Tuition & Parents – A Changing Dynamic

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In my thirteen years in the tutoring industry there have been enormous changes in peoples’ perception of tutors and tutoring. No longer is the word tutor whispered with shame over a morning coffee, now a tutor is seen as a positive support mechanism to our children no matter where they are, either geographically or academically. But why has this happened?

But be in no doubt, it has happened. In 2002, when I founded the agency, my ambitions were not to set up a huge company, they were simply to work for myself and use the skills I had learned through teaching to make a career change and take more charge of my own working life.

At the time I was under no illusion that there were hundreds, even thousands of students out there desperately searching for the right tutor; that simply was not the case. But I had seen how a trend had started in schools for parents to ask teachers for extra help on their own time or indeed to ask if they knew of any tutors locally. This was new.

However, back then it was almost exclusively parents whose children were struggling or perceived to be falling behind. It was almost an embarrassing admission of having underachieving children whether that were actually the case or not.

Things have changed. In the past decade private tuition has metamorphosed from a dark art into a mainstream pursuit.

Instead of hushed tones, it is shouted from the roof tops. It has become a badge of honour.

As more parents used tutors for their ‘struggling’ children, more became aware of the concept and realised that tutors could be used not only as a parachute but also as a booster to push their children to the top of the academic pile. Simultaneously in those years the internet began its whirlwind takeover of the world’s consciousness.

So an opportunity arose for those with spare money to push their children ahead of their peers. Private school education was now not the only way of spending money to get your children ahead of their contemporaries. So a mixture of genuine parental desire to selflessly help their offspring and also large elements of vicarious competitiveness pushed things forward.

And so an industry was born.

When private tuition gradually came in from the cold the role of the agency fundamentally changed. Previously parents only had a few places to look for a tutor and a few other parents to ask. Not anymore.

And with choice comes empowerment. Agencies and tutor lists are springing up every day offering the ‘best’ tutors. It is a growth industry and that brings in more players. Parents are now far more discerning about their choice of tutor, but paradoxically have an ever expanding tutor world to pick from.

Be careful. Use an agency. Use an agency that has met and vetted all of its tutors and use an agency with some longevity. It takes a long time to personally interview and vet thousands of tutors.

Finally, if you find an agency you can trust, trust in what they say. Increasingly parents want to see multiple CVs and arrange interviews with potential tutors. We have been around for a long time and understand the dynamic. We don’t get it wrong very often.

Nevil Chiles is Managing Director of Kensington & Chelsea Tutors –


GCSE Religious Studies – A Court Case Over Humanism

Three families are in court this week because non-religious beliefs are not included in a new GCSE Religious Studies Syllabus.

I agree that there should be some scope within the broad remit of the study of religion to take into account the non-religious beliefs that run alongside mainstream religions. However, these people are going to court over a GCSE syllabus! I’d have thought that the title of the qualification is explanation enough. RS is the study of religions and religious beliefs. Innovative students writing essays about (say) Christianity could use examples of Humanist beliefs to shed light on the way our attitude to faith and religion have changed over time; that would get them great marks. But where does it stop? Darwinism? The study of science in general?

I would understand this much more if it were an argument over an A Level qualification. What we’re talking about here is compulsory education, the point of which (surely) is to give students a general and broad-based grounding in a subject before they either leave school or move on to A Levels.

A Levels are a time for digging deeper into subjects and that should be encouraged on the road to still greater investigation at University.

I myself, with three children in Primary School, had an animated conversation twelve months ago over the school Nativity play. My point was that it was being presented as facts, when facts they are not. No better than any other form of indoctrination. Then I stepped back and realised what an idiot I was being. It’s tradition, it’s fun and as long as children are encouraged to keep an open mind and not forced to replicate the beliefs of their piers or parents, it is a good thing. I want my children to be inquisitive and understand right and wrong, but I also encourage them to believe in whatever they want to believe in, regardless of what I might think.

Bamboozled by i-World

I am sick of devices. iPads, iPods, iPhones, xboxes, wiius, playstations, etc., etc.. After getting my three children to school this morning I realised that the carnage had been slightly less painful than usual. I had nearly cleaned up the mess before leaving and we were actually on time!

The reason?

An in-house ban on all electricals before school, including television. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are not obsessive about it, they do plenty of sport and other stuff but as an exhausted parent it is easy to let this stuff creep up on you.

It feels like the whole world is becoming virtual with everybody spending most of their time staring at screens. I am just another parent bemoaning the present. ‘It wasn’t like this in my day’ etc.. Just like every generation before this. Much about the internet et al is positive, but it is all too easy to let it overtake you.

