It’s no surprise that the market for personal tutors is growing, as competition for places at the top independent and grammar schools increases.
Responding to this demand, agencies and private tutors have flooded the market; promising to give children the best chances of passing the 11-plus entrance exam.
But with ever increasing numbers to choose from and no independent rating system to judge how qualified a person is, how can parents pick the right personal tutor for their child?
Here the experts offer their views. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (details below).
Question: How do I pick the right 11-plus tutor?
I live in South Birmingham and I’m looking to get some tutoring for my child. How do I found out who are the best 11-plus tutors in my area? Are the private tutors rated in any way independently? And how can parents best prepare children for the exams in terms of books or publications. Any general advice would be greatly appreciated.
Vivienne Durham: The most practical advice is: practice, practice, practice
A good place to start is to contact The Tutors’ Association (thetutorsassociation.org.uk): tutorial companies and freelance tutors are members of this professional organisation although some work only in London.
Do also ask friends, family and parents of Year 7 children, who have already successfully taken the 11-plus exams, because word of mouth recommendation is often the best starting point. If you can’t find a local tutor with whom you’d like to work to then you might want to consider online 11-plus tuition, unlimited by location you can focus on finding the best tutor for your children.
Reputable tutorial companies will always interview prospective tutors face to face and monitor tutors’ professional success. Tutoring companies also should ensure that all tutors have a DBS check. It’s worth looking out for companies who are members of The Tutors’ Association (TTA).
Do ask independent tutors for their DBS checks and references – this can act as a type of vetting but in many ways it is this ‘rating’ aspect which sets companies apart from independent tutors.
“Do ask schools you intend to apply to about how best you can prepare your child – you are likely to be amazed by the disparity of advice you receive.” Vivienne Durham
Do ask schools you intend to apply to about how best you can prepare your child – you are likely to be amazed by the disparity of advice you receive. Some schools will tell you, “Nothing at all.” Many will say, “Your child needs to read voraciously, especially literature.”
The most practical advice is: practice, practice, practice, especially at completing answers under timed conditions. Do ask prospective schools for sample 11-plus examination papers; these are sometimes available on school websites. A tutoring company will often have excellent resources to stimulate intellectual enquiry and extend a child’s enjoyment of learning.
Visits to museums, art galleries, concerts, plays, sporting events, historic places or places of interest also provide the opportunity to spark a child’s enthusiasm. Schools are looking for children who enjoy learning at every opportunity.
Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park
Shaun Fenton: The best way to find a good tutor is through word of mouth
Effective tutoring can be really helpful in developing literacy, numeracy or reasoning skills, but it can also be very dangerous.
My gran would talk about forced rhubarb, a crop hot-housed to help it grow, but if children require hot-housing to meet the minimum expected level for entry to a school – or to keep up once they’re there – they might be out of their depth. This can damage self-esteem and hinder academic progress. Tutoring can make it harder to be sure whether a child will sink or swim.
The best way to find a good tutor is through word of mouth. Other parents (with no connection to the tutor) are more reliable than any advert, open testimonial or ‘independent’ website rating.
Media stories about TripAdvisor and Amazon tell us to be cautious about the authenticity of online rating reports. It is also important that parents take proper references and examine child protection records for all the awful, obvious reasons.
“If you find yourself sacrificing football practice, violin lessons and building dens… it’s gone too far.” Shaun Fenton
When it comes to preparing your child for the 11-plus, find a sample/ past paper on the school website and ask the school what they would see as a pass mark. It will give you a good idea whether the standards the school is after are within reach of your child.
Practice is important and tutors can help students to develop technique so academic potential isn’t masked by poor technique. On the other hand, children only have one chance of a childhood. If you find yourself sacrificing football practice, violin lessons and building dens in order to become good at verbal reasoning, then it is time to pinch yourself. Things have gone too far.
There are a plethora of revision guides and books available from WH Smiths (other retailers are available!) But the best thing is to ask the school about which books are the best fit as there is a big difference between non-verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning. In addition, some schools set their own bespoke exams. Don’t guess; ask the school.
Shaun Fenton, headmaster of Reigate Grammar School
Susan Hamlyn: Interview, take up references and ensure your child feels right with the person
More tears, sleeplessness and general anguish is expended over the 11-plus than any other rite of passage in the lives of parents wanting academically selective schooling for their young.
Most parents planning to enter their child for grammar or independent school exams will consider engaging a private tutor. If your child is at a prep school, this is probably unnecessary and most prep school heads hate it!
But if your child is at a state primary, it makes sense to find an experienced tutor who will ensure that your child is not at a disadvantage when competing against those endlessly drilled at preps.
The best tutors are usually the local ones who are knowledgeable and experienced and whose names are guarded by your friends and neighbours until their children no longer need tutoring.
“There is, as yet, no independent accreditation or rating system for tutors. So you need to interview and take up references.” Susan Hamlyn
They will have waiting lists so think ahead and get signed up early. In Birmingham, for example, where there is a relatively small number of schools which use the 11-plus, it’s best to ask friends whose children are already pupils at these schools.
Otherwise, there are numerous tutor agencies you can research online. They range from listings sites to high quality outfits who select, train and monitor graduates and/or experienced teachers.
It is very much caveat emptor. There is, as yet, no independent accreditation or rating system for tutors. So you need to interview, take up references and, above all, ensure that your child feels right with the person once lessons start.
There is much you can do at home – so long as you don’t jeopardise your relationship with your child by turning yourself into a tyrant and her into a cringing wreck. You can use workbooks in maths, English and reasoning.
Galore Park (galorepark.co.uk) books are the best tuned to the independent schools’ tests. But you are not a teacher and your long-term relationship with your child is more important than any exam. There is no one perfect school. Always have a Plan B.
Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service