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Guest blog: to tutor, or not to tutor?

(28 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 08-May-13 12:49:34

... that is the question. Parental anxiety about whether or not to tutor seems to be on the rise, with families in grammar school areas feeling increasingly under pressure to pay for private tuition, and parents who favour private education reported to be tutoring their preschoolers. In today's guest post, author and MN blogger Rosie Millard, who writes over at Helicopter Mum, ponders the tutoring dilemma.

Let us know what you think about tutoring - and if you post on the subject, don't forget to leave your URLs on the thread.

"Tutors. They are, without doubt, the secret weapon of the modern day parent. School is not enough these days. When I was growing up nobody had tutors, unless you were rather dim. Now they are quite the opposite. 'Who are yours with?' is the whisper at the school gates.

Some tutors I know in North London have a TWO YEAR waiting list. Parents put their children's names down for tutors when they are in Reception, as if a decent tutor was the same as a place at Eton. Sometimes, of course, the one leads to the other. But not always.

These days, tutors are being used by parents to crowbar their children into top private schools but now the squeeze is really on to get your kid into the ludicrously oversubscribed state selective sector. Ironically this has given the private tutor, who typically comes from a private school, even more status.

My son, tutored for 2 years, took an exam to get into one such state school in North London. He's a bright enough kid. He came 1067th. His friend, who happens to be the England Under-11 Scrabble Champion, came 965th.

Out of my four children, I had two tutored for secondary school entrance. Was it because of peer pressure at the school gates? Absolutely. You do it because everyone else is doing it. You want to do the best for your children, even if you believe in comprehensive education (which I do), and you don't want them to be left behind in an increasingly uneven playing field. If every single child sitting an entrance exam has been tutored up to the eyeballs, God help you if yours hasn't. This was my mindset, at least.

But my children failed to get into all the schools they had been tutored for. Then I talked to some brave friends who resolutely refused to tutor their daughter. She took all the secondary exams for private schools in London. She passed them all and is now at St Paul's. Will she keep up in class? Undoubtedly, because she wasn't tutored to death for the exam. The exams tested her natural intelligence and she passed them.

I don't castigate people who do use tutors. I just think they are probably not worth the money. I think I would write this even if my experience had been successful. Our tutor was a lovely man and took a lot of care to make sure my children were familiar with exam technique. But what I was paying for, essentially, was a quiet two hour period for my child to go over past papers, again and again. Was this something I could have done myself? Undoubtedly. Would my children have taken it as seriously? Probably not - but there are other techniques, including workbooks at the library. Bribery is also a good wheeze, as I have found out with music practise.

How did my children eventually fare? They both got places in excellent London state secondaries via their musical abilities. Furthermore, one school has a sibling policy, which is manna from heaven for anyone with four children. Yes, I pay someone to give them private music lessons. To some, this might be as pernicious as maths tuition. If you are 10 years old and Grade 5 on the piano when you apply for a Music Scholarship, you stand a pretty good chance of being accepted. Only it's not quite the same. Learning the piano, or violin, is a life long skill, and an entrance ticket to the world of music, whereas cracking through Non Verbal Reasoning is simply a means to a place at a decent school.

To tutor, or not to tutor? To be a helicopter mother, or to let children find their own way? In the end, we all just try our best and hope that via an unholy muddle of encouragement, bedtime reading, clean clothes and the odd trip to a museum, our children will get through it all. And they probably will.

Bonnes Vacances, a story of a mad family holiday by Rosie Millard, is out now.

chocoluvva Wed 08-May-13 15:23:02

Many schools now expect a high percentage of their pupils to have tutors. I find this depressing. it's a quandary for sure.

Bonsoir Wed 08-May-13 17:09:10

Gosh. I wouldn't pay a tutor just to supervise practise ("a quiet two hour period for my child to go over past papers"). I can, and do, do that myself: DD (8) and I are having a ten-day bash at French conjugation over her belated Easter holidays in order to get the only mark on her report below a B up to scratch. We do a chapter of a workbook every morning (including two dictations) and sometimes an extra on in the afternoon.

We do, however, pay for tutors for all our DC to teach them beyond the school curriculum. That is not revision or practise - it is new learning, stuff I cannot easily teach because I am not a teacher. It is well worth the money.

zamantha Wed 08-May-13 18:44:05

Used a tutor for 11+ and worked magic for my DD - school she is at is a dreamy place.. Tutor was kind, encouraging and aware of technique which I am not being a High school teacher. Use tuition for Music too and other areas where DC have needed help. Mostly useful - we also do a lot ourselves with the DC. Point is: it is now a competitive academic world where I want my Dc to have a shout/chance to prosper.

Not a pushy parent, not into competition, don't want my Dc studying all the time as some cultures do but I am also a realist and standards have improved and more are trying to get in to those good uni courses.

sittinginthesun Wed 08-May-13 19:08:53

I am currently in the middle of this dilemma. Eldest child is year 4. Local state secondaries at at least part selective, including one very popular, high performing "grammar" school. My child is bright, top sets at state primary, working two years ahead.

