If tutoring is unaffordable, impractical or the very concept leaves you cold, it may be worth checking out alternative academic support, much of which is low-cost or even free.
YouTubers have come galloping to the rescue of beleaguered families. Many maths and English specialists are teachers, whose impossibly sparkly enthusiasm extends well beyond the schoolroom day as they bring their expertise to the rest of the world via the internet.
We like Mrs Whelan’s English. So, judging by her views - 270,000 and counting - do many others. Her hands dance viewers through English exam papers, highlighting key points as she goes (some so emphatically that the ink goes right through the paper). She’ll tell you how much time to spend on each question and how to use the information the examiners give you to guide your answers.
For maths, there’s masses of choice. Simon Deacon is Mrs Whelan’s maths counterpart (they’d be a core subject dream duo). Like her, he comes recommended by other teachers, and with a consummate absence of passion (and inflexion) he takes his audience through a past paper, question by question, point by point.
Then there’s the delightfully named Primrose Kitten. Her website also offers a range of paid for material, including textbooks, but there’s plenty that’s free as well. Her YouTube tutorials are reassuring, comprehensive and kind (she recently teamed up with the Samaritans to produce a video about exam stress and the importance of having someone who will just listen).
Want more of a showman? Eric Woo could be your man. A young Australian, his filmed classes (it’s maths with added ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’), taking concepts like ‘dividing by zero’ at a charismatic canter. Typical online comment: ‘I wish he was my math teacher.’
Our all-time favourite, however, has to be Dr Jamie Frost, a multiple award winner who teaches at Tiffin School, a highly-rated grammar, yet somehow finds time to runs his eponymous ‘everything you need to know about maths’ website. It’s slickly designed, well-resourced and widely used by other schools (2,000 so far). Popular? Not half, with 2.8 million downloads and counting. His website has the lot - revision worksheets, every type of question that might crop up in a GCSE exam, live classroom games and past papers.
Maths and English dominate on the educational website front, with big names including firms like Conquer Maths and IXL Learning (maths and English), both paid for. But it’s possible to track down just about any subject and at every level.
The Cambridge Latin Course, for example, gives parents and learners free access to resources including vocabulary tests. You don’t even have to register. Other organisations with (free) learning resources include The European Space Agency, whose website, ESA Kids, covers the life (in space), the universe (but stops short of everything).
When it comes to covering the range of subjects and levels, however, Khan Academy is in a class of its own. It all started when founder Salman Khan successfully tutored a cousin online. Word got round, he was inundated with requests for help and starting posting videos online. Today, backed by donations from organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, Khan Academy’s team of friendly experts make even the most complicated subject understandable. Even better, it remains completely free.
Finally, there’s BBC Bite Size, back on the scene after a massive revamp, with separate, detailed and well set out sections for primary, 11-16 and post 16 students. Its GCSE revision resources are now available in a separate app which remains true to its tried and tested formula: cover the key facts, test, then rinse and repeat until it’s all sunk in.
For some parents, online alone just doesn’t hack it, particularly when their children are younger and they understandably want to limit screen time. It’s here that more traditional forms of learning, involving flesh and blood educators, come into their own. Though considerably cheaper than paying for visiting tutors, the monthly costs can still add up to a pretty penny, especially when more than one child is involved.
Kumon, probably the best known, now has 70,000 students in the UK and Ireland. Its daily dose of worksheets is effective if not always popular – as Kumon freely admits. ‘Certainly no-one said that Kumon study was designed to be fun, but we sure do see amazing results,’ says the press officer.
Explore Learning adds a new dimension to convenience shopping, courtesy of its supermarket-based sites (‘shop while you wait’ is its catchphrase) while Kip McGrath prides itself on using only qualified teachers and individual learning programmes in its UK centres.
With audio tipped as the next big thing, it might worth looking at subscription services that offer all the words your family’s ears can take. Audible, for example, has thousands of titles on offer. There’s not much in the way of straight learning resources. Just as well, perhaps, given that the very first review for ‘A new, fun way to learn the times tables,’ gets a one-star rating and the single word ‘Boring…’ But with over 2,400 children’s classics to choose from, ranging from ‘The BFG’ by Roald Dahl read by David Walliams to The Hundred and One Dalmatians (read by Martin Jarvis) and each - arguably - a lesson in learning to love reading, that’s unlikely to prove a problem.