One in ten school pupils is receiving help from a private tutor.
I was at a drinks party recently where some Year 5 parents were debating the merits of having a private tutor. I know, I go to some crazy parties. But I consider this a natural stage along the car, mortgage, school, private tutor, university, elderly parents dinner party conversation continuum. And besides, this group was standing between me and the dish of Wasabi peas, a new discovery.
My sense was that these parents felt in some way compelled to engage a private tutor because “everybody else is”. Though new to this, I felt some sympathy as I’ve heard parents of GCSE pupils say the same.
A private tutor can make a difference, but not always
One lady justified the private tutor as her daughter has been ill and had missed a term of school. Fair enough. Another waxed lyrical about how a maths tutor had prepped her older daughter for GCSE, and turned a low score in her mocks to an 8 (A*). I get that too. If there is a weakness in one subject one-to-one personalised tuition can work wonders for confidence and competence. But not, I suspect, if there is “weakness” across a range of subjects. Undue pressure can have a detrimental impact on performance, and health.
For others the concern was whether their children would securing places at a grammar school or an independent secondary. And it didn’t seem to matter whether their children were currently at a state or independent primary. The fear was universal. The fear was palpable. If I were a private tutor, I would have cleaned up.
I suppose if you have aspirations for your child to go to a school where there is competition for places it is only natural to worry then pay to assuage that fear. But what if the target school’s academic profile doesn’t match the child’s? Sure, a private tutor may help them pass the entrance exam. But in senior school classes tend to be larger than in junior school. So if a child is struggling in a junior class they will certainly struggle in a larger senior class. And the academic standard is higher. Senior schools are onto this, and some claim to have “tutor proofed” the admissions process.
My oriental snack-fuelled earwigging became more acute as the erstwhile sensible conversation took an unexpected turn. With all the talk about improving academic outcomes, the mood shifted to apparent shortcomings of the school. Suddenly the teachers “aren’t up to it”, “have no time for my child” and “couldn’t be bothered”. This coming from parents who otherwise post pictures of their children’s recognition and achievements on Facebook. Year 5 can’t be a nice year for teachers.
Schools are unlikely to recommend using a tutor
As a parent would I consider engaging a private tutor to supplement my children’s learning? Of course I would if I thought it the right thing to do for them. I (now!) have enough anecdotal evidence of recommended tutors who have a track record of success. I note, however, that academic studies have not proved that use of a private tutor achieves superior results.
If I were a headteacher, which I’m not, I would probably recommend against using a private tutor. Why? Because I’d feel piqued. Ultimately, a parent is saying that they don’t trust the school to teach their child to the standard they would like. And maybe I’d feel powerless by the constraints of the school. One to one tuition has obvious advantages over a class of 30, 20 or even 15 in independent schools.
I’m sure most headteachers are bigger than that and would legitimately point out that;
- Private tutors are unregulated (this is changing). Tutors are not accountable for standards of teaching. You may get a “good” one, you may get a “bad” one,
- The private tutor may teach a style, method or syllabus that conflicts with the school, thus confusing the pupil,
- A private tutor will add to the workload of the pupil when they should be doing something extra-curricular or having downtime,
- Schools prefer to provide a more rounded education rather than just “hothouse” their pupils,
- Junior school heads have a good idea of which school your child would be happiest at, and that may conflict with a parent’s aspirations.
But all evidence suggests that parental demand for private tutors, or specifically one-to-one tuition, is not only sustainable but increasing. It’s not going away. It is a source of conflict between parents and schools but it doesn’t need to be. Schools should recognise the demand and work with it, maybe even offer an out of hours “approved” service for a fee. Or at least work with those who do.
The facts about private tutor provision in the UK
The Sutton Trust produced a comprehensive review of the private tutor market in 2016. Assisted with input from two tutor networks Tutorfair and Tutor Hunt they found that;
- The market for private tutor services for children aged 5-18 is worth £1-2Bn per year. This number includes tuition in academic subjects and musical instruments outside school.
- 25% of state educated pupils have been privately tutored at some time. The number rises to 42% for pupils in London.
- Approximately 10% of all pupils were receiving help from a private tutor in 2016.
- Privately educated pupils are twice as likely to receive private tuition than state education pupils. This could put the number of privately educated pupils using a tutor at 20%.
- Of pupils who have been tutored, 18% were tutored for an entrance exam, 38% for a specific exam (eg GCSE, A Level) and 47% for general help with a subject.
- 68% of tutored pupils have been tutored in maths, 50% in English, 7-9% each in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and around 5% each in Spanish and French.
- Average private tutor rates are £24 per hour outside London, £27-£30 in London.
- 43% of state school teachers have offered private tutoring at some point in their career. Most private tutors work part time. 56% of current tutors are female and 70% are under 30 years old.