Watching the recent ITV documentary, The Best Start in Life, about tutoring, it would be easy to come away thinking that all parents who hire a tutor for their primary school children are Tiger Mothers extraordinaire.
There was the three-year-old doing Kumon maths, the boy who completes six hours of homework on a Saturday and another one who declared that 'intelligence is more important than friendships' (clearly a view coming from his parents). Insane I agree but we're not all like that.
Some people find it hard to get their heads round this but there are parents out there who have valid reasons for tutoring even primary school children and I count myself amongst them.
I'm no pushy mother but, a year ago, when she was seven, I hired a tutor for my now year four daughter.
I know some will think this is ridiculous, but I'm sure that it's been right for our circumstances.
So what led me to this decision?
She wasn't struggling with her academic work per se but her school had serious problems with staff turnover, lack of consistency of what they learn and more. Her teacher was lovely but couldn't spell for toffee (in fact she probably couldn't spell toffee) whilst the school doesn't seem to believe in correcting the children's spellings. I get that with younger children but surely by junior school age this should happen? The maths work was so basic she learnt very little that was new. She was rarely reading to a teacher.
The mostly very young and inexperienced (because they're cheaper and budget cuts mean the school now can't afford a few old guard types who are higher up the salary scale) teachers are woefully overstretched in classes of 30.
Yes I know many of our generation were in classes that size, or even bigger, but back then discipline and behaviour seemed far better. Some of the children in my daughter's class take the definition of disruptive to a new level.
Even if the teachers want to, they don't have the time to give my daughter individual attention when they're firefighting the boy standing on the desk every time they look away or the girl constantly shouting out in the corner.
Or dealing with the four children who don't speak English well enough to follow the lessons yet (I don't have a problem with this just that these children need support in the classroom and don't seem to be getting it).
With all this going on and endless paperwork for them to fill in, any issues that do arise with my daughter's work are low down on the list of priorities. That is if they are even noticed at all. It's not the teacher's fault. I bet they wish it were different too.
I could deal with patching up her learning at home of course but I prefer that a proper teacher shows her the right way – which nowadays isn't always the way I was taught (particularly with maths methods which seem quite different and if I show her my old-fashioned ideas about how to divide or whatever, it will cause confusion).
I also like the fact we get regular feedback from her tutor on how she's doing. I don't need this every week and I'm not obsessed or micro-managing but it's nice to have more information than two 10 minute parents' evenings per academic year.
What about the 'she's a little girl who should be playing but instead you're making her work' argument? If she were sat at a desk all day at school, I'd be more concerned about that but the approach seems to involve lots of airy fairy activities. The idea of a daily numeracy and literacy hour (as per Government recommendations, now scrapped) has gone out of the classroom window.
Some days they do both, but often they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing dance or workshops on anything from recycling to toy making. That's all fantastic and I love that they do it but I'd also like a minimum of two hours' 'proper work' daily and it just isn't happening.
Back home, she's not under pressure to do tons of extra work. She visits the tutor for an hour a week and gets perhaps 45 minutes extra homework between these sessions. This is still far less than she would get in many prep schools and some state primaries (one prep I know of gives 45 minutes a day to their seven-year-olds).
Less than two hours of the 45 or so waking hours she has a week when she isn't at school are taken up with the tutor and associated work. It's hardly child cruelty is it?
Whilst I'm not embarrassed about it, I confess I keep it quiet among my friends. I've heard other parents being judgmental discussing children the same sort of age being tutored. To be honest, I don't really understand why people have such an issue with it.
My daughter's not unhappy going. Quite the contrary as she loves her tutor. Since she's been seeing her, her enthusiasm for learning, knocked out of her by lacklustre lessons at school, has thoroughly returned. Not in a crazy, wanting to sit writing/ doing maths at a desk all day way (I wouldn't want that), but in a way that her brightness and curiosity is piqued and she actually enjoys maths and writing again now.
In my ideal world, I absolutely wouldn't be doing this and if I could change to a better school so that I wouldn't need to tutor I would, but this is proving easier said than done with our city's schools full to bursting.
We don't live in an ideal world and whilst the system leaves my child with what I feel is a sub-standard education, I believe I'm doing the right thing patching up with the tutor. Does that make me a scary Tiger mother? I don't think so.