Private tuition unlikely to boost pupils' exam grades

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The Independent Online

Parents may be wasting their money hiring private tutors for their children - particularly their daughters, according to new research published today.

Parents may be wasting their money hiring private tutors for their children - particularly their daughters, according to new research published today.

A survey of more than 300 children showed that girls were far less likely to improve their GCSE grades than boys as a result of private tuition. On average, the grades of those boys receiving extra help went up by 0.4 of a grade - enough to turn a D grade into a C.

However, while boys' marks improved by almost three-quarters of a grade, the girls showed little, if any, improvement. Professor Judith Ireson, of London University's Institute of Education - which conducted the research for the Economic and Social Research Council, said: "Most parents find a tutor through word of mouth and it can be difficult to find a good one. Our results suggest that tutors are not helping girls as much as boys at this level."

One of the reasons, she added, was that the girls had performed better than the boys in the two years before seeking tuition - and therefore it might have been more difficult to improve their performance.

There was no difference in the proportion of boys and girls with tutors. In both cases, 27 per cent had had a tutor. Likewise, the duration and content of the tutoring was the same for both sexes. The study showed that parents were most likely to hire private tutors to help their children out with maths.

The use of private tuition to bolster schooling has become a burgeoning industry as more and more middle-class parents turn to it. Most famously, it was revealed nearly three years ago that Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie had hired private tutors from the elite Westminster school to coach their two older sons - both pupils at the London Oratory school.

Today's survey shows the majority of those seeking private tuition (54.2 per cent) had just an hour a week or less. However, some (6.9 per cent) opted for more than three hours a week. At an average cost of between £20 and £30 an hour for a tutor, that means parents are spending up to £90 a week on extra lessons. Only a handful had extra tuition for English - and their scores showed no difference from their expected grades. A further survey of more than 3,500 primary, secondary and further-education college students showed that ethnic minority families were more likely to employ private tutors. Almost half of the Indian students (45 per cent) had had tutors as well as one in three of the Chinese and African students (35 per cent and 31 per cent respectively). Only a quarter of white European students had extra outside private help - although the lowest response was from Bangladeshi families where one in five sought tutors.

"Cultural factors also affect whether young people have private tuition - in some countries, such as India, tutoring is the norm," said Professor Ireson. Predictably, the research also showed that university-educated parents in managerial or professional occupations were more likely to employ tutors than parents in less-skilled jobs with vocational qualifications or only school education.

One in three (36 per cent) of students with fathers in senior and professional positions said they had had a tutor compared with just one in 10 (11 per cent) among the other two categories.

Margaret Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said it may well be that private tuition did not improve exam results. "It depends on what you're trying to do with private tuition as to whether it's a waste of money," she said. "If it's just to improve exam results, that's as maybe. If it is to give your child more confidence, then I think it invaluable."

'Within a few weeks, the difference was amazing'

For Suzie Fewlass, investing in a private tutor for her young son gave him two invaluable commodities - time and confidence.

Curtis, then seven, was struggling to keep up in school. "The school were saying that he wasn't coming up to scratch," said Mrs Fewlass, from Kingston-upon-Hull. "But within a few weeks of private tutoring the difference to his confidence was amazing."

His mother feels the one-to-one tuition at such a young age helped put him back on track for keeping up in class. She said she would have hired a tutor again to help him through his national curriculum tests at 11 but could not afford it.

"If I could hire one again for GCSEs, I'd consider it," she said. Curtis is now 11.

Mrs Fewlass turned to a private tutor because the same one-to-one option was not available in his local state school. In a speech last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated one-to-one teaching. However, headteachers believe enough cash will not be made available - thus prompting parents like Mrs Fewlass to look fortutors in future.

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