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Does Private Tuition Widen the Attainment Gap?

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In addition to my role as a consultant, I decided that as a way of ensuring I still have a direct connection with education and students, I would offer a private tuition service. Being a private tutor has provided me with some of the most rewarding experiences of the many years I have been an English teacher. It has allowed me to spend my time educating and supporting teenagers through the most pressured times in their lives. One of my tuteees sent me the following text: ‘Sorry to text so late but I have just finished ‘The Power’ and I’m blown away! Looking forward to discussing it on Wednesday if we get a chance!xx It’s the best thing I’ve ever read! Thank you for showing me it! xx’. Such comments serve as constant reminders of the powerful impact that teaching and inspiring young people can have. An inspirational teacher has the potential to set young people up with the strength and insight that can support them for the rest of their lives.

 The Impact of Tuition

In relation to research into attainment, a recent report by the Sutton Trust has concluded that ‘White children risk falling behind in the classroom because they are less likely to have private tutors. Youngsters from ethnic minority backgrounds have a far higher rate of private tuition than those from white British families.’ They conclude that to truly attain students need the additional support of a private tutor.  ‘A YouGov poll of over 2,500 secondary school children commissioned by researchers revealed that over half (56 per cent) of Asian pupils and 42 per cent of black students said they had had a tutor, compared to just a quarter of white children.’ It is an interesting way of identifying why sucah a gap exists. I have already written a blog called The North East Challenge where last year’s analysis of demographics and results showed that the initiatives implemented through the London Challenge had little or no impact on working class white boys. Could white working class boys also be underachieving because they are least likely to access private tuition?

The Power of the Group

I must also confess that another reason for offering tuition was to support my own son. He was floundering in middle set mediocrity in English. He had very little support from school, and there was no sign of self motivation. Consequently, I set up a small, all boy, tuition group. We spent an hour and a half together once a week, from Year 9 to year 11. We read together, explored how to interpret texts, and how to write about them. One of these tutees told me that he did more work with me in our weekly session than he did in a whole week of English lessons at school. He was – incorrectly in my opinion – placed in the bottom group for English. The consequence of this is that the class is so disruptive very little real learning took place. There is lots of evidence that demonstrates that being placed in the ‘bottom’ has a serious impact on self-esteem. The other issue is that even when he wanted to work, he couldn’t. Therefore there was no opportunity for him to improve enough to be recognised as a student who should have been in a higher set – Catch 22! How can students hope to succeed in such circumstances?

Building Self-Belief

Discussing ideas and reading the literature togther is an absolute pleasure both one to one and in the small groups. In such a small but comfortable setting, students feel much more confident in expressing and exploring their own ideas in greater depth. It also gives them an opportunity to discuss their week at school, ask for advice, tell me how they are feeling. Raising their confidence in relation to their English, in combination with giving them an avenue to discuss how they are feeling, has become an essential part of the service as a private tutor.

Parent Power

Students most often attend and engage in tuition because of parental worries. A recent comment from a pro-active parent of one of my current Y11 students demonstrates such concerns:

“Much appreciated for what you do for him (also for my sanity – as before your help I was pulling my hair about what he was being taught or learning, especially in English literature. Thrilled that you are able to help him structure these essays and write more.) Thanks. You are obviously bringing out the best in him!” 

For many students to be able to access tuition, there needs to be a parent who is sufficently concerned about the lack of progress of their child.  Another tutee recently ‘confessed’ to me that he highlighted the revision guides his mam had bought him to ‘get her off his back’ but he hadn’t actually read any of it. This serves to highlight another benefit of the tuition. Such ‘confessions’ give me a way in, and provide ideas about how to re-direct students and get them back on track. In addition, I can also advise and make suggestions to parents.

The Sutton Trust Solution

According to the Sutton Trust, the use of private tuition has ‘increased from 42% to 46% in one year in London’. Nevertheless, what is does raise is the possibility that the lower performance from white boys is not solely because the London Challenge initiative did not suit them. It may be because they are least able financially and motivationally to access the service of a decent private tutor. The Sutton Trust’s solution is to provide vouchers for students who have the will, but not the finance to access the service of private tutor. What I was hoping for was that they would push the government to provide a better school experience for all students.

Does Private Tuition Widen the Attainment Gap?

Ultimately, in the current climate we need as many students to do as well as they possibly can. If they achieve this through private tuition and if their self-belief and academic progress has improved as a consequence, this should be welcomed. Nevertheless, what we need to develop is an education system where the purpose of being in school, and  the purpose for study is firmly embedded. School should never  be JUST about how to pass an examination. We have to make it worthwhile. The outcomes need to go beyond results day – both academically and in relation to students’ mental health. Providing self help strategies and  confidence boosters are also important. School can make an attempt to identify students who are ‘lost’ in the current ‘exam factory’ system. With some support and some time, such students have more hope of reaching their potential. Maybe offering an internal tuition approach is potentially the way forward? What is clear is that support with self-belief in tandem with academic teaching and learning, is essential for both the academic and personal success of our children.

References:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/09/07/white-children-less-likely-have-private-tutors-ethnic-minorities/