Private Schools and Private Tutors

Piers YoungThoughtsLeave a Comment

I have nothing against private tutors – let me say that straight out. But I think without openness in the communications between tutor, child, parent and school everyone suffers significant problems for schools, parents and children. Equally

The Problem for the School

Heads of Department, in fact private schools in general, draw a huge amount of succour from their results. If they are getting children in to strong, academic schools then that is seen to be indicative of strong, academic teaching (with the knowing wink that some children were so gifted they didn’t need any help).

Certainly in London, this is no longer the case. Tutoring is rife but this is not necessarily a problem. There are plenty of valuable reasons for tutoring, such as

  • when a parent wants a more creative curriculum or a more bespoke curriculum on top of what is being offered at school,
  • when a parent wants “out of hours” coaching for their children, such as an Easter before GCSEs or a winter before 11+ exams, or
  • when a school is demonstrably failing a child for a specific topic (e.g. fractions) or for a specific time (e.g. through a character clash with the teacher).

What is more concerning it that tutoring is rife but there is very little open discussion about it.

There seem to be two types: school-advised and outside world.

School-advised tutoring is a bizarre creature. Much, if not most of the time, it is well-advised. For instance, if a child has to catch up after moving from another country, tutoring can work well.

What is bizarre, though, is when schools are simply happy with the fact that everyone gets tutored. If parents are paying good money for education, shouldn’t the expectation be that their child’s needs will be met? At the moment, in less kind moments, it can feel like RyanAir. OK, yes you paid for the flight but the lifejacket costs you £50 …

The sad thing is, with the stress of securing the best (or more healthily the right) school for their children, it seems parents too rarely demand to know exactly why my child’s needs were not being met in class.

When tutoring is advised by the outside world (friends at coffee parties, peer pressure, nervous grandparents or whoever) there are different problems. As a teacher, I only hear in passing which children in my class are being tutored and which aren’t. Often parents have asked the child not to say anything. [Note to self: must be more proactive and ask parents to tell me direct!] I can guess four possible reasons for this, there may well be more.

  1. Parents are somehow embarrassed at having to get tutoring
  2. Parents don’t see it as any of the school’s business or want to avoid getting into a discussion with the school at tutoring.
  3. Teachers have highlighted that the child needs no tutoring but parents aren’t so sure.
  4. Tutors have asked to keep home and school separate. Once, appallingly, a tutor told me he wanted no contact with the school because it “cramped his style”.

This communication breakdown, intentional or not, has three effects, neither of which benefit the child.

  1. It leaves the tutor in a very strong position, whereas it should be the child who is the focus. Any success is the tutor’s, any failure is what was being coped with anyway. Parents have no way of how much they are getting for their money. For schools, there is the common refrain “but I did this with my tutor”. The direct result being that the teacher has either to cobble together a lesson on the side or ask the child to do it again or any number of other options which do not benefit the child.
  2. The suspicion taints every child. If a teacher suspects a child of being heavily tutored, they are going to be less likely to recognise his or her talents if the child is succeeding on his own. The current atmosphere of ‘hiding who is being tutored’ aggravates this and again it is the child that suffers.
  3. Schools and departments within them are increasingly at risk of living in cloud-cuckoo land. The old “what we do works, just look at our results” argument becomes a complete, and worrying, nonsense. If staff do not know which children are getting outside help, then they are going to have a very skewed view of the efficacy of their teaching. They cannot with any sense decide “what went well” or what would be “even better if”. It is almost reaching the point that parents can begin to treat any teacher who says “trust the system” with distrust in equal measure. This is a shame as there is much in the systems in private schools that do work, and can be seen to work based on solid evidence. This up, up and away benefits neither school, parent or child.

The Problem for Parents and Children

Here I am vastly less experienced but here, as a slightly pathetic attempt at completeness, are some possible problems:

  • children lose time that could be spent being children (I agree with this woman)
  • parents lost time that could be spent being with their children
  • cash spent and no real understanding of whether or not it worked.

The problem for the tutor

A Simple Fix

Much of this comes down to schools, I think. There is nothing that anyone can do to stop someone getting their child tutored. Nor, arguably, should there be.

Impetus for tutoring Solid Reasons Less solid reasons
School Brief tutor or agency and communicate regularly, share results from school/tutor with parents, assume short term Just say no & advise parents against, run e.g. maths club in school for free
Outside World Gauge from parents why being tutored, assess internally if this highlights an area of weakness in the school offering, ask for tutor/agency contact details and if possible present parents and child with joint, results-based plan Gauge from parents why being tutored, assess internally if this highlights an area of weakness in the school offering, ask for tutor/agency contact details and if possible present parents and child with joint, results-based plan. If communication and co-planning not given, then advise parents strongly against.

All of this is predicate on a school audit of tutoring and one wants to get really OFSTED a policy in place for tutoring.

Basically, though, isn’t it all common sense?

Sorry …. turned into a monster …


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