Recently we had Parent-Teacher meetings at school.

I love Parent-Teacher evenings because I’m always on my own, with four tired, bored, hungry children who would rather be doing ANYTHING except having to vaguely behave in school after-hours.

I usually let them loose in the playground with a ball so that I can half-concentrate on what the teacher has to say. The other half of me is praying that they don’t break the school windows.

As one of my children is struggling a little in one subject and another son is struggling a little in another, this time I asked the teacher if she would have any objection to me getting a tutor for them to help them get caught up. Oh no, not at all, she said quickly, in fact I can recommend Janet Hopkinson who is tutoring Maddy and Jake or Mrs Symonds who is tutoring Henry and Timothy.

I manage to keep the surprise off my face. I think. OK, so I hadn’t realised all those children were being tutored. But there’s no reason I would know I suppose.

So the next day I chatted to Maddy’s, Jake’s and Henry’s parents to get the tutors’ numbers.

And then I talked to some more parents who cheerily told me their children had been having tutors for some time. And then I talked to a few more parents who said their children had finished general tutoring and had now moved on to 11+ tutoring.

I felt like I was being initiated into some sort of club that I hadn’t even realised existed.

Our school is outstanding. It does very well in league tables. Several children go on to grammar school each year. Many of the parents are middle-class.

The tutoring thing has just left me with a bunch of questions though.

I’m not bothered that parents are choosing to have their children tutored because that’s their right if that’s what they want to do.

But I have to wonder how much of the school’s results are due to the teaching in the school and how much is due to the fact that so many of the children have catch-up tuition or tuition to get them ahead, to get them ready for the 11+.

If all these children weren’t being tutored, would my child not be one of the ones languishing in the classroom? Does the tutoring raise the average level of ability and is that a good thing, in that the others will be stretched? Or does it just increase the gap between the clever and the not-so-clever?

Are the better-off families buying themselves a better education? (Hasn’t it always been thus?)

How much does the tutoring affect the performance tables of the school and the inspection reports? Does the fact that we live in a middle-class village mean more children are tutored, bolstering the school’s results, making the school more attractive to families and making house prices more expensive, meaning only more middle-class people can afford to live here?

I realise that living in an 11+ school district means that there is more competition for state school places than there might be elsewhere. (I should point out that we plan on having our children sit the 11+ and we are already preparing them for that at home but no way do we plan on having them cram for the test or tutored every Saturday for months beforehand. I want them to pass the test if they are clever enough and not pass it if they are not clever enough. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t thought about the ones being tutored privately or sent to private school with the primary aim of being prepared for the 11+.)

Anyway, for us, the tutoring at this point is simply to get Harry and William caught up with some of the things they are supposed to have covered in class already and are a little behind on.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I just know that finding out that so many children are being tutored leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.

Would you consider tutoring for your child? Do you feel tutoring has wider implications (good or bad) in state schools?

Photo: Herkie

39 thoughts on “Tutoring

  1. Catherine

    Hi Ella, I don’t know where you are exactly but we live in a county that has many Grammar schools and the pressure for places is intense. Many, many children are tutored just to get a place. The idea that Grammar creams off the best is a bit laughable, it’s creams off the children whose parents have enough money to make them good enough to pass. But mostly it makes a mess of the secondary schools because all the clever kids are at grammar and all the rest are at not-very-good schools.

    But I know you’re not really asking about the 11+ itself and I think you’re spot on with the points you make about schools where there is a high level of tutoring. It creates a them and us amongst the children and in classes where there is not streaming I’m sure there are children probably feeling very left behind despite the teachers’ best efforts.

  2. Midlife Singlemum

    All this tutoring does make you wonder why they go to school – apart from the social aspect, but they can pick that up at cub scouts. I think the tutoring is if you want your child to go to a specific school that requires passing an exam. If not, the school education and an actively involved parent should be enough. There is such competition for the places at grammar/public schools why leave it up to chance if you can pay for tutoring? I hope to be able to tutor my daughter in the basic subjects myself – I am able, it’s a matter of having the sort of relationship where she’ll let me.

