Over the past year, one tenth of all state-educated 11-16 year olds—280,000 pupils—were tutoredby / September 8, 2016 / Leave a comment
It is perhaps appropriate that the academic term for tutoring is “shadow education.” Little-regulated and ever-growing, the private tuition industry has become the hidden secret of British education. It entrenches advantage for many children whose parents can already afford school fees or homes close to good comprehensives and grammars.
The Sutton Trust has been polling young people about their experiences of tutoring for over a decade now. Our data shows a steady rise in the proportion of state secondary school students who have had private tuition at some point in their lives, from 18 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent today. In London the current numbers exceed 40 per cent.
During the last year alone, one tenth of all state-educated 11-16 year olds—or 280,000 pupils—were tutored. It is no surprise then that tutoring is common amongst teachers, with almost half of state school teachers having had some employment as a tutor outside of their main teaching job.
But with the average cost of private tuition now at least £24 an hour—£32 in London—its growth has serious implications for social mobility. Private school pupils are twice as likely to have been tutored as state school students and, as you might expect, young people from poorer homes are less likely to have been tutored than their richer classmates.
Differential access to tutoring is almost certainly exacerbating the attainment gap between rich and poor children. Evidence from our Teaching and Learning Toolkit (a summary of educational research for teachers and schools looking to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils) shows that one-to-one tutoring can lead to academic gains of five months over the course of the year. Those parents who can afford to are able to buy their child a serious academic advantage over their classmates who cannot. The Education Endowment Foundation is currently trialling different tutoring programmes, to find out how they can be used to narrow the attainment gap.
As the government ponders more grammar schools, it is notable how important tutoring is for the 11-plus tests, contributing to their social selectivity. If selective education is to become more common, grammars must do as much as they can to make sure their tests are as fair as possible and “tutor-proof.” They should also give disadvantaged pupils the opportunity to prepare for the tests so they can compete on a more level playing field with students who have received intensive tutoring.
While parents should of course be free to provide the best possible education they can for their child, we do need to make sure the academic gains of extra tuition are available as widely as possible, not just to those who can afford them. One option is for a means-tested voucher scheme, which could be funded through the Pupil Premium and allow less advantaged families to access tutoring, as well as others.
Another solution is for more private tuition agencies to provide a certain proportion of their tuition to disadvantaged pupils for free. Some agencies, such as MyTutor and Tutorfair, support less advantaged students with the fees they charge better off families. This might not be feasible for small tutoring agencies, but for those of a decent size, it would help if such practice became the norm.
Acting on these recommendations will go some way to making sure that private tuition doesn’t make life harder still for those students who are already at a significant disadvantage.