Top of the class

Oonagh Turner talks about her experience of tutoring; the pros and cons, and how to make it work for your child

A child’s education is of upmost importance to parents who want nothing more than to see their child thrive academically. It’s unsurprising, then, that an ever-increasing number are enlisting the help of private tutors, with a recent poll from the Sutton Trust finding that over a quarter of secondary school pupils in England and Wales receive extra tuition. So what are the benefits? According to Cheam-based tutor Millie Govekar, who runs Millie Whizz, focused tutoring to small groups significantly boosts a child’s learning: “As a tutor, personalised tuition means you can understand the individual and build a relationship with the child,” she says.

Charlotte Silver, a private tutor working with First Tutors, points out the advantages of one-on-one: “It’s a time for them to ask questions the teachers don’t have time to answer, a safe place to say ‘help, I don’t understand any of this!’, a chance for them to not have others distracting them.”

Tutoring also boosts a child’s confidence according to John Underhill from Tutor Hunt – a search engine site designed to single out top tutors in the local area. “By being more secure in their knowledge of the subject, the student will naturally become more self-assured; and a student can gain confidence by conversing with and asking their tutor questions freely, something that may be difficult in the classroom.”

Ann Dingemans from Tutor Doctor sees this confidence as the key to success: “Confidence increases self-esteem and self-worth and pushes you to achieve all goals, be it physical and mental health, wellbeing, career or personal ambitions.” The one-on-one aspect of tutoring and the confidence it brings are both positives, but enlisting the help of a tutor also means parents have more control of the relationship with the tutor, and can receive detailed feedback about the progress of their child.

“Parents tend to meet tutors a lot more frequently than teachers. This helps tutors build a closer relationship with parents,” says John. What’s more, parents can sit in on the tuition lessons, giving them more hands-on involvement with their child’s education.

“Parents see me as someone who’ll give them as much time as they need to discuss their child’s needs, worries and areas of talent, when often they feel like getting hold of the school is tricky,” adds Charlotte from First Tutors.

“Parents see me as someone who’ll give them as much time as they need to discuss their child’s needs, worries and areas of talent, when often they feel like getting hold of the school is tricky,”

Like many children, I was far more adept at one side of academia than the other, finding aptitude in the arts while falling behind in maths. My parents recognised this was letting down my grades, and hired a tutor.

My maths tutor was excellent, and one-on-one lessons, however reluctant I initially was as a disgruntled 15-year-old, significantly improved my abilities in a subject which clearly was not my forte. I found the confidence to ask when I didn’t understand without feeling embarrassed, and I benefited from taking a class at a pace which suited me. I got a B in GCSE maths, put away my calculator for good, and was able to take my education further and hone in on subjects I favoured.

I am not alone in my experience, and know the tuition was what got me through the necessary GCSEs, but some schools raise concerns that it can confuse children if another learning method is taught, and encourage parents to approach teachers with any worries in the first instance.

Some parents also have concerns that tuition could mean pushing their children to an unattainable and unrealistic level, and add extra unnecessary stress – particularly if tutoring for the likes of the 11+.

Millie says that it is not about pushing children too far, and argues that the right tutoring actually inspires children: “Pushing does not engender a sustainable love for learning, whereas tutoring inspires a love of learning where the child aspires to reach a higher level. Tutoring is not about extra work. It is an optimised way of building on a child’s strengths and addressing the weaknesses.”

Millie advises: “Parents have to be mindful of tutors who provide ‘factory teaching’ where a child has no relationship with the tutor; no continuity; no regular feedback; and are simply churning out test papers.”

I  was lucky with my tutoring experience in that my tutor and I established a firm and friendly relationship – this is crucial if you want to inspire as well as educate.