My children’s behaviour this morning was subtly different and we had a good laugh despite the stress.

That is not a coincidence.

Choosing a Private Tutor

During my thirteen years in the tutoring industry I have seen an enormous change in the way private tuition is perceived. In the last five to ten years having your child tutored has moved from a dark art to a badge of honour. Granted, my experience is very London-centric, but from what I read this seems to be the case right across the UK – and indeed the rest of the world. Back in the early years of the new century when I founded K & C Tutors there was an element of secrecy and possibly a little embarrassment connected to engaging a tutor. Is your child stupid? Nowadays having a tutor is seen as a strong support mechanism rather than a lifeboat. Because tutoring has become so mainstream many new agencies have been established and inevitably, with the light speed growth of the internet, so have a myriad of websites offering lists of tutors and providing a shop window for individual ‘tutors’ to place themselves in. Be careful when choosing a tutor. Now I’m bound to say this, but using an agency is by far the best way to choose the right tutor as long as correct procedures are in place. Does the agency interview EVERY tutor they offer? Does the agency carry out Enhanced Disclosure background checks through the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS)? Does the agency check tutors’ academic backgrounds and experience? Does the agency understand the ever changing education system in which they exist? At K & C the answer to all these questions is a categorical YES and it has been since day one. However, this misses one crucial point, our years of experience mean that we have insight and empathy – a CV only tells one superficial side of the story. Much depends on personality and match. Only experience gives you this and we have lots of it. Cost is also a critical factor. An industry that is talked of as ‘booming’ will inevitably attract individuals and organisations keen to get their pound of flesh. One very important thing to remember is that within certain geographical areas (for us it is London) the best tutors will be signed on with several agencies but those agencies will charge them out at different rates. At K & C we charge NO REGISTRATION FEE which makes us very unusual and our prices remain lower than all our immediate competitors. And these are competitors with far less experience.

The Inevitable Chaos of a Knee-Jerk System

A-levels: Schools uncertain over choices, says Ucas

Permanent Root-and-branch change is needed in the Secondary system. Universities and Business Leaders should be involved in the structuring of these qualifications. In my opinion something akin to O Levels and A Levels of 1975. But I’ve said all this before…

Why can’t somebody stand up in government and have the courage to make sweeping reforms?

Oh yes, there’s an election looming…

Wales to sit separate GCSEs – That will REALLY help!!

Why oh why doesn’t somebody in government get hold of this ridiculous system? We need ONE examination route for each subject at compulsory level and the exams need to be hard. Then we can MEANINGFULLY COMPARE the academically able and those who are less able. Not being an academic is not a crime, the sooner a student can focus on their strengths the better the outcome. Lets sweep away this ridiculous ‘everybody passes’ culture.

If It Were Simple This Would Not Happen

How much time and money was wasted to achieve 43,500 remarks? This is because the complexity of the multi-board exam system makes standardisation nigh on impossible; let alone marking. If there were a single examining body for each subject and at GCSE Level at least just a single set of papers for each subject this would never happen.

The system has evolved into an outdated behemoth. It needs to be swept away route and branch.


For those who think I am exaggerating when I say the GCSE system in this country is absolutely ridiculous in its complexity and inconsistency I thought I would try and give a brief flavour. I chose GCSE Biology. Even I was surprised.

I looked at some Specifications from the three major examination Boards, AQA, Edexcel and OCR. You can’t say syllabus anymore because that would imply definitive content. I should emphasise that the situation is not their fault; they are simply doing what the political parties do – creating difference for the sake of difference. A selling job; do mine please – there’s money in it. I have only reproduced a tiny part to give an idea and prevent people from leaping from high buildings. Read it if you dare.


Overview from the Biology Specification (4401)

GCSE Biology is one of five related GCSE specifications that allow biology, chemistry and physics to be taught separately with a pure science approach. We also offer two GCSE specifications that are integrated and which put the scientific content into everyday contexts. Our GCSE suite is:

  • Science A
  • Science B
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Additional Science
  • Additional Applied Science.

Each qualification is a single GCSE award, and progression routes are flexible. Science A could be followed by Additional Science, or equally by Additional Applied Science. Similarly, Science B could lead to either Additional Science or Additional Applied Science. Our separate science GCSEs have common units with Science A and Additional Science, enabling co-teaching following single, double or triple science routes. This also facilitates a compressed KS3, followed by the teaching of separate science GCSEs over three years.


Please check the current version of Entry Procedures and Codes for up-to-date entry procedures. You should use the following entry codes for the units and for certification.

