“Only kids who get tutoring get in”. This is the advice I was given by a friend about my local selective entry high school. Her daughter received six months of tutoring in preparation for the entry exam before being accepted into the school.
At $80 per tutoring session, that’s an investment of over $2000 to get your kid into high school. If coughing up this sort of cash really is the only way to get your child into a selective school, you have to wonder if these schools are truly getting the best and brightest or if they’re just getting economically advantaged kids.
When I was school-aged, tutoring was for kids who had been in hospital for an extended period of time and missed a lot of school, or kids who needed specific help to catch up in a particular area. Now it’s become commonplace and it’s no longer about not falling behind, but rather it’s about getting ahead of the next kid.
Anxious parents I know are hiring private tutors to prepare their child for each stage of schooling. Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall estimates the number of students being tutored is as high as one in seven
There is a tutoring service for every occasion, from “school readiness” tutoring starting for kids who are just about still in nappies, to exam preparation tutoring for NAPLAN, select entry school exams and ATAR exams.
And then there is the everyday tutoring to make sure your kid gets to take home readers from the advanced box and is among the first in their class to recite the times tables.
Tanith Carey, author of Taming the Tiger Parent, says that tutoring has taken off like wildfire because it feeds on parents’ fears about their kids getting left behind. We see other parents enrol their kids in tutoring so we feel that we should too, and before we know it, tutoring has become the new baseline for good enough parenting.
It’s natural to want the best for our kids and we hate the thought of them missing out, but before we go opening our wallets for private tutoring, perhaps we should take a step back and ask: are we getting what we pay for?
Dr Pearl Subban, who researches in Educational Psychology & Inclusive Education at Monash University and has studied the growth of tutoring in Australia, says the tutoring industry is unregulated.
“Unlike teaching where there are regulations, registrations, qualifications and the general upkeep of the profession, tutoring is unmonitored and unregulated. As a result, I would think just about anyone could probably get in,” Dr Subban says.
Even assuming you do get someone who knows what they’re doing to tutor your kids, it still might not produce the results you want.
Researchers from the University of London’s Institute of Education, Judith Ireson and Katie Rushforth, looked at exam results from 3515 children aged 11, 16 and 18 and discovered that tutored kids didn’t perform much better than their untutored peers.
Those who had received private tutoring scored less than half a grade higher in their maths exams with the benefit for girls being even smaller than it was for boys. The difference in the test results for English between those who received tutoring and those who didn’t was negligible.
Let’s just think about that for a moment. Thousands of dollars and precious hours in already over-stretched schedules for zilch, nudda and diddly squat.
Dr Subban says that one of the reasons tutoring is not having the desired outcome may be that tutoring can make children reliant on the tutor and rob them of the ability to develop the vital skills of self-directed learning and initiative.
“I’m not to say that tutoring is bad; I’m sure that it’s providing a service and fulfilling a need,” says Dr Subban. “But at the same time, there must be an awareness of increasing the child’s independence, not increasing dependency on a tutor.”
Creating independent, self-directed learners seems like a no-brainer – until you consider that tutoring in Australia is billion dollar industry, growing at over 4 per cent each year. You don’t need an economics tutor to know that student dependency is great for business.
Dr Subban cautions parents to think about the effect that tutoring can have on their child’s overall wellbeing.
“Tutoring can increase stress and pressure on students. It makes the child think that they have to perform really well all the time, that the numbers matter. That there’s no room for someone who’s mediocre and middle of the road,” Dr Subban says.
“Students become really worn out by working very hard. The tuition sessions are often held after school hours, sometimes on a weekend and as a result students are given little free time, and the school/life balance becomes askew.”
Just as Baby Einstein turned out to be a useless waste of money that sucked in a generation of parents, private tutoring may turn out to be a similar fad that is little more than an expensive balm for our parental anxiety.
The cracks in the tutoring imperative are already starting to show. After doing a little digging, I now know of two children who were accepted into my local high school’s selective entry program without receiving any private tutoring.