    1. ella

      I think some parents feel they get the best of both worlds if their child attends a great school and has private tutoring to help them achieve their best and I can understand that 🙂

  3. Sarah

    If any school is at or near the top of the League Tables but a large number of the students are being privately tutored then it really makes a mockery of the League Tables.

    1. ella

      One thing I think we have learnt whilst looking for new schools in our househunt is to consider the league tables only as one small part of how well a school would fit our child.

  4. Emma

    If you take out the 11+ aspect of the argument, I’m sure schools are very pleased when children are tutored because it helps the child and it helps the school.

    The effects of tutoring will even out in most areas because most rich parents will send their children to private school and all the other parents rely on their local schools no matter where you live.

    1. ella

      At the end of the day, if you are looking just at the educational value of tutoring then I think there is no argument: so long as tutoring is not making the child unhappy or placing them in a school to which they are not suited then it is beneficial to them.

      I think the 11+ has massively skewed our local area as far as schools are concerned.

  5. Rachel

    Great post! I am going to have to ask around the parents at our school now to see whether the same things goes on at our school!

  6. northernmum

    School stuff kills me. We live in an eleven plus district as well but I don’t really understand the system. I am sod all help to you but advise like all things parenting ho with your gut. Tia normally best way. J x

    1. ella

      When we moved here our children were very young and I didn’t really understand the implications of moving into an 11+ district but like all things, you live and learn! It will definitely help us when considering schools elsewhere when we move.

  7. Muddling Along

    We live in a middle class ghetto and its become apparant to me that one of the reasons the school does well is because of the huge amount of involvement they expect of parents and add ons like tutoring – as a working mum I just can’t do those things and so risk my children not having the same benefits as the rest of the class, its just another thing that they should put into a handbook so we can all have the same information!

    1. ella

      In a friend’s school one working mum has two nannies – one to take the little ones home, the other to take the older ones to tutoring/music lessons/ballet and so on. I can’t compete with that!

  8. Fiona Erlandsen

    I have lived outside the UK for over 12 years now. I was privately educated from 3-18 years old. I am really shocked how much people are talking about how they feel it necessary to pay for tutoring to get their kids through the 11+. Has education really changed that much over the past 20 years that all parents now are having to worry over this. I remember everyone in my class passing their 11+ with no problems. I think conscientious parents are probably more than capable of doing the tutoring themselves.

    Having just spent one month out of school, my son, had heaps of holiday homework and other classwork to do. Although, it was a battle, now he’s back in school, I am finding that he’s really clicked into working on his own initiative. He’s only 7. Perhaps home tutoring with parents instead of teachers will bode well for future work ethic rather than pupils thinking than the kids presuming someone will prompt them all the time to do their work, or a little more than is asked of them without being told. The education system here in Lanzarote is no different with many children really falling by the way side after 11 years old. We are lucky that school fees are more affordable here, and we work our little socks off to keep them there, as the state option would really not be a great option.

    1. ella

      I think much of the tutoring is for children who are at state schools. I also know several parents who have sent their children to private schools to prepare for the 11+.

      If school fees are affordable you are very lucky! Four children and private school is always going to be a very expensive option for us unfortunately!

  9. MutantSuperModel

    Speaking from across the pond over here. I don’t see anything wrong with tutoring. I think tutoring is an excellent option for children who don’t have parents that can do it themselves (because of time limits or ability– not everyone can teach). I believe most children are getting tutored in some way– by mom/dad at home, an older sibling, or a paid tutor. Schools can’t do it all alone. It’s never meant to be that way, I don’t think. The biggest change we’ve seen in education in these modern times is less one on one time with parents at home because of careers and such things which leads to more tutoring.

    1. ella

      I think tutoring is a very valuable addition to school, especially as it can pick up on individual problems in a way that class teaching can’t always do.

