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Private tutors: Are they necessary?

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As with many blog posts, the inspiration for this one came following a casual chat with a dad. This guy has a child at a secondary school Mrs Adams and I have been considering for Helen, our eldest daughter.

Hiring a private tutor is becoming increasingly common, but is it necessary or even the correct thing to do in many situations?

He told me various things about the school and then made a remark that grabbed my attention. He very casually said, so casually I found it alarming:

“You might get a bad teacher. If you do, you just have to pay for a private tutor.”

I was stunned by this comment. Not so much by what was said, but by the way he said it. He seemed to be resigned that this was simply how the world works: If the teachers let you down, you pay for a tutor. It left me feeling very concerned about the quality of teaching at the school.

Despite my misgivings about this particular school, hiring tutors seems to be all the rage. I’m deeply suspicious as to why.

I’m not criticising anyone who has hired tutors for their kids or suggesting it’s something parents shouldn’t do. One of our kids has asked about having a tutor. Mrs Adams and I remain to be convinced it’s necessary, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

The question is, why are so many of us parents hiring tutors? It seems to be much more common than it used to be.

As a blogger, I’m often asked to review tutoring services. I know many of the teachers at my kids’ school offer tutoring services as a side hustle.

I kid you not, one of our next door neighbours has a 13 year old child who earns money tutoring primary school kids. When demand has reached a point where teenage school kids are hiring themselves out as tutors, you have to wonder whether the world has gone mad.

tutor, private tutor, schooling, school, education, private tutors

Is the school system the reason why the private tutoring business seems to be booming? It’s no secret I have a deep suspicion of the academy school system. I wonder if the culture of academies and their narrow-sighted approach which focuses heavily on results, is fuelling demand for tutors?

After all, if you have a kid at school who says they’re struggling, what are you going to do as a caring parent? If the kids’ school is telling you their results are consistently below par and their confidence is being hit, might you get your kid a tutor and give them a helping hand?

If the schools are more focused on results, it follows us mums and dads are going to obsess over them also. Private tuition is one way we can help our kids along.

If a kid genuinely needs help, of course you should give it to them. I have no doubt in such circumstances it’s the best thing to do.

I am left wondering if us mums and dads are obsessing over something we don’t need to be? Have we got sucked into thinking schooling is all about results and tutors are the easiest way to achieve them? Like the dad at the beginning of this tale, are mums and dads hiring tutors because the quality of teaching is simply not good enough?

What are your thoughts? Do you think the world has gone tutor mad? Maybe you have one for your own kids? If so, why? If not, would you consider it? Do leave a comment below with your thoughts.

8 thoughts on “Private tutors: Are they necessary?”

  1. I don’t think it’s necessarily a new thing but back in my day it tended to be only around the GCSE years. I went to a good camp but but didn’t do as well as I could have done in my GCSEs and certainly not in comparison to some of the kids I’ve been beating all the way through my school life. It turns out for all the ones who got straight days in the old days of GCSEs, basically all had tutoring.

    Round here it’s tutoring if you’re putting your child through the 11-plus make sense given it’s a very different style of exam you need to be able to pass. I also have a friend who has a tutor for her son because he was struggling at school and really wasn’t enjoying it because of that. With a tutor he gets tailored lessons which are much more practical that he can understand and relate to, so he’s a farmer’s son and they do lots of teaching outside on the farm.

    I’ve not heard of it other than for short-term bests for children he might be struggling at something specific. I would certainly think about it for mine if he really needed it or were struggling with one specific subject where where the teacher was not able to give the focus for struggling children. Otherwise I’m not sure I would be able to fit it into a week.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who isn’t keen on academies. I seem to be the only one voicing an opinion of people I know who would much rather they were schools but unfortunately my old school and the one that Daniel will likely go to is an academy. I think you’re probably right in that they’re not as focused on the teaching from the trusts and possibly the heads, which means there is an expectation but children get extra support. As well as the pressure but children and parents now put on their kids having to get the better grades to try and stand out which isn’t so easy nowadays with all the more children going to university.

    1. Yes, I would think of tutoring for my kids if they really needed it. What I’m seeing though is a lazy acceptance among parents that this is “just the way it is”. It really makes you think when teenagers can make money tutoring when they should be concentrating on their own school work! That dad I spoke to? I’ve subsequently heard of a second family with kids at the same school who are paying out for a tutor for the same reasons (IE they don’t feel their kids are being taught properly).

      It’s clearly a systemic issue. Schools are underfunded, teachers are under greater pressure and parents who can, are hiring tutors.

      And yes, I am deeply, deeply suspicious of the academy school system. It’s wrong on many levels.

  2. There has been a rise in private tutor use around my peer group of late. However we are now all parents of secondary school children and the work load/level does significantly rise.

    I often wonder if it is a school problem (not the teachers) at a higher level. Funding cuts, bigger classes etc. Both my boys go to the only secondary school close by. The school itself has a great reputation and is one of the few state schools that has a boarding house aw well. However, it has become clear that if you child is studious they will do fine, the ones that are not so, will struggle and the help isn’t offered as freely.

    So in answer to a question that you didn’t really ask. I am considering the use of a private tutor for at least one of my kids. Just to give him that extra help that the school can’t.

    1. I think you’ve got it bang on Ian. It is, I think, a wider school issue: Funding, recruitment and also a change of priority among schools, particularly academies which are simply pushing for the best possible results at the expense of anything else.

      I’m certainly not suggesting parents are hypocrites for getting tutors. We may do it for one of our kids as a short-term thing to get her up to speed if it’s what she feels she needs. What makes me feel very uncomfortable is the laisez faire attitude of parents who are simply accepting the fact their kids’ schools have rubbish teachers and that the way you deal with it is to hire a tutor. We shouldn’t be accepting of such standards.

  3. This question is being raised a lot with the expansion of tutoring services. I think schools are too big, you have one curriculum, big class sizes, one teacher whose expected to be an expert in all subjects (especially at primary). Then you have the children who are expected to reach a certain level at the end of each year, as if they are all the same. Also, new ideas and concepts are not given time to be learnt and embedded, there is such a rush to finish one topic and move onto the next. And then you have the bright child, who is bored and the school simply isn’t providing enough challenge, so they just coast. The children I tutor may be be in the same year group but they are all so different, with different learning styles, abilities, personalities and each parent has different aspirations for their children too. Having a tutor appears to be more about helping them keep up and access the curriculum, achieve their potential and prepare them for any tests and exams at the end of the year. One thing I notice about every single student I tutor is that by having that 1:1 quality time, they can talk about their learning and what they like and don’t like and about their aspirations which they might not get the opportunity to do otherwise. Also, it’s not just affluent parents who pay for this, increasingly parents who traditionally wouldn’t be employing a tutor now feel it’s a sacrifice worth making, as they want their children to achieve too.

    1. You don’t surprise me and I certainly wasn’t implying there isn’t value in employing a tutor if your child really needs one. I am, however, deeply suspicious as to why it has become so popular. Maybe some schools have got too big. I also think the education has become too pressured and results-focused. There’s little to nurture the individual and this is where tutors are filling the void.

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