One in four parents are now paying for private tuition for their children to top up their education, according to research published today. The finding will add to worries that the most able students are being neglected in schools – and that poorer students are missing out on help afforded to the more privileged.
The figures, published by the education charity the Sutton Trust, show there has been a steady rise in the number of parents seeking outside help to improve their children’s chances of getting good exam grades. Across the UK the proportion doing so has risen from 18 per cent five years ago to 24 per cent this year.
The research also indicates a widespread variation between regions. In London 40 per cent of parents pay for extra lessons – a higher proportion than anywhere else in the UK. In Wales, by contrast, only 9 per cent of parents pay for private tuition.
One of the reasons for the rise was said last night to be the Government’s emphasis on exam league tables, in which schools are ranked according to the number of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English.
“The accountability measures tend to turn attention on the borderline C/D grade pupils,” said Professor Alan Smithers, head of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham.
“It may be that some anxious parents who believe their children are capable of getting A* and A grade passes are concerned that they don’t seem to be getting the attention they deserve as a result.”
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is already reviewing the league table measures, and it is possible that he might ditch the idea of ranking schools according to the five A* to C grade criterion.
However, headteachers’ leaders are worried that the pressures will continue if league tables are based on an alternative measure, in which schools would be ranked according to the percentage of pupils getting A* to C grade passes in the core subjects of maths and English.
The Sutton Trust, which was set up by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl to promote a fairer chance in education for students from disadvantaged areas, is worried that the rise in private tuition could discriminate against pupils from poorer homes.
“Private tuition is booming, particularly in London, despite the fact many families have been forced to tighten their belts,” Sir Peter said.
“Parents naturally want to do the best for their children. Providing private tuition for them puts those children whose parents can’t afford it at a disadvantage. That’s why it’s so crucial that we find a successful way to ensure that the learning gap is narrowed for less advantaged children.”
Analysis by the private tutoring website First Tutors suggests that the typical cost of a private tutor is now £22 an hour, with the national average ranging from £20 for primary and secondary tuition to £26 for help with university degrees.
In its survey, 31 per cent of better-off families resorted to private tutoring compared with 15 per cent of less well-off families.
The Sutton trust’s sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, is testing the impact of offering free tuition to children from low-income backgrounds through its £263,000 funding of an evaluation of the work of a Manchester-based charity, the Tutor Trust.
It selects and trains able university students and recent graduates to provide tuition in challenging schools.
Some schools are also understood to be using their pupil premium – the extra cash they get from the Government for taking in pupils on free school meals – to pay for private tuition for their disadvantaged pupils.
Meanwhile, The Independent has learned of one school where a parent was fed up with the standard of biology teaching and turned to a local college to help provide private tuition in the subject for his child.
Other parents heard about his decision on the grapevine and decided to follow suit. All the pupils ended up with extra coaching and gained excellent grades – with the result that the teacher whose lessons had been deemed shoddy was praised for what her class had achieved.
I have recommended private tuition to others
Nabila Elahi, a secondary-school teacher from north-west London, used private tuition to help her daughter Wafa, 18, with her physics A-level. She found a company which offered lessons online for a reduced fee.
“Wafa was having some difficulties. I could not find a tutor who could come to us, so I rang an online tuition service. Something is lost without the face-to-face interaction but I still found it very useful. If you don’t like it you simply don’t book it again. That’s a more awkward thing to do in person.
“Wafa found it very helpful. It boosted her confidence and it helped her to enjoy the subject more. She got an A in the end and I have recommended it to others.
Ms Elahi, who teaches in an independent secondary school, says many of the parents there pay for private tuition.
“The parents are more affluent and they take an active interest in their children’s education. Perhaps they are not representative.”
Some students need one-to-one with a teacher
David Gibson, from Newbury in Berkshire, got a tutor for his daughter Cara, who was having some difficulty with a number of her GCSE subjects.
“We paid for maths, geography and physics lessons because Cara was struggling,” he said. “We went through a company called MyTutorWeb, which employs university students. We had great people, we were really lucky. They were of a similar age to Cara which really worked well for her. In fact she’s still in touch with some of them, talking about her results.
“She passed her GCSE in maths with a C and without the tuition she definitely wouldn’t have passed.
“I’ve got two other daughters and I’ll probably do the same when they’re of a similar age.”
Mr Gibson said that his choice to pay for tutors was not due to the failings of Cara’s school. It is simply that some students sometimes need one-to-one time with a teacher.
“We did it because we needed extra help. The school did what they could but they can’t make individual arrangements for each pupil, he added.”
I had to help them to keep up
“Miranda was getting ready for the 11 plus and English is not Galilea’s first language so I needed someone to help her with homework,” she said. Although her children are educated privately, the level of competition makes private tuition “a necessity”. “I had to get a tutor to help them to keep up.”