Private tutoring is tantamount to "torture" and "child abuse", according to Gail Parkin, former President of the National Association of Head Teachers. It leaves children "exhausted" and "overloaded", complains Sebastian Hepher, Head of Eton Square School. In fact, the rise of private tutoring in the UK is nothing more than an "escalating arms race in education", according to the social mobility charity The Sutton Trust.
This image problem for private tutoring is a peculiarly British phenomenon. In the US and across Asia, after-school tutoring is seen as a positive and very normal thing to provide for your child. Yet here, it's almost frowned upon.
The British public aren't listening to the establishment hand-wringing. One quarter of children in the UK receive private tuition of some kind, and that figure rises to almost half of children from an ethnic minority background. Parents know it makes sense, so why is the sector so criticised?
Is Private Tuition Socially Divisive?
We're often told that private tuition disadvantages lower income families and boosts the chances of those who are already, by the good fortune of their birth circumstances, more likely to succeed in our society.
In truth, the opposite is true. Private tuition provides a ray of hope to children from lower income families. Having a one to one mentor and private academic support makes a world of difference to such children - it gives them the confidence to believe in themselves, and this confidence is an overlooked but critical factor in later life success. Of course tuition helps children from higher income families too, but the marginal difference to their opportunities is much smaller.
While it's true that not every family can afford high end tutors, there are a growing number of initiatives designed to help lower income families access private tuition support. From private charities to tutoring firms offering discounted and pro bono tuition to disadvantaged children, the options are there. Should we do more to even out access to tuition? Yes, absolutely - but saying access needs improving is not a reason to rail against the concept as a whole.
Driving Down School Standards?
The fact that so many families are now turning to private tuition is seen by some as reflecting - and indeed perpetuating - falling standards in our schools. To feel this way, however, is to completely misunderstand the point, the scope and the possibilities of private tutoring. It isn't a negative, last resort choice, driven by parental angst or failing schools - on the contrary, it's a positive choice which embraces the extraordinary power of one to one mentorship and teaching.
Excellent tutors do far more than just cover what has been missed at school. Tutors can go far above and beyond the limits of the school curriculum, to stretch, challenge and engage the brightest young minds; they can explore innovative new teaching styles and technological aids to help struggling pupils grasp difficult concepts. Great tutors bring subjects to life for their pupils, instilling an enthusiasm and a wider contextual knowledge which will stand the child in good stead once the narrow confines of school are over and he or she has to compete in the real world.
Private tutoring has little to do with school standards - instead, it's about complementing and extending the work done in schools. We're not here to be a sticking plaster on a broken system.
Stolen Childhoods and Overloaded Children?
It's a very arrogant public figure who would claim that parents don't know what's best for their own children. The vast majority of parents do not subject their children to an overload of tutoring, any more than they would harm their children in any other way. Reputable tutoring companies will have codes of practice in place which require them to refuse tutoring in certain circumstances or where they feel it will be contrary to the child's interests.
A healthy and responsible tuition plans fits around the family's life, leaving plenty of time for the child to enjoy extra curricular activities and a full childhood. Besides, good tutoring is often more than just academic. Some tutors will take their young charges on outings - trips to museums, to the theatre, to sports events - as part of a programme of cultural and social education, which can be highly rewarding for the child. It's not about sitting at the kitchen table doing sums for hours at a time.
Evolving Education Models
Tony Little, the former Headmaster of Eton, said last year that in the future, children "need have no reason to go to the physical space called a school to access powerful ways to educate themselves". As educational models evolve, there is a growing emphasis on lifelong learning, independent learning and personalised learning - none of which are adequately provided for in our current school system.
Private tuition is the ultimate in personalised learning and has been shown to have tremendous, tangible benefits for young minds. Yes, it helps if your child needs a boost to pass a particular exam, but it can do so much more than that besides. Want to learn a language not offered at school? No problem. Fascinated by a period of history not represented in the curriculum? Great! A highly artistic child who needs scope to develop her talents way beyond school art lessons? We can help.
Education does not - and never has, and never should - stop at the school gates. Schools do not - and should not - have a monopoly on teaching and education facilitation in this country. Instead of blaming private tuition for the ills of society, isn't it about time the establishment started to embrace tutoring as part of a wider educational framework?
Let's make tutoring the positive choice it deserves to be, and let's make it more accessible for all. The future doesn't belong to a rigid school system, and it's time to stop pretending that it does.
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