David EJJ Lloyd, Headmaster of Solihull School, is concerned about the pressures placed on children as young as seven who are receiving private tutoring throughout the summer.
Private tutoring as a sector of education is probably bigger than most would imagine, with the industry valued at nearly £3 billion a year.
Given that the Birmingham grammar schools now hold their 11-plus entrance exam in the September of year six, private tutoring is common among pupils who are only nine years old. Some tutors are even advocating a year four start, saying that waiting until year five is too late.
For many families, this tutoring now interrupts, or even wipes out, the summer break, replacing well-earned rest and recuperation with cramming and potential anxiety – all well before the new academic year even begins.
Independent schools, including Solihull, have added to the problem by following the grammar school lead and moving their entrance examinations earlier. Some may say, given that fact, that my comments are hypocritical but the impact I am seeing on children as young as seven has prompted me to share my thoughts and fears.
I have never met a parent who has not wanted the best for their child. However, with intense competition for places at schools, many pupils are now being put through gruelling private or home tutoring programme in preparation for the entrance exam season.
While this is great news for private tutors who charge as much as £50 per hour, it’s often at the expense of holiday activities and recharging batteries for the next academic term or year.
Some children are being made acutely aware of the expectation on them, heightened by those parents who are inclined to share with them how much tuition costs and the sacrifices that others in the family might be making. While these sort of comments may motivate the very few, as educators and parents we must be more attuned to the adverse impact such leverage can have.
Many schools legitimately advise parents that a little tutoring may help. I do not deny there are examples of genuine need and, in these cases, parents are doing the right thing, nor that some tutors are excellent and even work with schools for the benefit of the child.
However, this is sadly not always the case and tutoring can have long-term negative effects, albeit unintended.
Some schools have introduced ‘tutor proof’ entrance exams which focus on skills already taught in primary schools such as spelling, vocabulary, mathematical problem-solving, non-verbal reasoning and natural ability. However, this has done little to slow tutoring down and whatever the exams are changed to, tutors seem to be ahead of the curve and will always look for ways to access past papers and interview questions.
Schools such as Solihull generally do an excellent job for those gaining admittance and the legacy is abundantly clear but maybe we should all be more aware of the potential impact on those that don’t and those children mismatched with selective schools by the tutoring process.
I doubt much will be able to stem the tide of expectation which keeps private tutoring firmly afloat, however, I would urge parents enlisting tutors to weigh up their decision, and the specifics of that decision, carefully.