the Times show that almost a quarter of secondary school maths teachers (around 7,500) and more than a third of physics teachers (around 2,000) do not have a relevant degree-level qualification, while about 7,300 secondary school English teachers (a fifth) fall into the same category.

In addition, half of those teaching Spanish (about 3,400), more than half of information technology teachers (about 9,200) and more than two in five religious education teachers (6,500) do not hold a relevant qualification higher than an A level.

It’s no wonder that parents increasingly see private tutoring as a necessity for filling the gaps left by poor standards of classroom teaching.

And let’s not forget that often parents will simply employ a tutor to teach a subject not offered at the school, such as Latin or music. In such cases the parents shouldn’t be accused of turning education into a competition, they should be praised for aiming to enrich a child’s learning.

There are other reasons parents invite tutors into their homes – children with special educational needs or those that have fallen behind due to illness no doubt benefit from the extra help on offer. Parents are aware, too, that the world is an ever more competitive place as schools and universities continue to up their ante regarding admissions, grades and league tables.

Yes I find it vulgar that children as young as 2 are being privately tutored to secure places at top London prep schools. Yes I believe the test-heavy education system is eating into our children’s childhoods. But until parents feel that their children are getting a decent shot at a decent education, private tutoring isn’t going anywhere.





One Response to “Private Tutoring: Parental neuroses or necessary evil?”

  1. Jennifer

    I would disagree with you on one point, in that not having a degree in the subject you’re teaching would produce “poor standards of classroom teaching.” Somebody with a PhD won’t necessarily make a good teacher, whereas if I am a “good” teacher (by Ofsted standard), have a Biology degree, but want to teach A-level Chemistry will that automatically make me “unsatisfactory” in those lessons?

    You have overlooked that good and outstanding teachers often have a lot more responsibilities, and so cannot dedicate the time needed to help struggling students outside of class time. Since most new teachers are leaving the profession within 2 or 3 years, and a high percentage leaving after 5 years (I don’t remember the exact statistics, or sources, but I’m sure savvy Google would uncover them if you’re interested), there are always going to be Beginner and Newly Qualified teachers in a student’s timetable, and often (but not always) they’re busy trying to adapt to the demands of the job and trying to qualify, and can’t spare the time – and unfortunately lack of training and experience, for a lot of BTs and NQTs (again, not all, there are notable exceptions) mean they’re not teaching as well as a more seasoned teacher will.

    I am a high school teacher, and a private tutor, and I can see the necessity for tutoring, although from the teacher’s perspective I wish it were not necessary. I wish that as teachers we had time away from excessive marking, unnecessarily convoluted planning, meetings, even more meetings, and yes, eeeeeven more meetings, and had the time to give to the students. Private tuition shouldn’t be seen as competition, but a necessary “evil” of the system that works teachers too hard, and puts too much pressure on students.

    I’ve had some of my most positive teaching moments through private tuition, because you can deliberately relax, build rapport, and enjoy the learning experience. The only similar times I have had in class have been with smaller groups who I see often. I’m glad I teach science and so see the same groups several times a week, mainly. I’d hate to teach RE or one of the art subjects that students have one lesson per week – how are you supposed to get to know every student in an entire school?

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