In defence of private tutoring

What is the logic behind throwing cold water on pupils’ and families’ aspirations

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The Independent Online

Sebastian Hepher, headmaster of Eaton Square School in Belgravia is concerned about the growth in private tutoring. In a letter to parents, Mr Hepher lists a series of his misgivings: tutoring can have many disadvantages he says; children can be overloaded with work; parents can be misinformed of what a child needs in order to generate business; children can be taught methods and practices which are confusing to them; homework can be affected due to lack of time. In his two page letter he cites no supporting evidence for any of these assertions.

One thing we can agree is that tutoring has boomed in recent years.  Some commentators have interpreted this as an indictment of mainstream schools.  Mr Hepher’s defensiveness suggests he too views the growth of private tutoring from that perspective.  The growth in the demand for private tuition is a global phenomenon and as a World Bank report confirms, it needs to be analysed in the context of more of us wanting to equip ourselves and our children with educational attainments to join the service sector. It is not necessarily an indictment of a particular school or education system. Obviously I can not speak for Mr Hepher’s particular school.

Recognising that private tutoring is now a significant feature of the educational landscape, The Tutors’ Association an industry body comprising of individual tutors and tutoring companies was launched in October to represent the tutoring industry and to promote best practice. Its members adhere to a code of practice which addresses the specific points Mr Hepher asserts in his letter.  It is part of our code of practice not to over-prescribe tutoring for instance.

As someone who was a classroom teacher myself for a number of years, what I find more concerning about the tone of Mr Hepher’s letter is not so much his hostility to private tutors but his eagerness as a head of a primary school to throw cold water on pupils’ and families’ aspirations. He asks parents -“is it (the school you are aiming for) too academic? As educationalists we should not be prejudging young peoples’ abilities and instead encourage them to fulfil their potential.  Pupils report back effusively as to how with tutoring, their confidence has been restored and their intellectual curiosity engaged. Mr Hepher would appear to believe that warning pupils and parents not to bite off more than they can chew is somehow more important to emphasise than this.

Finally and on a more conciliatory note, Mr Hepher states that we should “ensure that the (tutoring) work being done compliments (sic) the work undertaken at school”. Assuming he meant to say complements, we can assure him that tutors are very keen to work alongside schools for the benefit of pupils. Indeed many confident school heads have already adopted such an approach and one of the aims of the Tutors’ Association is to encourage cooperation of this kind.

Tom Maher is chair of the Tutors’ Association.