Posted on 7th June 2009
HELP! What's the right choice of school?
From Angels and Urchins
For any parent considering private education, making the right choice of school can become an obsession. I say choice; in reality of course it’s not parents who choose. The schools choose the children.
London has some of the country’s leading private day schools. These schools have powerful brand images, seeming to offer a golden future for those lucky and clever enough to get in. Car companies and supermarkets would kill for this level of desirability. Like massive magnets, these brands draw parents in. Demand is sky-high, places are limited, and they are nigh on impossible to get into. Entrance exams are brutally all-or-nothing. Either children get a place, or they don’t. It’s a crazy mix of high stakes, and long odds. The difficulty of succeeding just adds to both the allure and the stress for ambitious parents.
If you have a child sitting the 7+, 8+ or 11+ next January, you will already know which school you’d ideally like your child to go to next. Unfortunately plenty of other parents are thinking the same thing. Some of your child’s competitors might even be their school friends, for added fun when the results come out.
It is hardly surprising that parents get stressed. The trick, apparently, is not to pass that stress on to your kids. This is a rude awakening for affluent parents, able to buy just about anything for their kids, not to be able to just throw money at the school place issue and get them in. Although, hang on a minute, there is a way you can throw money at it…you can hire a private tutor.
Private tutors either exploit panicking parents, or provide a necessary service, depending on how you look at it. Unarguably, there is a lot of private tutoring going on in London. According to a study by the Institute of Education, 25% of year 6 children nationally have been tutored. This figure is much higher in affluent parts of London. Not all children being tutored are being coached for exams but an increasing number of primary aged children are. “Our phone never stops ringing with concerned parents” says Will Stadlen of Holland Park Tuition. And it is not a cheap option, with costs started at around £40 per hour plus an introductory fee.
Selective schools discourage tutoring, pointing out that it can lead to later problems with a child unable to handle the pace. Peter Winter, Head of Latymer Upper School says: ” Bright children need time to waste. They need time to think things over” Jeremy Edwards, Headmaster of Westminster Under School agrees: “We would prefer children of this age to be outside playing cricket after school or reading or enjoying music or just having time to themselves. They need time for fun at the end of the day - not sitting in a room with a tutor for another hour of hard slog!
Independent heads accept that there are instances when exam tutoring is acceptable.
Edwards concedes that a child at a state primary school might not be taught enough maths curriculum before the exam, or receive the exam and interview technique practice of children at private prep schools; while Winter recognises that some children might have had a year of an under-par teacher, and need to make amends. ” I have sympathy with parents who are frustrated with their current quality of teaching”
The reality of course, borne out by the statistics, is that the use of tutors for exam preparation is mushrooming. Rather than ‘cheating’, it is seen by many as a way of evening out the odds for their child on a playing field that’s far from level. Whether its peer pressure, a concern that a child is at an underperforming school, there will be a seemingly good reason to justify the need for extra help.
Private tutoring remains an unregulated market. Jeremy Edwards has concerns “There are unscrupulous tutors out there who prey on anxious and ambitious parents. They claim to have inside knowledge of us, when in fact we have no associations with any tutors”.
No tutor is going to be able to ensure entry of a child to a good London school but, while there may be unscrupulous tutors out there, there are other companies which are well run.
Finding one is hard though “It’s a completely taboo subject” says one Wandsworth mum. Nobody wants other people to think their child has won their place through underhand tactics. Despite what might go on at home, parents do not want to be seen as pushy, so mums don’t talk about it. Consequently there is little or no word of mouth recommendation, making it very difficult to choose a tutor.
If you are lucky enough to find a local tutor by word of mouth, you will need to take responsibility yourself for seeing CRB checks and references, and ensuring that the tutor is the right match for your child, in terms of personality, and knowledge of the curriculum in question. Alternatively, you may want to approach a company. Companies will charge you an introductory fee, and for this will conduct CRB checks, and collect references, for example. Some match you up with a tutor by postcode, while others take it further. “I think the most important thing is to match up personalities,” says Kate Shand, Enjoy Education.
So long as London’s top selective schools remain so desirable, private tutors are here to stay. The ultimate goal of a place at a leading school is simply too tempting for many parents to risk sitting back and doing nothing.
How to choose a tutor:
- Do they have the right personality for your child?
- Will your child look forward to seeing them?
- Do they have successful experience of teaching one to one?
- Can they provide recent tutoring references?
- Can your tutor commit to the period of time you need?
Ensuring value for money from the tutoring sessions:
- You will want to make sure that the time spent with the tutor is productive, and progress can be demonstrated.
- Ask the tutor to make a baseline assessment, and develop an action plan.
- Ask whether they give homework. Agree an amount with your child.
- How will they measure progress?
- Ensure the tutor has experience of the curriculum in question.
- Will they know exactly what to teach?
Selection of tutoring companies to talk to:
- Bright Young Things Tuition. www.brightyoungthingstuition.co.uk. Introductory fee £90, hourly rate £40.
- Enjoy Education. www.enjoyeducation.co.uk. Introductory fee £40, hourly rate £40. Meets every child as part of assessment.
- Bonas Macfarlane. www.bonasmacfarlane.co.uk. Introductory fee £50-£200 depending on degree of assessment needed. Hourly rate £45. Will try to meet the child as part of the assessment.
- Holland Park tuition. www.hollandparktuition.co.uk. Introductory fee of £75 then £36.75 per hour one to one, or £45 for 2 or 3 children together.