  • Unit 1 – BL1FP or BL1HP
  • Unit 2 – BL2FP or BL2HP
  • Unit 3 – BL3FP or BL3HP
  • Unit 4 – BL4P
  • GCSE certification – 4401

Candidates have to enter all the assessment units at the end of the course, at the same time as they enter for the subject award. Please note that entries are not allowed in the same examination series for the following combination of GCSE certifications:

  • GCSE Science A (Route 1) and GCSE Biology
  • GCSE Additional Science and GCSE Biology.


It was so complicated that I gave up trying to find a GCSE Biology Specification – I lost my will to live. Below is a GCSE summary from the website to give you a flavour.

GCSEs (General Certificates of Secondary Education) are usually taken at school-leaving age after two years’ study, but are available to students of any age. They are normally assessed by a mixture of internal assessment (coursework) and exams.

In 2009, a new suite of GCSEs for the non-core subjects was developed.

In 2010, there were new specifications for the core subjects of English, maths and ICTwhen functional skills was incorporated.

In 2011, Science was revised.

In September 2012, all GCSEs were revised and made linear. Find out more here.

In September 2013 there were new GCSE specifications for Computer ScienceHistory A and History B.

In September 2015, there are new GCSE specifications for English LanguageEnglish Literature and Mathematics.


The OCR Biology options are:

  • Gateway Science Suite – Biology B – J263 (from 2011)
  • Gateway Science Suite – Biology B – J263 (from 2012)
  • Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2011)
  • Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2012)

I picked – Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2012)

The associated documents for this single Specification are below

  • (3) Key documents
    • Controlled Assessment re-sit opportunities
    • GCSE science – The move to linear specifications (PDF, 619KB)
    • Specification (PDF, 2MB)
  • (9) Assessment materials
    • Unit A161/01 – Biology modules B1, B2, B3 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 472KB)
    • Unit A161/02 – Biology modules B1, B2, B3 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 452KB)
    • Unit A162/01 – Biology modules B4, B5, B6 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 146KB)
    • Unit A162/02 – Biology modules B4, B5, B6 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 432KB)
    • Unit A163/01 – Biology modules B7 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 325KB)
    • Unit A163/02 – Biology modules B7 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 320KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for candidates 1 – Accredited (PDF, 30KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for candidates 2 – Accredited (PDF, 37KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for teachers – Accredited (PDF, 36KB)

An excerpt from the Specification – it is 112 pages long – I particularly like the final two sentences of this summary (in bold italic below)

Science suite

The Twenty First Century Science suite comprises five specifications which share a similar approach to teaching and learning, utilise common materials, use a consistent style of examination questions and have a common approach to skills assessment.

The qualifications available as part of this suite are:

  • • GCSE Science A
  • • GCSE Additional Science A
  • • GCSE Biology A
  • • GCSE Chemistry A
  • • GCSE Physics A.

GCSE Science A (J241) which emphasises scientific literacy – the knowledge and understanding which candidates need to engage, as informed citizens, with sciencebased issues. As with other courses in the suite, this qualification uses contemporary, relevant contexts of interest to candidates, which can be approached through a range of teaching and learning activities.

GCSE Additional Science A (J242)

which is a concept-led course developed to meet the needs of candidates seeking a deeper understanding of basic scientific ideas. The course focuses on scientific explanations and models, and gives candidates an insight into how scientists develop scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

GCSE Biology A (J243) each of which provides an opportunity for further developing an understanding of science explanations, how science works and the study of elements of applied science, with particular relevance to professional scientists.

GCSE Chemistry A(J244)

GCSE Physics A (J245)

The suite emphasises explanations, theories and modelling in science along with the implications of science for society. Strong emphasis is placed on the active involvement of candidates in the learning process and each specification encourages a wide range of teaching and learning activities. The suite is supported by the Nuffield Foundation Curriculum Programme and The University of York Science Education Group, and by resources published by Oxford University Press. In addition, an Additional Applied Science course (J251) is available. This can be used in conjunction with Science A as an alternative route to two science GCSEs, for candidates not following GCSE Additional Science A.

Schools ‘must do more’ to help disadvantaged pupils – Are they presently not trying??

Schools and teachers are not to blame for social immobility, disadvantage and poverty. This is a grass roots social problem, so blame can really only be apportioned in one direction – towards the Government; past, present and future.

There is an implication here that schools and teachers carry a bias. Teachers want to teach and they want ALL their pupils to succeed regardless of their social status. The suggestion that they can and should ‘do more’ for those with less is insulting to the profession.

The government needs to cut the red tape, unify the system and support teachers better instead of always making them the scapegoats for problems which are totally unconnected to the classroom.