January 23, 2007

Keeping up with the Joneses: has your kid got a tutor?

  "Studying for class" 
  Originally uploaded by jakebouma.

From BBC Breakfast this morning was a preview of tonights wry look at those who have and those who have not in the BBC 2 (8.30pm) The Madness of Modern Families (it comes just after the equally depressing Dr Alice Roberts' Don't Die Young). One of the topics? Tutors.

It got me thinking (again) at whether schools and Local Authorities should not be nipping the tutor trade in the bud and providing something more, something better and for free.

I only ever had a piano teacher when I was at school, but some might say that I did well in my other subjects because I happened to have two 'professionals' on my back all the time. But when I got stuck in Physics, Mathematics or Geography I had great teachers who spent time in their lunch hours or after school, for free, taking me through what I had failed to keep up with in class. They were, I felt, Good Teachers.

Later in life, in the first year at Edinburgh University, I found myself submerged by a fairly poor (OK, bloody awful) understanding of French and German grammar. In the case of French my language tutor, Dr Brian Barron, took me aside at least a half dozen times in that first term to help me 'get' the perfect tense vs the imperfect. He's now Dean of the Arts Faculty. Just shows that Good Teachers make it places ;-)

Even in my professional life Good Teachers have been there to offer some free advice 'after hours' to help out. My old PE teacher at Dunoon Grammar took me into the school gym one Christmas eight years ago and spent four hours showing me how to scale 12 foot walls, jump hurdles without breaking my neck and jump through open windows head first without, again, breaking my neck (that was for the Army exams, not teaching).

My current bosses are more than happy to take five minutes out of their own busy schedules to give me their help in managing others or getting through projects.

Why, then, do we allow the kids in our classes to go off to private tutors, paying between £25 and £50 an hour for help which, really, the school might be able to provide? And what are the rates of private tuition elsewhere around the world?

  • Is it a case that the school doesn't know who needs more help?

  • Is it the case that kids in classes where they don't like the teacher or the teacher is, shock and horror, just not very good, don't feel that they can approach another teacher in that school to ask for help?

  • Is this not an issue we could do something about to save our families' money and bring more respect for the expertise in our schools back to those schools?

Mums' and dads' views as welcome as those at the chalkface.

Update: Mike shows us, through Google Earth, the amazing lengths parents might go to keep up.


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"Why, then, do we allow the kids in our classes to go off to private tutors, paying between £25 and £50 an hour for help which, really, the school might be able to provide?"

Why? Because the school doesn't provide. Speaking as a parent, I had concerns that there were relatively basic aspects of the KS2 maths syllabus that my younger son was just not getting. He desperately wanted a level 5 for maths in the KS2 SATS (and, no, before anyone jumps on the question - it was not a projected parental ambition - this lad has ever been thus), and he looked like coming up short. We spoke to the teacher about his goal and it was she who suggested a tutor. She said she was sure he could achieve a level 5, but he would need to put in some concentrated effort that she was not in a position to facilitate. She was forced to focus on those in danger of falling short of the govt specified targets.

So, for the second time in his life (the first was when we arrived in the UK and he was a year behind everyone else, having come from a system with an older starting age), he went to a tutor, at a cost of £25/hr. It also meant a 40 minute drive each way to and from the tutor's home. For the record, he got his level 5 for maths but, to his disgust, he dropped to a level 4 for English.

I would be interested to know what the ratios are when it comes to hiring tutors. Parents of low achievers trying to "make the grade" v parents of high achievers trying to do even better. I suspect that it would be far more of the latter, since teachers seem forced to focus most of their efforts on getting the low achievers up to speed so that the league and value added tables make good reading. A kid who can achieve the govt recommended level 4 at KS2 without breaing a sweat is logically a lower priority than the kid who is still struggling to make a level 3.

So for those of us with ambitious kids and restricted budgets, it often means biting the bullet and stumping up cash we can ill afford.

Oddly enough, I was thinking about this very thing last night as one of my son's friends has been getting maths tutoring and seems to be one of the very few to have got a decent mark in his prelim. Last year's chemistry teacher was a disaster and teh teacher this year has been working very hard, as far as I can see, to bring the class back to speed.
I couldn't contemplate individual subject tutoring at this stage but have been wondering about whether student mentoring would be a good thing. FInding an older, successful pupil or perhaps local undergraduate who has been through the school to help with general revision/study strategies and planning. I think my 14 yr old simply hasn't learnt yet how to study and this may be a skill that he will develop later. I just hope it's not too late! I'm sure it is as important for schools to teach this as it is for them to teach a curriculum.

Interesting post! I usedto be a teacher is secondary school, and I used to get involved in all sorts of after-class activities. I went away with the kids, ran the badminton club, gave extra tuition ... and didn't resent any of it. However, if I ever went back into teaching in Scottish secondary schools now, I would not do any of it Why? Because I would be scared stiff of the possiblity of being sued and not being covered by "normal" insurance.

Having both taught in school and privately, I'd say the problem has always been one of time. An hour with an individual pupil repeated 25 times for a whole class makes impossible arithmetic - no?

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