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.
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.
Unfortunately this is what can happen when you give these schools free reign with their budgets and accounting. The system for non academies where local authorities award funds after consultation creates checks and balances. That system is not perfect, but at least it is fair. In a local authority containing a mixture of academies and local authority run schools funding is not balanced, with academies getting greater sums of money. This system leads to the elitism that the original ethos of academies – to help struggling schools – was designed to prevent.
We need PROPER vocational skills taught in schools alongside core subjects. Help the less academic gain vocational skills whilst still having the opportunity to study mainstream academic subjects.
We are being left behind by the rest of the world because our compulsory secondary education system is confused, complicated and not testing enough.
Standards have been dropping year upon year for decades, reflected in higher and higher ‘pass’ rates and a greater quantity of ‘top’ marks. Look at the attached Graph. O Level & GCSE Achievement 1953 -2009
(Source: House of Commons Library – Standard Note SN/SG/4252 – Social & General Statistics)
This lowering of standards has fed right through to Higher Education. Top Universities are finding that freshers do not possess the knowledge which their high marks should reflect. Mathematically heavy subjects are particularly badly effected. Engineering Undergraduates at top Universities often have to have extra lessons in Mathematics because their assumed and necessary knowledge of Mathematics is just not there.
This is because we have dumbed down our examinations.
There needs to be a revolution in the examination system and it needs to happen NOW.
Through Kensington & Chelsea Tutors I come across students from all over the world. I have been consistently shocked by how we are being left behind by other nations, particularly in the 11 – 16 age range. The difference is particularly noticable in Mathematics and Science where students abroad are tackling far more testing material than students of the same age in the UK.
Unless this changes the future looks bleak; we need reform to keep the UK competitive.
Here’s my take on a BBC education news story concerning an educational charity that says the culture of coaching pupils for 11-plus exams must end so poor bright children are not excluded from grammar schools.
This is cold, hard economics. The Sutton Trust’s opinion on 11+ preparation is absolutely sound; it is unfair. The issue here runs far deeper into society as a whole, right to the roots of our nation. If we are an open, democratic, free market economy should we subsidise tuition for those from poorer backgrounds or should we look deeper and focus on how we can make those families less poor?
There are major issues here. Who do you subsidise? Who will pay for this tuition at the back end of a double dip recession?
According to the BBC, ‘the report suggests giving priority to poor, bright pupils who meet certain entrance requirements and are eligible for the pupil premium because their families have been in receipt of certain benefits in the previous few years.’ Will not people argue that this unfair to families who work very hard to scrape the money together to provide tuition for their children to help them gain grammar school places? Could this not be a disincentive to families on benefits to find work and leave the grasp of the benefits system?
I continue to believe that the only solution to these problems is root and branch reform of the UK Education system as a whole. Qualified teachers only, no Free Schools, abolition of the multiple examination board system, back to challenging examinations at 16 with the same exams sat by all, introduction of vocational qualifications at school in tandem with compulsory education for 14 – 16 year olds, decent and fair pay for teachers, slashing of red tape; the list goes on.
With better education for all the middle class scrum for grammar school places would be reversed.
Here’s my thoughts on a recent BBC education news story about the growth of private tuition for 11+ / grammar school entry exams….
This reflects the trend we have seen here at Kensington and Chelsea Tutors.
Although in the past eleven years we have consistently provided tutors not only for grammar schools but also for selective private and state schools, in the past five years or so there has been a marked increase. I think this is partly because tutoring has moved from being a secret weapon to a mainstream activity. Tutors are out there and parents are increasingly using them to boost students’ prospects at all levels.
It defeats me why Barry Sindall, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association (GHSA) says that, “The issue for GSHA is not how do you stop coaching but rather how do you stop coaching making an impact.”
Coaching of any kind is always going to have an impact and that surely is a good thing. Don’t sports professionals train hard to make themselves more proficient in their fields? We (thankfully) live an an open democracy and have freedom of choice – if tutors are out there, why not use them?
Tutoring seems to get criticised almost daily and generally the thrust is one of elitism. The increasingly expensive and exclusive private school system in this country, from Eton on down, seems to be conveniently glossed over. At least tutoring allows help to be given to students whose parents’
wildest dreams don’t even feature the cheapest private schools.
If the argument is that this is unfair then it is something the government needs to look at.