I am fighting the peer pressure, and am not hiring a tutor.

My gut feeling is that he would not benefit. He can work through the papers with me, and is motivated and academic anyway. Currently, learning is fun for him. Why add the extra element of stress?

I do keep having to justify my choice though, and it makes me question my decision.

I would honestly like someone to tell me straight what benefit they think a private tutor provides?

Bonsoir Wed 08-May-13 19:20:48

Not employing a tutor "on principle" or because it would be "resorting to peer pressure" is a fruitless path. You employ a tutor because you think that the education your DC's school is providing is falling short of ensuring your DC meets his/her potential. That has nothing to do with anyone else.

MUM2BLESS Wed 08-May-13 19:55:26

I have four kids 17 14 11 and 8. I would use a tutor if necessary. I used one when my oldest was getting ready to do his gcse maths exama. He got an a. I have also used the same tutor to get him ready for his a level exams.

I have learnt over the years not to leave it to the school alone to educate my kids. Getting into senior schools in herts is a challenge. We have invested in revison and question and answer books (maths etc)

I know children who are being tutored whilst at junior school.

Its about being balanced with what you xpect our kids to do.

notfluffy Wed 08-May-13 20:00:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

gazzalw Wed 08-May-13 21:22:04

Yikes -this old chestnut again....

It is becoming the conversation of choice at many a middle-class dinner party!

We didn't employ a tutor but decided (perhaps arrogantly) that as graduates we were more than capable of a DIY approach. We did past papers and DS was doing them for a good six months before the 11+ exam dates... (he did five selective exams). He passed all three 11+ exams (we will never know where he was positioned for the selective places in comps as they were way down his CAF list) so we must have done something right although it could have been down to his natural ability.

DS did his 11+ exams for three super-selectives and although we were rather 'spooked' by the 'spin' perpetuated by many parents and particularly those on the 11+Forum, we stubbornly buried our heads in the sand and just got on with the job in hand.

I agree that although we are very, very happy that DS is now at one of the most sought after super-selectives in the UK, his school is really quite shabby. As Notfluffy has experienced, we are paying a £30 per month voluntary contribution to help the school and I see no evidence of the school having loads of money - the PTA is quite powerful and raises loads of money but that's to make up the shortfall...

There is a lot of skulduggery amongst parents though and I would say that the whole of DS's last year at primary school was tainted by the whole process of applying to secondary schools - particularly with all the subterfuge and not feeling one could celebrate DS's achievements for fear of offending friends.....

And we've got to go thro' the same thing with DD ;-(

WillowinGloves Wed 08-May-13 22:36:48

'When I was growing up, nobody had tutors unless you were rather dim'. That came across to me as a little condescending. Some children, then as now, don't do well in the scrum of a classroom and no teacher, even with TA support, can spend enough time with an individual child who is struggling. 'Dim' might just mean a child who needs extra support and there are some fabulous tutors who can help those children. The tutoring-for-exams brigade is an entirely different thing and I think it's sad that it has swallowed up the tutoring industry and really given it a bit of a bad image.

MinginInTheRain Wed 08-May-13 22:45:22

Can I ask you not fluffy where you live? Sounds familiar and interested in your experience of the comp if it's the one I'm thinking of. Sorry for asking and possibly derailing this thread.

notfluffy Wed 08-May-13 23:12:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

invicta Thu 09-May-13 08:18:23

I had tutors for my sons for the 11+. Schools (in Kent) do not cover the topics for the 11+ exam, so some sort of preparation is needed, whether you hire a tutor or go down the DIY route. You wouldn't take a driving test without having lessons before, so why shouldn't you prepare for other exams by hiring an 'educational driving instructor'?

(PS For those considering the 11+, provides alot of useful info and support regarding the 11+ exams)

millicentroseaudrey Thu 09-May-13 17:52:51

Feel as though I'm going to confession...I am a qualified teacher, but now tutor full time. I love my job and believe that the children who work with me benefit hugely. I could not tutor my own children as I am their Mum and I feel they need love and attention from me, however they have picked up on a lot of the work done with other people and are at selective state secondary....I am grateful every single day for the fabulous education and care that they get there. If you can afford a tutor or you can work well with your own children then do so.

JessYorke8 Fri 10-May-13 15:24:35

Hi Kate, loved your blog! I'm actually going to be a little but cheeky and ask for some advice or guidance.

I’m with Tutorfair, a new website to help parents find tutors for their children. We strongly believe that tutoring should be for all, so the Tutorfair Foundation arranges free tuition for children who can’t afford it. For every student who pays, we provide free tuition for a student who can’t. We are currently just based in London but are hoping to role out nationwide if things go well.

We're really interested in talking to London based parenting bloggers to pick their brains a little or ask for some feedback on what we're trying to do with Tutorfair.

