Why more GCSE students are seeking private tuition

by Anna Michaelidou

GCSEs are a very important stepping stone to a student's academic, or non-academic, future. They will determine whether a student goes on to study A-levels in sixth form and also set a path for entry into a University. They will also help enrich a CV should the student not wish to further their studies.

Happy GCSE Students

The entry requirements for sixth form, whether in a school or college, vary; anything from four to five C's or B's in the subjects you intend to continue studying to sometimes five or six A's, depending on the school or college.

Schools use GCSE results as a guide to how well a student will do in their A-levels. And whilst many Universities ask for a minimum C grade in Maths and English and sometimes Science, others will expect a minimum A grade in these subjects.

Good GCSE grades are therefore very important. Whether you are hoping to go on to study your A-Levels and then onto University or are just wanting to go straight into a job after you've finished school, your GCSE grades will play an important part in helping you to succeed and offering you more options. As more and more parents and students are now understanding the importance of getting good grades at GCSE level, they are turning to private tuition for help.

First Tutors looked into how many parents are seeking the help of private tutors in the UK. An article in TES on 'Private Tuition' stated:

More than a quarter of 11 to 18-year-olds have had a private tutor at some point during their schooling, according to research published last year by Judy Ireson at the Institute of Education, London. But that estimate, based on a sample of 3,500 pupils, may be conservative: some children keep quiet about extra tuition, deeming it a mark of failure or "swottiness". There are also differences from region to region, and from school to school. The Institute of Education research, for example, found one school where 65 per cent of Year 11 pupils had used a private tutor. London is widely seen as the hotbed of home tutoring and anecdotal evidence suggests that in some schools in the capital, among children preparing for public examinations, the proportion having private tuition is close to 100 per cent.

It is not surprising that London has the top figures for private tutors although this is not to say that other areas in the UK lag far behind. And an article in The Telegraph on 'Parents spend £6bn a year on private tuition in the UK' states:

Parents spend £6bn a year on private tuition in the UK - with many saying it is a necessity they can barely afford.

More than a quarter of parents use private tutors to help boost their children's education, and said that schools provide "inadequate" support.

The number of parents using private tutors to top up their children's education is a growing trend and one that is becoming almost a necessity for some parents as they feel the schools are not doing enough to ensure their children are getting the best out of their education.

GCSEs have become ever more competitive. News is filled with students achieving seven or more A* GCSE grades and the pressure to achieve these grades seems ever-increasing. An article in The Telegraph on 'The Steep Climb to University starts with GCSEs' states:

Never before have GCSE results been so important. They are the only hard-and-fast evidence that a university admissions tutor has of an applicant's performance in a public examination.

This is as true now as it was back in 2012. GCSE results have the power to show what the student will capable of when taking their A-Levels and University degrees. Another article in The Guardian asking parents and tutors to share their views on the reasons parents seek out extra private tuition for their children had some interesting feedback. One tutor, Edward, Waltham Forest, wrote:

I have worked as a private tutor for nearly five years teaching English and History and I have definitely noticed an upsurge in demand for tuition, especially at GCSE level for English Language. What has also changed slightly is the fall in demand for A level tuition which has been replaced by GCSE tuition.

This sparked an interest to find out what our tutors at First Tutors have to say about the importance of private tuition for GCSE exams. First Tutors took on the role of finding out what some of our top tutors had to say about GCSE tuition. We had an amazing response.

First Tutors asked a series of questions in regards to GCSE private tuition. Here are the questions with some of the feedback from our tutors:

1. Can you describe a typical private GCSE level lesson?

Tutor Daniel, Cheadle - English, Maths, History...

There is no 'typical' GCSE lesson. If the student is under performing, my first task is find out whether they are under performing due to a lack of subject content knowledge or poor exam technique. This is usually very simple as I will sound out their content knowledge with questioning. Students with poor exam technique are by far the easiest to remedy and will typically yield bigger jumps in grade.

Tutor William, Penarth - Maths, Physics...

Pupils requiring GCSE support vary enormously in level of current ability, therefore it is hard to generalise a typical lesson. Some pupils are almost at A level standard and are looking to obtain an A*, whilst others have been "written off" by the school and classified as autistic or borderline autistic. However, a common feature of my lessons is to try and accentuate understanding at a fundamental level. In the case of mathematics this is quite easy but in the case of physics, my other subject, it is far more challenging because the truth of the matter is there is no "simple" physics, because nature herself is not "simple". But to the extent that I can give some basic insights, the pupil will be able to navigate much better through tricky over wordy questions, they will gain confidence and most importantly they may begin to find the subject interesting

Tutor Andrew, Preston - Maths, Entrance exams, Special Needs...

