Charles Bonas of tutoring company, Bonas Macfarlane, argues that schools should embrace tutoring as a positive and supportive educational tool, rather than as a negative reflection on a school’s performance.
Twenty years ago, the parents of a child I tutored placed an advertisement in the Times to find me, because tutors in London were a rarity. Since then, a couple of fledgling agencies have multiplied into an industry with thousands of tutors and a professional body – The Tutor’s Association.
What lies behind this growth? The phenomenon is global, so cannot just be explained by the increasingly competitive entrance requirements to schools and universities. Perhaps there are two other causes. The Digital Revolution allowed agents to communicate with young freelancers and graduate students, thereby creating for them a marketplace for hourly tutoring work. Parents found this new source of tutors highly effective.
This rejuvenated industry, which matches vibrant young tutors with children and, in the process, builds confidence, imparts key learning skills and improves performance, appears to be resoundingly positive. So why do numerous independent school heads feel a moral obligation to castigate the tutoring industry in the press for being an unethical, overtly commercial purveyor of substandard educational provision, which is ruining children’s lives with its pressure and intensity? They view tutors as the Japanese Knotweed of private education, but perhaps schools should not see tutors as a threat but rather a useful and supportive tool?
A good tutor should really understand curriculum requirements with study plans and clear objectives. They need not be teachers, but should be practised in a range of tutoring techniques. Where possible, tutoring should take place at weekends or in the holidays, for no more than a few hours a day, and not necessarily at a desk. Tutorials at museums, promoting skills of observation and discussion are more enriching than the endless cramming of verbal reasoning techniques, and in so doing can support a school curriculum.
Practised in moderation, tutoring is beneficial but there is more to this than that. School entrance tests are extremely competitive and most parents who might be accused of over tutoring their children are only responding to that unhealthy extremity. In this respect schools should look long and hard at the inevitable consequences of their entrance testing regimes: mindful that parents will not stop tutoring so long as they feel it confers an advantage. It might help to acknowledge that the logical sequence of educational success is a place at Oxbridge, to which schools pride themselves on helping their students aspire, and is itself a tutorial-based system.
So, how to make sure children are not being over-tutored and to keep it affordable? Surely the answer is blindingly obvious; bring tutors into schools. For teenagers at least, an Oxbridge-style model of lectures, small group seminars and tutorials could be the alternative to the current school system, which is almost completely reliant on class-based teaching and has probably never been the most efficient way to educate children. So come on schools – come in from the cold and engage with tutor providers!