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For children who don’t attend school for short or sustained periods, a tutor is essential. But what about those of us whose children do go to school – do they really need tutoring too?

The rise and rise of tutoring

In recent years, there has been a tutoring revolution. It has gone from a model based around remedial needs to one that focuses heavily on making students more academically competitive. Both parents and educators have jumped on the private tutoring bandwagon, piling more and more work on young people. An entire tutoring industry has developed.

On the downside, families are increasingly wasting their heard earned dosh and potentially damaging their kids. The upside is that there are more tutors than ever out there for families that genuinely do benefit from private tuition.

How can I work out if I need one?

Whether it’s to prepare for an exam, to help after an extended absence from school or to boost a problem area, a clear objective is key to ensuring you don’t get a tutor unnecessarily. If you’re not really sure why you’re getting one, chances are you don’t need one at all.

People often use a tutor:

  • At age 7 to ensure a child is up to speed for prep school assessments.
  • In year 5 (aged 9/10) to prepare a child for entry, at 11+, to the local grammar school or selective independent school. Most grammar schools (and some independents) test verbal and non-verbal reasoning as well as maths and English.
  • In year 6 (aged 10/11) aged to bolster basic maths or English competence ahead of KS2 examinations.
  • To assist with common entrance subjects - perhaps to ease the anguish of algebra or Latin.
  • To shed light on a tricky GCSE topic.
  • To ensure A level grades are a match for UCAS offers.
  • To improve schoolwork following a dip in grades on a school report.
  • To put a youngster back on track after a dodgy exam result.
  • Following a bout of illness or unexpected family set-back.
  • When a specific learning difficulty is suspected or diagnosed.

When there’s no need

Schools do not ‘test’ children under 5 – they may look at how they interact with adults and with other children, whether they can concentrate, whether they enjoy playing or listening to a story, but tutoring a child of this age is nonsense and you should be suspicious of those who offer it.

We are sceptical of those who offer coaching in verbal and non-verbal reasoning. There are test papers in these things available from our online bookshop and it is usually sufficient to give your child plenty of practice while gradually encouraging her to up her speed. If a child has real problems with these papers, you are probably wise to have her assessed by an educational psychologist. 

Children who are off school for prolonged periods, for example through illness, should be helped by the local authority’s home tuition service, and this should be your first line of enquiry. Whether they provide what you need is another matter.

You might be surprised how much you can improve your child’s academic performance by simple measures like regular bedtimes and mealtimes and turning off screens an hour before bed – children can’t work well if they’re either tired or hungry. Read with your children and put time aside for a few maths problems here and there.

Study upon study shows how important play, fun and free time are to children’s educational development. In many cases, a drop in academic standards is a sign of exhaustion and lack of downtime. Overworking children will soon backfire.

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