I guess what we need to do is identify the right bloggers to approach which is where I rather hoped you'd be able to help me. Are there any forums, blogs, lists which will help me to identify people to approach? We want to get Tutorfair right for parents, first and foremost and believe that they should have a say in how it works. We'll live or die based on our response to feedback so it really makes a huge difference!

If you have any bright ideas we'd love to hear from you. Apologies to disturb you and jump in on your thread if not!


LClogs Fri 10-May-13 15:27:14

We decided not to use tutors for our children but adopt the DIY route. It worked for us, DD is at a very competitive girls' grammar school and DS has a place at the boys' grammar for September.

My DD's experience has convinced me that we did the right thing - she is more than able to cope academically and thriving on the challenges. She is in year 9 now and going from strength to strength while I know that other girls (who were intensively tutored to get in) are struggling.

I think it's right to do practice papers and prepare for the 11+ exam but just to tutor to the test does the child a disservice (imo).

Grammar schools are competitive, pressured and in every subject the children are expected to hit the ground running and get to a high level of understanding very quickly. If your child struggles to pick up new ideas and has to spend a lot of time repetitively going over the same ground I'd be tempted to question the suitability of grammar school for them.

I've seen boys in my DS's year crushed by their failure to get into the grammar school of their choice (120 places, >800 applications). They feel like failures at age 11 when they are bright, articulate children who would undoubtedly do well in any school.

I think tutors can be great to help children catch up, or extend them if school isn't doing so or to prepare for the 11+ in terms of exam practice and techniques but 3 or 4 years of repetition just to pass the test is too much and can be counterproductive in the end.

midnightexpress Fri 10-May-13 20:48:37

I would love to know where all these people hiring tutors are. This seems an utterly SE England issue. I don't know anyone who pays for a tutor for their child (we're in Scotland). There is pressure on places in some schools here, but it is mostly manifested as a postcode thing with house prices.

So much for parental choice being a good seems to me that this is the inevitable result when the number of available places outweighs the number of applicants. Crazy.

LClogs Fri 10-May-13 21:06:36

I agree midnightexpress. I'm Scottish but living in the south of England and it shocked me that people are so panicky about schools. It is all that people have talked about since year 5 and some of them got themselves really worked up.

In our area all of the state schools are very good. Any of them would be great but people are a bit spoiled for choice and end up looking for the 'perfect' school.

Having said all that, I like the grammar school system as for the right kind of child it can give them the chance to learn at their own fast pace and not have to wait for others to catch up. That might sound a bit uncaring towards others but it is hard to see your child bored and frustrated at school because the teachers (understandably) have to spend time making sure that everyone is keeping up. Despite all of the talk about extension activities, in my experience many teachers don't have the time to prepare extra work.

KateDavis Mon 13-May-13 10:55:03

My daughter starts school in September so we haven't thought about tutoring, but it came up in conversation at the weekend because many of my friends are teachers. Firstly I was amazed at the cost of tutoring, £40-£50 / hour for AS and A level, you could an awful lot with that money and secondly that there is tutoring at junior school level.

One of my friends is a junior school teacher so more relevant to my children. Her advice was instead of spending the money on tutoring to spend it on doing things together, her view was children would learn a lot more from a day at a museum than an hour tutoring.

I like this approach, but who knows maybe when my children are older I'll change my mind wink

heirraising Mon 13-May-13 21:25:45

KateDavis: Re A day at a museum over tutoring? In general I agree but this is what we ended up with – wink

LClogs Tue 14-May-13 12:47:23

Re: A Day at a museum I've taken my kiddies to many of these days out and they loved some and hated others. They loved the Science Museum (we're lucky to live near London) but didn't like the Natural History Museum and wouldn't even consider the Victoria and Albert. To my great surprise my DD loved the National Gallery and Westminster Abbey and my DS was very keen on the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.

I think the single most important thing that I did for my two while they were small was surround them by books, read to then every day and instill in them a love of books. We bought books as rewards, as birthday and Christmas presents and spent a lot of time in libraries and bookshops. As a result, as well as the sheer pleasure they now get from reading books (teenage daughter has recently read 1984, lovely to be able to talk to her about it), their vocabulary, spelling and grammar were very good from the start of school as they had been exposed to so much writing.

KateDavis Tue 14-May-13 13:32:02

heirraising: I love your cartoons. I can see me in that situation in a few years smile

heirraising Thu 16-May-13 13:35:21

Thanks Kate, I may already be theresad However much one thinks: I will NEVER be like that, you change very gradually into a lioness however one dresses it up. Good luck !

alsimon Tue 05-Nov-13 11:58:35

Whether you do or you don't you can get help and advice on the best education for your kids at

I have used a Tutor for my daughter and I think it has helped her where she needed it smile

rd1709 Sat 30-Nov-13 19:48:18

Thanks for the link alsimon. Does anyone know of any other good tutoring companies (GCSE Sciences, North London area)?

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