Like' the boast post Mrs Robinson?
T S Eliot may have declared April the cruelest month, but that was before GCSE and A levels. If you’re a 16 or 18-year-old (or the parent of such), August is the new April – more unforgiving than Paul Hollywood exposing a soggy bottom, sharper even than Mary Berry telling Tracey Emin to tidy her bedroom.
Nervous opening of envelopes followed by tearful happy hugs has become a news media cliché (high achieving long haired girls gasping with delight please form an orderly queue), but less obvious is the disappointment and frustration and the brave-faced parents adjusting expectations and searching for solutions.
Receiving bad news in public is, well, bad enough but at least you can go home to lick your wounds in private. A cup of tea and a comforting browse through social media might be restorative. Yes?
While the much-parodied Christmas round robin bragathon comes but once a year, there seems to be no closed season for boasting about one’s children on social media.
(Honourable exception should be made here for Malala Yousafzai's proud father who tweeted her top GCSE grades – we hope everybody saw those.)
What has happened to us? Has reticence, once a defining English character trait, withered quietly away, consigned to join fax machines, Spangles and the appendix? And talking of extinction, the briefest dip into social media makes one fear for the future of irony, so let’s add that to the endangered list.
Back in the mists of time our ancestors used the ‘like’ button to show their fondness for talking dogs and grumpy cats. The ‘like’ button enabled one to register virtual interest in terminally dull holiday photos, without the reality of trying to remain awake during a three hour slide show. These things were good.
But what fresh hell is this? Now we feel obliged to ‘like’ the academic achievements of children we’ve never met, because if you’ve ever pressed ‘like’ under a picture of an acquaintance’s pet, you have to do the same under their results day boast post. Don’t you? And spare a thought for the child who has ‘failed’ or a parent trying to manage the emotional fallout from a missed university place. They must feel trapped in someone else’s awful party.
It could be argued that social media and the examination system are horribly similar. Both suck up huge amounts of our time and energy; both exert unmerited dominance over personal lives and public opinion. And both are brutally reductive: like or don’t like; pass or fail.
Whereas Facebook and Twitter’s zero capacity for nuance (and no, emojis do not fulfil this role) may cause irritation or fleeting social embarrassment, being on the wrong end of the blunt instrument that is a mark in an important public exam has real consequences.
No mark system can ever fully acknowledge the effort and achievement of individual pupils – the wonderful D grade that no one ever thought was possible, the C in English for a pupil who only started learning the language two years ago or the years of sheer graft that preceded that place at medical school. Similarly, if Facebook won’t even allow a ‘dislike’ button we’re never going to get one that expresses ‘Yes, well done to Tilly but Tilly’s mum, stop being SO smug’.
Tell us about tutors
Would you be up front about employing a tutor for your child? Would you share the contact details of the local 11+ guru with your best friend? Such questions can make people come over rather coy – one reason why we may never know exactly how many parents routinely employ tutors.
Anecdotal evidence and our indefatigable Good Schools Guide insiders tell us that tutoring, which used to be the exception, is now becoming the norm.
It’s not just those with children in what were infamously dubbed ‘bog-standard’ comprehensives who opt for educational extras on an out-of-hours basis. So do those who are fortunate enough to live in the catchment area of a high performing state school. Even pupils at fee-paying establishments may owe their success in part to an unsung army of heroic tutors, whose against-the-clock and often against-the-odds efforts have spun C grades into Bs and As into A stars.
Some schools turn at least one blind eye to the practice (and if unseen support is pushing them up the league tables, who can blame them?). A few even recommend agencies in letters home. Others rail against tutors. Many grammar school heads could rant for Britain on the subject. It’s why so many are busily re-writing entrance exams, like a particularly onerous detention punishment, so they’re as tutor-proof as possible.
How successful this will prove at kick-starting the revolution in social mobility is a matter for debate: not well, if you base it on the minimal numbers qualifying for free school meals in at least one top London grammar.
Tutors are in a unique category – a luxury purchase that can be as coveted (and expensive) as a Mulberry handbag but one that, unlike a Mulberry handbag, is usually kept discreetly tucked away in the background.
Some parents (none of our readers, naturally) feel that all’s fair in love, war and ultra-competitive entrance exams. If they’ve tracked down a tutor who has an uncanny way with verbal reasoning (part guru, part white witch, part alchemist) they’re unlikely to be touting the fact around the playground. One mother decided enough was enough when she found herself hanging out the washing while trying to convey the essentials of a neurotic, extrovert and introvert character to a reluctant GCSE psychology candidate by lining up the three pets and using them as case studies.
We know there are numerous tutors (and tutor firms) out there who can take these and similar conundrums in their stride. There may (dare we say it) be others who couldn’t teach egg sucking to a coach party of grandmothers. It’s the reason the Good Schools Guide includes them in the same extensive review process as the schools we feature. Subscribers will find a fair few just the other side of the paywall.
But none of this happens without parents’ say so. So we’re asking you for your help in ensuring that only the best tutors in all their glory, from first graduate jobbers to seasoned ex-teachers, feature on our website.
If you have examples of great tutors we’d like to hear about them in as much glorious detail as possible. Do also feel free to flag up any who shouldn’t be licensed to drive a literacy manual – though we’d want to know why. Get in touch at email@example.com and tell us all about them, from contact information to heart-warming (or blood-chilling) anecdotes. Anonymity is a byword at the Good Schools Guide but do say if you’d be happy to be contacted. Either way, your details will never be shared with third parties.
We’re also in the process of rejigging our tutor review process and increasing the numbers of firms we feature. To this end we have developed a new parent questionnaire. If you’re willing to be a guinea pig and let us know if we’re asking the right questions, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.