By Nick Morrison
The Daily Telegraph, London
When you are paying upwards of £15,000 a year to have your child privately educated, the prospect of forking out for extra tuition may not sit well with you. But that is exactly what seems to be happening as an increasing number of parents look to “top-up” their child’s already expensive education with a private tutor.
According to managing director Nevil Chiles of Kensington & Chelsea Tutors, around 60-70 per cent of its students are from private schools, and numbers have been rising ever since the west London agency was established 10 years ago. The agency’s students tend to fall into two groups, says Chiles. There are those who are struggling with a particular subject and benefit from one-to-one tuition. This does not necessarily imply a problem with the school, as even with the smaller classes of an independent establishment, teachers cannot always give all their pupils the attention they need. Or it may be that a different approach can provide that “eureka” moment, when it starts to make sense.
The second group consists of students who are already excelling but whose parents want to ensure they go on to their preferred school or university. For both groups, extra tuition is particularly popular in the run-up to exams, with maths and sciences the most commonly chosen subjects, although foreign languages are also high on the priority list.
“Rather than trying to cover a wide range of subjects, it makes sense to focus on one or two — whether those are the students’ weakest or those in which they excel. You can only do so much,” says Chiles.
Parents may worry that a school will feel put-out if they opt for private tuition, assuming it is a sign of dissatisfaction, but this is often not the case, according to William Stadlen, director of Holland Park Tuition, also in west London. Independently educated children, he explains, make up “the core” of the agency’s students and many are referred by their school, often when the child is having difficulty with a particular subject. “We have seen a sea change and schools are now harnessing the idea of private tutoring for pupils. It is an extra service,” says Stadlen.
Many parents believe that getting their child into the right prep school is a pivotal moment in their education and, in the eight years since he founded the agency, Stadlen has seen the focus shift from GCSE-age pupils to 13-plus to 11-plus, and now to seven- and eight-year-olds.
Some schools, however, express reservations about private tutoring and believe parents should be able to rely entirely on the school. “If you’re sending a child to a good independent school and they need extra help, this should be provided in-house, through excellent teachers and support staff,” says Jane Grubb, head of Dunhurst, the preparatory school for Bedales in Hampshire. “The children are already under a lot of pressure, it’s a long day as it is and there’s a danger that children will lose the love of learning.”
But for struggling pupils, tutoring can boost confidence and give previously underperforming children a track record of success. This creates a momentum of its own, says Stadlen. For pupils who are already doing well, tutoring can offer scope for fine-tuning exam and revision technique.
David Boddy, head of St James Senior Boys’ School in Ashford, Surrey, recognises the danger of putting pressure on pupils but believes tutoring can be useful, particularly for A-level students wanting to ensure they get into their first choice of university. He estimates that around 10 per cent of sixth-form and Year 11 boys at St James have private tutors, and the school has a list of recommended tutors. “Securing top grades to meet your offers is now much more crucial than in the past as offers tend to be quite high,” says Boddy. “Tutoring is also useful for boys who need a bit of a confidence boost — for example, pupils with special needs — or for those who require help with work discipline.”
For some parents, peer pressure is a factor. With so many hiring a tutor, the concern that neglecting to do so could leave your child at a disadvantage can be a powerful motivator.
“It’s not always enough to have a private school education, students also need to keep up with the competition,” says Joanne Kashmina, academic registrar at Carfax Private Tutors, an agency based in Oxford and London. The bulk of its work is with children who are struggling, often where English is not their first language, while around 20 per cent is with students who are doing well but perhaps want extra help preparing for exams.
If you do hire a tutor, regular sessions maintain momentum. Once a week is typical, once a fortnight at a push but any less frequent and the benefits are likely to be lost in between meetings. At Kensington & Chelsea Tutors, Chiles recommends two hours as the optimum length of each session, with one hour for under-13s, although Holland Park Tuition advises one hour, and at Carfax Private Tutors the standard length is 90 minutes.
The cost? Holland Park Tuition charges £58 an hour, and the standard rate at Carfax Private Tutors is £55 an hour. Kensington & Chelsea Tutors charges £40 an hour, or £60 for two students, and has developed a package to provide secure online tutoring. Individually booked tutors usually cost upwards of £20 an hour.
Steps to choosing a suitable tutor
Often the best way to find a tutor is to go on the personal recommendation of someone you know. It may be worth approaching your child’s school to ask if they can suggest someone.
The most important factor is whether the tutor can develop a rapport with your child. Just because a tutor has worked wonders with a friend’s offspring doesn’t mean they will be able to do the same for yours.
Interview the tutor first. Ask for references and check that their qualifications are appropriate and that they’ve been screened by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Book an initial session before committing further.
Sharing a tutor between friends reduces the cost but also removes one of the main advantages of tutoring, namely one-to-one attention. The exception is foreign languages, where groups could help in conversation practice, provided pupils are at a similar level.
There should be no need to supervise sessions and your presence in the room may be off-putting, although for younger children you may want to be in an adjoining room.
Any time you feel it is not working out you should be able to cancel your sessions, or change tutor if you are with an agency.
Mica Bowman, 18
Michele Bowman first hired tutors to help her daughter get through her GCSEs. A student at Prior’s Field in Godalming, Surrey, she will be taking A-levels this summer, bolstered by weekend tutorials in history of art and psychology.
“We felt Mica needed help with exam technique and we also realised that she does much better one-on-one than in a classroom,” explains Bowman, who contacted Kensington & Chelsea Tutors on the advice of a friend who used them for her sons, including one who was attending Eton.
“Mica has established a good rapport with her tutors and has gained in confidence as a result of the tutoring,” adds Bowman.