In the News: Headteachers weigh in

by Dexter Findley

There have been two recent articles critiquing private tuition ("Warning from headteachers as parents dig deep to fund boom in private tutors" The Guardian 26/04/13 and "Tutoring for two-year-olds?" The Telegraph 03/05/13), both of which relied on Headteachers to pose their criticisms.

Some of their comments were rather silly, such as calling private tuition "a hideous concept", or claiming it "robs children of their childhood" (something disaffected kids and prog rock bands have been saying about schools for decades) and that it "undermines education" (but... private tuition is a form of education!).

One Head raised a legitimate concern over the fewer checks tutors face compared to teachers. Still, identity verification and reference collecting is part and parcel of contemporary tuition agency practice (well, for this one at least). Besides, we believe that parents have the capacity to judge who can educate their child best, whether they be a qualified teacher, a stellar academic or a wise layperson. And, most importantly, tutors are never in a position of sole responsibility for a child, unlike teachers, so are not eligible for DBS checks in any case.

Which brings us to our main issue; the articles' rather condescending attitude towards parents. The same head claimed the rise in private tuition is a bubble brought on by "parents talking to each other and panicking". Another (the headmistress of St. Paul's Girl's School, no less), says "[private tuition] is a significant industry which trades on [parent] insecurity and exam anxiety", i.e. it trades on the fact that parents want their kids to have a more individually-tailored education and better exam results. Given that St. Paul's is a private school, which offers parents a 'better' education, just like private tuition, the phrase involving glass-houses and stones comes to mind.

None of the commenters stepped back and thought, "I wonder exactly why parents are anxious, and why they might want to boost their child's career prospects?". Could it be that the poor state of the country's economy, the fierce competition for university places and the even fiercer competition in the job market might have something to do with it? So, we argue that private tuition is answering the demands of parents by helping their kids reach their full potential, something that not all schools can claim to do. It is encouraging to see some Heads acknowledging this: Phil Harte of a RC school in Salford admits that schools cannot be tailored to each individual's specific needs, and parents should have the right to support their child's education through private tuition.

In short, we'd like to see a more understanding approach to parental concerns. It's a tremendously competitive world out there, and parents should be allowed to supplement their kids' education with private tuition if they want to.

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