Things have been really busy here at Tutorhub Towers following the start of the new school term in September. But we always make time to talk to the Press, particularly when we are asked for our opinions on education in general and private tutoring in particular.
We were therefore delighted to see ourselves quoted in an article in today’s Financial Times entitled ‘Home school tutoring turns mainstream’.
The article focuses on the boom in the private tutoring industry particularly in London and the use of Pupil Premium monies made available by the Government to Schools to improve the performance of children from less privileged backgrounds. It may surprise you to know that Government funding for the Pupil Premium is now £900 per pupil for the year 2013-14, at a cost of £2.5bn.
So what are the qualification criteria for the Pupil Premium? It covers those who have benefitted from Free School Meals (a population size of 1.6m) sometime in the last 6 years, those in care for over 6 months and the children of service personnel. A pretty narrow definition, in my opinion.
I was asked my opinion by Dorothy Lepkowska for my thoughts on the use of the Pupil Premium and whether we at Tutorhub had been asked by schools to provide online tutoring services direct to schools.
As someone brought up in a very working class background and with little money, I was one of the lucky ones who left a failing school with the grades that allowed me to go to University. Many of my friends did not. It may come as no surprise that children from these backgrounds tend not to do so well at school. Indeed, comparing GCSE (A* to C, 2011-12) results of this group to the average, shows 42% passing versus 67%, an ‘attainment gap’ or shortfall of 25%. Lower levels of educational attainment are linked to low aspirations and future prospects.
In my opinion, a clear focus on this group is important, if we are to see higher levels of attainment across the board and in those schools which traditionally struggle to get children through their education with decent grades.
Schools have been left to their own devices in how they spend their Pupil Premium cash, with many choosing to spend the money by adding Teaching Assistants. A controversial study by the Sutton Trust reported that “most studies have consistently found (Teaching Assistants have a) very small or no effects on attainment.”. Given this finding, it is somewhat surprising that schools continue to funnel resources in this way.
The picture for one to one tuition is different. The Sutton Trust also say that “pupils might improve by about 4 or 5 months during the programme” but rightly point out that it is not cheap. Why isn’t this money being focused on providing hands on one to one tutoring help for disadvantaged pupils – £900 per pupil will still go along way.
I don’t like the scope of pupils covered by the Pupil Premium. The measure excludes new arrivals into the country and those need to take on English as an additional language. There are also pupils who regularly change school, and miss the continuity that they need. I would like to see wider provision to these groups of pupils. The definition needs to be widened, in my opinion.
I see private tutoring as a way of levelling the playing field between those that have some money and those who have next to none. It seems like a ‘no brainer’ to me that Pupil Premium cash should be focused on where it will achieve the maximum benefit – private tutoring.
Finally, I was asked whether we at Tutorhub have been asked by School Headmasters for online tutoring direct into schools. The answer to which is yes, several times. We have taken a strategic decision not to do so, at this stage. Our reasoning, as a start-up business, is that institutional sales to bodies like schools are very costly in terms of our time and resources. They can also be subject to changing priorities, meaning you could lose the contract, were the Pupil Premium to be reduced or eliminated. It is for this reason, we have stayed out of this market, to date.
I will be giving more insights into our thinking at Tutorhub in coming months, so watch this space.