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.
I 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.