The plain truth about private tuition.


Points to make.

1. There is too much tuition.

2. Tuition can be harmful.

3. Targeted tuition can be good.



Private tuition has become a monster.

There is  a place for private tuition. If a child finds something difficult he or she may need some additional help. Private tuition should be there to boost pupils who are struggling. There was a time when tuition was a booster for those who need extra help.

People going for major tests will benefit from a little private tuition.

The adage runs that practise makes perfect. There is no mystery there. The more someone does something the better he gets and it and the faster he can do it. The more private tuition a pupil receives the better he or she tends to get. There is the 10 000 hour theory. To achieve excellence someone needs to spend 10 000 hours on that activity. Be it tennis, tango, Thai or pottery the principle is the same. That is no surprise.

If money were no object then I would give my child plenty of private tutoring. But I would be selective in how much tutoring he or she would have. It would only be in subjects where this child needed a fillip. It would not be over the top. It might be targeted at certain subjects in exam seasons.

However, private tutoring is often excessive. There is plenty of overkill. As a private tutor I sometimes felt guilty at being paid to teach pupils things they already new. It was sometimes information they already had or skills they has already mastered. I tutored a boy who was at Westminster. He was on course for an A in History – at that time it was the highest grade. He was attending the most academic school in the realm. Why would he need extra tuition? He did not.

Parents can convince themselves that their children are outstandingly gifted. One Polish father I knew told himself that his daughter was a Mathematics prodigy. He arranged for her too have oodles of Maths tuition. As the girl had Maths coming out her ears after all these additional one on one lessons unsurprisingly she excelled at Maths. Her Maths teacher told me the pupil was overly coached and was like a performing seal. The child did not grasp the profundities of Maths. She certainly achieved a lot but it was not owing to an innate aptitude: no shame in that. She was a very likable pupil and she was naturally above average ability in Maths. Her father’s notion that his offspring’s brilliance was innate was a delusion.

The existence of tutors suggests the inadequacy of schools. Most schools are adequate and some are superb. No teacher is perfect. Teacher Bob may have a method that work for Anjul but not for Katie. Tutor Caroline’s method might work for Katie but not for Anjul.Tutors can be good if they have a different style which happens to be compatible with the individual.

Tuition agencies have to make parents believe that they are worth paying for. If schools are sufficient there is no need for tuition. Tutoring agencies have a vested interest in undermining the faith parents place in schools.

There is a lot of teaching test. This is unsurprising as business is results driven. This is not about education.

Why do people hire private tutors? It can be to deal with a subject that a pupil flounders in. Sometimes it is to gain an edge in exams. These are both decent reasons. Sometimes it is as childcare.

There is an element of keeping up with the Jones’. If most other families have a private tutor then the Anderson family will feel they are being negligent if they don’t. Their children will feel they are at a disadvantage and ask for one. Sometimes parents hire tutors to be ostentatious. It can also be to assuage their guilt at never reading to their children or spending time with them.

There are some myths about tutoring. No amount of tutoring can buy you a new brain. A tutor is not a substitute for making an effort. Pupils need to pay attention in school and do their work. A tutor cannot read a book for you.

Tuition is desirable in that it is one on one. It is tailor made for the pupil. It does at the pace of the pupil and addresses the pupil’s particular needs. Because it is not a class situation there is less formality and friction. There is no playing to the gallery by the pupil. There are no peers to show off it. Moreover, a pupil might be embarrassed to ask a question in class but not feel this embarrassment when alone with a tutor.

Most would agree that the smaller the class size the better. One is the smallest of all.

Tutors often help with homework. Homework is precisely there to make the pupil work independently. By having things explained to them again it means the pupils needs to make less effort. The pupil will pay less attention in class.

Tutors should elucidate things and help the pupils but not actually do it for them. Some tutors are not so ethical. It is quicker and easier to submit to the temptation and simply do the work for the pupil. With coursework the pressure is on. Tutors are likely to bend the rules if not break them outright. Coursework is supposed to be an independent study. It is anything but if a private tutor is involved. This is dishonest. Plagiarism is the end of academic integrity.

Tutors often teach pupils a course before it begins at school. In class the pupil is often putting her or his hand up. The child has the answer already and feels smart. In some ways this is laudable.

Independent tuition can be counter productive. Pupils are induced into a state of learned helplessness. They have never had to do it on their own. They therefore believe they cannot cope on their own. This often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Because they believe they are unable to handle their studies on their own they sometimes being genuinely unable to handle it on their own.

There is plenty of scope for tutoring a 5 year old.  Tutoring should be progressively reduced. There is very little for an 18 year old. As a pupil reaches adulthood he or she should be learning on their own. They need to study independently.

Tutors cannot work miracles. I was woeful at Chemistry. The best tutor in the world might have raised me from an E to a grade C. No one could get me up to an A. There is a limit to what they can achieve. Tutors want parents to believe that tutoring is value for money and that the more tutoring the better. Tutoring can be harmful. Tutoring is not a panacea for all academic difficulties. Pupils should work things out for themselves a bit more.

Public school people with the same grades often do better than state school people with the same grades at university. This may be partly down to private tutoring. Sometimes Tommy gets into a university he should not get into because of tutoring. He then underperforms and might drop out or be expelled.

Let us take it to its logical confusion. Can you hire a tutor at your job? No eventually you have to stand on your own too feet. Tutoring creates a sense of dependency. Pupils need to be led towards maturity and not infantilised. Tutoring is a comfort blanket. Pupils need to be left to get on with it a bit more.

Some people are education addicts. Tutoring is often not real education. Pupils are spoon fed by tutors too much. They never learn to do it for themselves. Pupils should develop their intellectual curiosity and start working on their own a little more.

A pernicious industry has grown up around the tutoring fallacy. This is the specious notion that the more tutoring the better.

Children need a childhood. They may be exhausted after a full school day and activities. They need some down time. They should be unsupervised for a while. Some unstructured time will allow them to play and follow their own interests. They should be emotionally balanced.

Exam results are not the be all and end all. There are also things such as emotional intelligence and sociability. Brain power is not always a guide to future success or happiness. People should not be fixated on exams and nothing else.

In an increasingly globalised world we are growing ever more competitive. Parents are minded to panic if their child is not excellent.

There is too much hot housing. Tutoring has reached epidemic levels in London and China. There is a place for private tutoring but it should be radically reduced. It is often not worth it.


About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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