If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from tu­tors...

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

It was just be­fore 11am and my home was al­ready as far from be­ing an oa­sis of calm as I could wish for on a Sun­day morn­ing. With two min­utes to go be­fore the weekly visit of the tu­tor, it was a race against time to calm down my seven-year-old daugh­ter. This was be­cause Lily’s protests of “I hate her. I never want to see her again” were so loud, they would surely be heard by Caro­line as she ap­proached the front door be­low.

In be­tween think­ing of dif­fer­ent tac­tics to coax Lily to be rea­son­able, the words “How has it come to this?” kept run­ning through my mind.

After all, wasn’t I sim­ply be­ing the best par­ent by hir­ing a young, en­thu­si­as­tic grad­u­ate with a first­class de­gree to give my child ex­tra help in maths? There was also the fact that with the Seven Plus exams loom­ing now Lily was near­ing the end of her pre-prep, most of the other par­ents in the class had al­ready hired a tu­tor. Wouldn’t my child be at a pos­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage with­out one?

In my heart of hearts, I knew where my child was com­ing from. Lily was al­ready work­ing hard enough in the class­room with­out hav­ing any more of her play­time in­ter­rupted with still more maths. Yet here I was, one of the grow­ing num­ber of par­ents help­ing to make tu­tor­ing one of the coun­try’s fastest­grow­ing in­dus­tries.

A gen­er­a­tion ago, pri­vate tu­ition in the UK was the do­main of a small num­ber of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies help­ing their chil­dren strug­gle to keep up or pass key exams. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, that lit­tle bit of ex­tra help has be­come a must-have. Nowa­days for many young­sters, the end-of-the-day school bell is only the start of the sec­ond shift.

A quar­ter of school­child­ren now get coach­ing – up from 18 per cent five years ago, ac­cord­ing to re­search from ed­u­ca­tion char­ity The Sut­ton Trust. From tra­di­tional one-on-one ses­sions to group classes and on­line cour­ses, the mar­ket in this coun­try is worth around £6bil­lion, with fam­i­lies spend­ing an av­er­age of £2,758 a year.

But tu­tor­ing is far from the magic bul­let so many par­ents as­sume it to be. When I started to in­ves­ti­gate how the tu­tor­ing ex­plo­sion was af­fect­ing our chil­dren for my book Tam­ing the Tiger Par­ent, I dis­cov­ered that, far from mak­ing our chil­dren per­form bet­ter, it is all too of­ten mak­ing them per­form worse.

The prin­ci­pal rea­son is that tu­tors, who will hap­pily charge anx­ious fam­i­lies £60 an hour or more, re­quire no for­mal teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions of any kind.

Th­ese days, the most popular source of tu­tors is re­cent grad­u­ates from top univer­si­ties. Put a low­per­form­ing pupil one-on-one with a tu­tor who does not know how to han­dle is­sues such as low aca­demic self-es­teem and a child’s con­fi­dence can slide even fur­ther.

For­mer head teacher and par­ent ed­u­ca­tor Noël Ja­nis-Nor­ton says that if a tu­tor is hired to work oneon-one with a child who is al­ready do­ing well, there may be some im­prove­ment. But it can be a dif­fer­ent story when it’s a child whose con­fi­dence has been knocked be­cause they have been strug­gling with the sub­ject.

Noël, au­thor of the new book Calmer, Eas­ier, Hap­pier Boys, pub­lished by Hod­der in Fe­bru­ary, says: “Tu­tors may be ex­perts in their sub­jects and they were usu­ally good stu­dents them­selves. So they don’t un­der­stand why a child is get­ting stuck or how to sim­plify a topic – or how to give the child the skills they need to get un­stuck. In­stead tu­tors end up pa­per­ing over the cracks to please the par­ents.”

Like teach­ers, tu­tors should be trained in child psy­chol­ogy. “If tu­tors don’t know how to deal with un­der­con­fi­dent chil­dren they may re­sort to chivvy­ing them along: ‘Come on… you know the an­swer…’” Noël says. “That will just en­cour­age the voice in the child’s head which says: ‘I don’t know how to do this.’”