  10. liveotherwise

    Am I the only one who thinks this is yet another symptom of a very broken system?

    There was no tutoring when I was at school. Maybe I was in a poorer area? I went to a standard state school, and then was sent to private school on an assisted place as I’d been bullied at junior and it was only going to get worse. There was very little tutoring for the exams – my parents bought a couple of books of test papers and I was allowed to sit out of games to work through them.

    Yes, even then, the children who had been to the prep schools passed the entrance exam regardless of their underlying ability – it made several of them very unhappy as they were in a school that didn’t suit them at all. The lesson I took from all of this is that tutoring isn’t the answer.

    1. ella

      The system is definitely broken.

      If only parents could take a step back now and see that tutoring isn’t the answer for 11+ but with so much competition for coveted grammar school places I cannot imagine that happening.

  11. mumof4

    One close to my heart.
    As a student we never had the money for tutors. My arch enemy in A level German had a tutor and I always felt he had an unfair advantage – having help with his homework etc. Never felt we were on an equal footing in the classroom because of what his parents could afford.
    As a teacher in 1990s I also tutored some kids – one had v rich parents who wanted to pay to give him an advantage – he was thick as pig shit – tutoring made v little difference. The other kid was bright, it was a struggle for his parents to afford a tutor but it helped him a lot.
    Now as a mum, I pay for a tutor for my daughter for maths, 45 dollars for 45 minutes and it has helped her confidence and grades.
    Re league tables etc I had not thought of it but it must make an impact. Same as private schools who have entrance exams so thy only take those meeting their criteria – so no statemented kids etc also affects how they ‘appear’ to succeed in their results.
    All life thr 3D glasses in a way….

    1. ella

      I suppose the argument for tutoring is that it gives the child, no matter what their underlying ability, the best shot at being the best they can be. (Not 11+ tutoring though, that’s a different matter)

  12. MummyMummyMum

    Hi Ella, I found this really interesting as my son starts school in September and I have already said that I would get a tutor if he ever struggled in school, but I was thinking more for secondary, it hadn’t crossed my mind that a tutor might be needed earlier than that.

    Regarding schools, it would concern me if a lot of children were being tutored that the school was doing well for that reason rather than its teaching standard. If a school is good, surely a large number of children shouldn’t need extra help, or is it just that we want the very best for our children?

    I have been researching secondary schools recently. Do you thinks its better to live in an 11+ district or not?
    Emma x

    1. ella

      What bothers me is that parents may look at school results, league tables and so on and form an opinion about how good a school is, but have no idea that some/many of those results may be due to extra tutoring. That’s a bit how I feel about our school now anyway.

      We are choosing an 11+ area but that has a good state school too (there aren’t many of those around because it’s hard for schools to get great results when all the cleverest children are at the local grammar)

        1. Ella

          The schools are great if you can get your child in to one but they have effects on the surrounding schools and remaining school population.

  13. Soph Post author

    Really interesting post, I hadn’t thought about a grammar education for my children but I might look into it now.

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  16. Janet

    Joining this discussion rather late on! I live in N Ireland where our whole system has been beside around the 11+ for decades. I hate it. It’s incredibly divisive. Kids who pass (usually with tutors) are told they are the cream of the crop while the others who go to secondary school are not given the same opportunities as their pals in a Grammar. All at age 11. Which means that for most of their p6 year (10 years old) the children spend doing the most boring schoolwork imaginable. They sit practice test after test, sit the actual tests in November, then seem to mess about for the remaining p7 year waiting to find out which school they can go to. I don’t understand why we can’t have a system like say Denmark. You go to the same school ( in many regions) from 7-17 – no weird transfer of school age 11. We have dabbled in homeschooling as well which our kids loved but there is very little support for here locally. Otherwise that would be our no 1 choice. I’d forgotten that some areas in England still have the 11+ – thanks for the discussion!


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