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Is Private Tutoring To Blame For Educational Inequality?

Private Tutoring on the Rise

Recent reports have claimed that over 25% of state-educated 11 to 16-year-olds have enlisted the help of a private tutor at some point during their schooling.

For those working in the tutoring industry, this is no surprise, with the number of students being privately tutored rising year on year, and having done so for the past decade.

This growing number suggests that private tutoring has become a more popular and accepted route for students who wish to gain the best results in exams, to focus on particular areas of work and to overcome difficult topics.

However, concerns have been raised around whether private tutoring is in fact only an option for higher income families, and, with many parents and children unable to afford private tuition, whether it has only served to increase the gap in education inequality.

Is Private Tuition Unaffordable for Lower Income Families?

Private tuition does offer students the ability to focus on subjects they are struggling with, have 1:1 support and attention, explore topics they wish to excel in at greater depth, tackle specific questions, and devise tailored learning programs to suit their needs and abilities. This kind of learning environment is simply not achievable in most school classrooms, where busy teachers are trying their best to get through the curriculum, manage poor behavior and achieve targets for their class overall, let alone support individuals.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

"Private tuition is widespread and increasingly so. Nearly half of teachers have tutored and a quarter of teenagers have been tutored. But with costs of at least £25 per session, many cannot afford to benefit from this extra support, which exacerbates education inequalities.

"No-one wants to limit parents doing their best for their children, but we need to ensure that extra tuition is as widely available as possible. Otherwise, it will continue to widen the attainment gap."

It's fair to say that both students and parents may have a right to feel hard done by if they are unable to obtain the same help and attention that children who come from higher income families have unlimited access to.

Whether private tutoring is the right place to start addressing the imbalance, however, is another matter.

Are There Other Factors Which Affect Inequality in Education?

Inequality in education has been a fiercely debated subject for many decades. Just take a look at the recent conversations around the Conservative government's plans to introduce more grammar schools.

Since the emergence of private schools centuries ago there has been a divide where a 'better' quality of education is an option seemingly only for those who can afford it. However, anything from smaller classes, personalised attention, teachers with more experience, better school facilities and equipment and so on can all also make a difference when it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of a child attending a particular school.

It is also true that schools serving children in deprived areas are more likely to be judged as inadequate by Ofsted, and it has been found that the top performing schools have a direct effect on the housing market, pushing up prices and therefore making it even more challenging for low-income families to move there.

Research conducted by the Sutton Trust has revealed that pupils at Independent Schools are twice as likely to have paid for private tuition than those receiving a state education.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the reasons for this are purely on the basis of wealth. Peer pressure, competitiveness, parents faith in the school's ability to provide an education, awareness of how private tutors work, and encouragement from teachers within the schools themselves could all play a part in the numbers.

It is also important to consider other statistics such as more girls receiving private tuition than boys, and that students from BME groups are also more likely to enlist the help of a private tutor.

A spokeswoman for the Sutton Trust said: "It is notable that girls are more likely to receive extra help than boys. This may reflect a more scholarly attitude among girls, which is reflected in their better GCSE results and ever increasing likelihood that they go to university. It is important schools address this new gender gap.

"The fact that BME pupils are much more likely to receive private tuition may reflect cultural differences in attitudes to education in their communities. We've seen big improvements in results in many BME communities in the last decade, and pupils from many Asian communities perform best at GCSE."

Studies have also shown that parents who are dissatisfied with their school and believe that their expectations are not being met are also more likely to opt to have their children privately tutored at home.

So attitude, awareness and cultural differences are all likely to play a part in determining whether a child undertakes private tuition or not. Therefore only making this service more accessible financially may not necessarily be the answer.

So How Do We Bridge the Gap?

The Sutton Trust has called for more private tutoring companies to offer free tuition to a proportion of disadvantaged tutors and has put pressure on the Government to introduce means testing and a voucher scheme to make tutoring more affordable for low-income families.

It certainly seems that the demand is there with 43% of teachers having offered tutoring services at some point during their career. Naturally, a Government subsidised scheme has proven most popular with tutoring agencies and tutors alike who should not be penalised for offering a paid for service when the call for private tutoring services is only becoming ever more apparent.

The question remains whether it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that children receive the education and personal attention they need to be the best they can be, and whether the real motivation behind more parents turning to tutoring can be attributed to the fact that they can simply afford it. Or could the consistent rise in tutoring perhaps due to a myriad of concerns such as increased exam pressure, harsher testing, and schools not meeting the basic standards necessary to provide children with a thorough and fair education?

Does private tutoring give some students certain advantages regarding their education? Perhaps, most likely.

Is it unfair that some students receive private tutoring, and others that want or need it are unable to because they don't have the financial means? Of course it is.

However, levelling the playing field by making tutoring available to everyone is not going to solve all inconsistencies when it comes to education. Tutoring is not a new phenomenon and can in fact be traced back as far as ancient Sparta! It is therefore perhaps more important to focus on what has actually changed or improved within the school system over the past few decades - there is little evidence that much has been done to really tackle these issues, and while schools continue to put pressure on students without being able to support them, parents will continue to turn to tutoring.

Without addressing the fundamental inequalities so deeply ingrained within the education system first, we cannot hope to achieve an equal and fair learning environment for all children - and until then whether private tutoring really contributes to the issue remains to be seen.

At Tutor House we are taking steps towards offering a fairer platform for students from all walks of life and want tutoring to be affordable for everyone who wants or needs it. All our tutors choose their own rates which helps to make tutoring more affordable and provides a range of options for those interested. We have also contacted the Sutton Trust to discuss arrangements for setting up free tutoring sessions on weekends in the London area for children from low income families.