But schools are test­ing chil­dren sooner and more fre­quently, in­creas­ing parental para­noia. More than 10 chil­dren chase ev­ery place at the most sought-after gram­mar schools. To im­press good univer­si­ties, GSCE re­sults must be sprin­kled with A*s.

The race starts early. One nurs­ery school head teacher told me in dis­may of coaches be­ing hired by par­ents to pre­pare their chil­dren for as­sess­ment tests for en­try into se­lec­tive pri­vate schools. The skills re­quired in­cluded bal­anc­ing, hop­ping and colour­ing-in.

For this, small chil­dren are be­ing trau­ma­tised. “We’ve heard of young chil­dren lock­ing them­selves in the bath­room when they hear the tu­tor is com­ing, be­cause from a ridicu­lously young age they as­so­ciate tu­tor­ing with stress and mis­ery,” ac­cord­ing to Will Orr-Ewing, him­self the head of Key­stone Tu­tors, who rec­om­mends no child should be tu­tored be­fore the age of seven.

De­spite the early starts, the trauma and the vast sums be­ing paid – not to men­tion the huge chunks of time tu­tor­ing takes out of our chil­dren’s child­hoods – Barry Sin­dall, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Gram­mar School Heads As­so­ci­a­tion, says that in his 20 years as a head teacher, he has seen lit­tle ev­i­dence that stu­dents gain from tu­tor­ing.

“Usu­ally, tu­tor­ing is used to re­peat a process that the child has al­ready got wrong,” Sin­dall says. “A great teacher will iden­tify the bar­ri­ers to a child un­der­stand­ing a con­cept. They won’t just re­peat it over and over again, as hap­pens with tu­tors, in the hope that the chil­dren will some­how ‘get it’.”

Sin­dall be­lieves that 90 per cent of chil­dren who are tu­tored would have achieved that level of per­for­mance any­way. “Where is the em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that tu­tor­ing works, or that it has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on a child’s at­ti­tude to ed­u­ca­tion?” he asks. “I can see very lit­tle of it.”

Judy Ire­son, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy in Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of London In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, led a study which looked at 3,515 chil­dren aged 11, 16 and 18. When re­sults were av­er­aged out, tu­tored pupils scored just less than half a grade higher in their maths GCSEs than pupils who had not been tu­tored. Enough maybe to lift a bor­der­line can­di­date from a D grade to a C. But in sub­jects such as English, pri­vate tu­tor­ing was found to have a neg­li­gi­ble ef­fect on GCSE re­sults for boys and girls.

As for my daugh­ter Lily, she is now 12, and her maths is bet­ter than ever. Not be­cause we have con­tin­ued to throw money at tu­tor­ing but be­cause we have fi­nally found a school where the teach­ing is good, thought­ful and tai­lored to her skill level.

My own view is that the tu­tor­ing in­dus­try has whipped up anx­i­ety even more than nec­es­sary and sold it straight back to par­ents for huge prof­its. But, as I dis­cuss in my book, like many of the things that par­ents are do­ing to try and help kids stay ahead, tu­tor­ing is back­fir­ing badly.

The time has come to stop view­ing ex­tra coach­ing as a nec­es­sary evil in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem – and ap­pre­ci­ate that stressed, un­happy chil­dren with no down­time don’t learn well.

Yet when­ever I con­tinue to ask par­ents why they have tu­tors for their chil­dren, they will con­tinue to say: “We just want to do the best for them.” I’d ar­gue that it’s time to ques­tion whether it’s hav­ing pre­cisely the op­po­site ef­fect.

Tam­ing the Tiger Par­ent: How to put your Child’s Well-be­ing First in a Com­pet­i­tive World by Tanith Carey (Con­sta­ble, £8.99) is avail­able to or­der from Tele­graph Books at £7.99 + £1.95 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk

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