Tutoring – The business of fear

Back in June this year we heard news of a horrible terrorist attack.  A lone gunman walked into a night club in Florida and shot dead 50 people.  The club was an LGBT venue and the whole community came out in force.  There were long lines of people wanting to give blood to help the survivors.  On the international news it seemed that the community were making a peaceful stance against terrorism.

Yet according to my pal who lives in the US it was reported differently in the states.  The answer to acts of terrorism such as this is that the people in that club should have all had guns.  Then they could have shot the guy dead before he shot them.

Their solution – more guns!

To us here in Britain, a country where our Olympians have to leave the country to train for shooting events, the thought of more guns is just ludicrous.  How do you solve the issue by throwing more guns into the mix.  Surely more people will just get shot.  Surely it would make more sense to not legally sell assault weapons to terrorists in the first place.  Yet there are alot of people in the US for whom the thought of doing away with weapons is abhorrent. Surely it’s the gun that keeps them safe – how can taking it away possibly make them safer?  Asking them to let go of their guns is asking them to make themselves vulnerable to attack without being able to defend themselves.

But we know they’ll be OK.  We have evidence to prove it.

Are you wondering where I’m going with this on a literacy blog?  Guns and words?  Guns and swords.  The pen is mightier than the sword…and the gun.  No, none of that.

This week I read some very interesting statistics from the Sutton Trust, a charity – a “Do Tank” that is set up to enable social mobility through education.  They fund research and advise the government.  Their work is very highly regarded.  They recently released a review of tutoring in the UK for 11 – 16 year olds.  I’ve selected some highlights for you.

25% of children between 11 & 16 in England and Wales have been tutored, rising to 42% in London

Why?  Why so many?  Are a quarter of children failing to fulfil their potential or are they simply failing to live up to their parents expectations?

And are the children in London really more stupid than the rest of the country?  No – they’re not.  So why do they need more tutoring – or is it that the expectations of London parents are even higher than in the rest of the country and hence much harder to attain?  Or do they have more cash than the rest of the country?

Over the last decade, the proportion of 11-16 year olds who have ever received private tuition in England and Wales has risen from 18% to 25%

So have children become more stupid in the last 10 years OR have some savvy people realised that they can make money out of parent paranoia?

Privately-educated students are about twice as likely to receive private tuition as state-educated pupils, according to multiple estimates

This I believe!  In the body of the report it states the reasons for kids being tutored as preparation for specific exams (such as a GCSE) or for an entrance exam to a school.  However nearly half of the kids were being tutored all year round.  The most common subjects are Maths, then English.


The private tutoring market is an unregulated market worth an estimated £2 billion in England and Wales and it lives on one great big assumption – that home tutoring is proven to work.  It isn’t – it might work, but there is no proof.  There is plenty of proof that one on one tutoring with a teaching professional within a child’s school boosts results, probably because the work that your child does in the tutoring session is planned in conjunction with what they learn in the classroom.    But home tutoring …. we could do with a big study on that.  For now it lives in the shadows.

And in those shadows it’s wreaking havoc for social mobility.  For kids to now get into the top selective schools they have to undergo the tutoring because everybody does.  If you can’t afford the tutoring you’ve got to be the brains of Britain to beat the kids whose parents can buy more guns.  Did I say guns?  I meant time with a tutor.

With nearly a quarter of children undergoing some form of tutoring at some point it could also be masking any inefficiencies in a school that should be identified and dealt with by the head.  The parents are tackling this with their own guns.  Did I say guns again!  Am I really comparing tutoring to guns?

I am!

Although tutors don’t kill you in the same way guns do, living without one will elicit the same feelings as a Texan laying down his arms before he goes into a nightclub.  Would you risk letting your child go into an exam without tutoring knowing that every other child walking in there has probably been tutored?  Would you stand in a room full of men with guns and not take in your own gun?

The Sutton Trust have recommended that the government pays for poor kids to have private tuition.  On this I have to disagree.  It’s simply bringing more guns to the nightclub.

This new £2 billion pound industry is built on fear.  Pure and simple.  Kids haven’t suddenly become more stupid, but something has changed else this market wouldn’t be thriving.  I don’t think the problem lies with the kids – it lies with us as parents.  If we start tutoring children who aren’t falling behind then where are we heading?  Where does that end?  Will they ever get to play again or is it adding and subtraction from the age of 4, eight hours a day.

I wonder how many of the parents who employ a home tutor tell the school they’re doing so and ask them to work together to co-ordinate their child’s education?  Very few I would imagine, and those who do ask may receive a frosty reception from the school.  Whilst private tuition remains an unregulated market it undermines the teaching profession, and the teaching profession isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs as it is.  Teachers in schools are the experts in education, more so than parent and politicians – I think it’s time we let them lead the charge.

Has anybody asked teachers what they think about the home tutoring market?  What would they like to see happen?  How would they solve this issue of tutoring leading to middle class children having an advantage?  Perhaps the tutoring should be coming out of the schools themselves – if it’s really needed?  Do teachers think it’s needed?

Nothing gets better whilst fear rules our actions.  Nothing good comes out of fear.  If we really want what’s best for our kids then maybe it’s time to stop asking more and more and more of them and start asking ourselves as parents ‘how can I be smarter about my child’s education.’  Is there a better way?  Is there evidence that no homework, no tutoring, starting the academic process later and allowing our children to play and have fun is actually better for them in the long term?  Are there countries out there that are taking this approach and having better success with maths and literacy than we are?

And the answer is yes, we have the evidence to prove it.

The countries who do less have better literacy results.

Just like the countries with less guns have very few deaths from guns.

There will come a point where we have to say ‘no more’.  If the price of ‘success’ is that my child has to give up her childhood then I would rather she ‘fail’ because ultimately I believe she will lead a happier life if she’s had a wonderful magical childhood – and she’s not having that if her little life is only full of academia.


If you’re interested you can read more about the Sutton Trusts review here http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/shadowschooling/


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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure.  She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right.  Infact 85% of the kids who come through STORY STORKS  are right where they should be or ahead in terms of progression through the reading book scheme once they get to school and the ones who are behind are trying hard because they know that it’s worth it – that to read is to unlock a whole world of fun and adventure and learning and imagination and they might take a bit longer to get there but they’re determined that get there they will.






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