Tutoring – the latest epidemic
Jonathan Taylor, Head Teacher at North Bridge House Senior School Canonbury, considers the tutoring epidemic sweeping across London.
Private tutoring in the UK is a multi-billion pound industry, with London the epicentre of this highly lucrative sector. Reports suggest between 40 and 45% of the capital’s children have received tutoring at some stage of their educational journey, meaning we are approaching the point when non-tutored pupils will become the minority. Perhaps, given the industry is largely unregulated, we have reached that point already. However, tutors are only filling a gap in an insatiable market.
The current tutoring epidemic is the inevitable consequence of an academic arms race that shows no signs of abating. It has fostered a negative cycle whereby academic selectivity feeds the tutoring industry, which in turn fuels academic success, which further justifies academic selection. This is repeated ad infinitum. And nowhere more so than in London.
Parents, eager to give their offspring the best start in life, are both unwitting victims and necessary contributors to this ever more competitive and morale sapping system. Feeling compelled to secure places at the ‘best’ schools (or, more accurately, the most academically selective schools) they turn in expectation to expensive tutors. Once a place has been secured these same parents are subject to the pressure of having to maintain the school’s reputation for academic excellence; faced with the prospect of their child’s place in Sixth Form being in jeopardy, not to mention the socially ostracising potential of a less than perfect academic record, the parent once again submits to the services of the trusty tutor. Or, in many cases, several tutors.
This symbiotic relationship between highly selective schools and tutoring agencies is not a sector specific issue; academically selective schools in both the state and independent sectors provide a boon to the industry. Research last year by John Jerrin and Sam Sims from University College London identified that around 70% of those who received tutoring won a place at a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who did not.
It is clear who the winners are in the current system, and it isn’t a generation of young people whose emotional and mental wellbeing is under strain like never before. Exams and academically selective schools have always existed; it is merely the stakes that have changed. So when an increasing number of parents are sourcing tutors for their child in preparation for 4+ entrance exams, despite the revelation that three quarters of UK 5-12 year olds already spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, perhaps we should pause to consider; if tutoring is always the answer, are we asking the right questions?