Evidence has shown that private tuition is on the increase again this year but is it just the wealthy that have access to this service?
Recent research from a survey commissioned by education charity, The Sutton Trust, revealed that of those interviewed more than double the number of wealthier pupils had received private tuition last year compared with those from poorer families. This has led to a concern that private tuition is only serving to place children whose parents can't afford it at an increased disadvantage.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and an early investor in our tuition company, Explore Learning said that it was "crucial" to narrow the learning gap for less advantaged children.
So, how do we prevent the learning gap widening?
The first step is to tackle the affordability of tuition. This is certainly something that I feel very strongly about. We have been working hard to do this since our launch 12 years ago - with positive effect. We currently have 82 centres currently located across the country, and over 20,000 families who come from all economic demographics who benefit from our tuition service. If members attend our services regularly (2 sessions a week) the tuition costs are around £10 per hour that's compared to a national average for private tuition at £22 an hour. Children receive an individualized programme of work, that is supportive and challenging where appropriate, and most importantly unique to them and their individual needs. Our tutors will work with a maximum of 6 children - all focused on their own unique tasks and able to support their learning needs. The results are proven and all children are found to have benefited from attending our service. (Details of the independent research conducted by the University of Reading can be found here.
So we have proved that tuition doesn't need to cost the earth to be effective. Our model goes some way to narrow a gap and additionally we have been able to reach out further with a scholarship programme for those in most need and our acceptance of childcare vouchers means that for many families there are even more savings to be made.
However, for children to benefit from the effects of extra tuition it is something their parents would typically seek out, fund and take their children to. Without this drive from the parents it would be hard for their children to receive this benefit.
The Pupil Premium is a route that the government has taken to tackle this issue. This is a fee given to the school for children eligible for free school meals. The school can use it in many different ways to tackle a potential gap in that child's learning needs. This September the fund will increase from £600 to £900 per child and it's due to rise further next year. While this can of course be spent on a number of areas, extra tuition is one option and we at Explore Learning and other tuition firms work with a number of schools across the country supporting them.
The school may bring the children to a centre for after-school enrichment or tutors may go into schools and support children within the school day and this has worked well with the Tutor Trust. It enables us to reach out to children who really need additional support but are in a situation where their parents can't access that independently.
It's this combination of affordable and effective services to both families and schools that must be harnessed and continued to address this issue. With the monitoring of pupil premium spending to ensure efficacy and the continued work of the Sutton Trust and their sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, in these areas then I am confident that we will see a narrowing of the divide and more and more children will have access to the resources that they need.