Typical lesson - at the student's home - parents generally don't want to travel. I will have planned what to cover from my scheme of work that I have done and by agreement the previous week. However, this can change very often as student changes mind in the intervening week, without telling me - frustrating sometimes. Tutor asks where student is having problems, tries to find out what method is taught at their school, makes a decision to improve their skills with that method, or teach a new method - depends on age, attitude to new method learning, and how long til exam. Tutor then explains and gives model answer, sets student questions, but asks them verbally to explain what they are doing as they do it. Helps learning and communication questions in Maths. Touchy subject of homework at end - may set some depending on whether student or parent wants it.

The tutors comments show that there is no 'typical lesson' for GCSE preparation. The lesson should be based around the student's needs at the time. A good tutor therefore, will assess the student in their own way to understand the best way of aiding the student and boosting their confidence.

An article in The Guardian has some interesting views from parents in regards to why they were seeking private tuition for their children. One parent wrote:

My children attended a very good school, but still need a private tutors to achieve well. I think many parents want to prepare their children to go on to Grammar schools and the preparation for doing this is a booming business for tutors. It's becoming very difficult to even book a good tutor now a days; as they can not take on any more students! I work very hard and just make ends meet, but I know in the end it will be worth every penny, my children will be given opportunities that I just couldn't have as a child.

Whilst another commented:

We are a white British middle income family, and I suppose my reasons for using a tutor could be summarised as 'lack of confidence in school maths teaching and awareness of how important maths knowledge and qualifications are'.

It's interesting to see the different views and opinions from parents on why they seek private tuition for their children. Some feel that it is giving them better opportunities for their academic achievements whilst others feel that schools are just not doing enough to ensure their children succeed and therefore take it upon themselves to help their children by hiring a private tutor.

2. What do students normally seek help with?

GCSE Exam Hall

Tutor Thuraisamy, Darlington - Maths

Most students focused on exam preparation and wanted to improve their grade in the GCSE exam. Some students need help with their homework and some students want to go over the topic covered in the class they did not understand completely.

Tutor Annabel, Bedford - Maths, English, History, Psychology...

Students seek help with a number of topics, but most often it is understanding the course topics and then successfully applying them in exams. If a student attends for the recommended six months or more, I will usually spend the first three months working on understanding topics and applying these to short exam questions and the remaining three months working more extensively on exam technique.

Tutor Marina, Winchester - Maths, English...

Students normally come to me if they are struggling at school to get the desired grades, have specific learning difficulties or just generally want extra support to feel more confident in class. They usually want to focus on exam preparation and understanding certain novels.

Tutor Polly, Leicester - English, French...

Students usually seek help for exams, whether oral or written, and for written assignments. Very few students come to me for general support with their GCSE; it tends to be specific, usually a case of looming exams or essays meaning they seek last minute help.

Our feedback suggests that primarily students seeking private tuition for GCSE preparation are trying to better understand course topics and ensure better grades. Exam preparation and course homework that they may need help with are also important reasons. An article in The Independent on 'How to succeed in Exams' has some feedback from students which was also very interesting. One student wrote:

Extra tuition in maths was critical for me. I got a lot of help on how to answer questions. I found exam technique a bit difficult. I also had help making sure I could understand things like Pythagoras' theorem and trigonometry.

Whilst another student commented:

I got extra tuition in maths and it raised my grade from a D to a C. I want to work as a computer technician, and I wouldn't have had any hope of getting a job without it.

Students will of course need help with different aspects of their GCSE preparation and it is the tutors job to discover how best to help them.

3. How much time does a student need on average for private lessons prior to their GCSEs?

Tutor William, Milltimber - Maths

This varies from student to student. I once had a student that I tutored for a whole year before she took her GCSEs. In all fairness, she hated Mathematics with a passion but she did come out with a B which was very fulfilling for all parties. And then I once had a student that I tutored for only 6 weeks as his parents wanted him brushed up before his exams and he came out with an A. This is probably the spectrum of the rainbow. When I think back to some of the other students that I tutored, I believe it took on average 5 - 6 months of private lessons prior to taking their GCS E's. I also encourage my students to ask me questions outside of lesson times on anything else they may be struggling with as long as it is related to Maths.

Tutor Frank, Birkenhead - Business, Economics...

This depends enormously on their problems and also how big a jump they want to make in grades. Perhaps ten to twenty 90 minute sessions for most students.

Tutor David, Waterlooville - Maths...

One student of mine commuted from D to A with just 6 or 7 sessions. He was exceptional. At the other end of things a Tutee may need 40 sessions to get from D to C. It really does depend on intelligence, aptitude, effort, attitude, maturity, parental empathy, learning difficulties, identified cognitive difficulties. I can honestly say that teaching thousands of year 11s does not prepare you fully for the individuality of the very next one.

Tutor Paul, Doncaster - English...

Time depends on how far behind their target they are, how often they are tutored and how much effort they are willing to put in between sessions - tutoring is a two-way street and those that put a lot in can make rapid progress in a month or two before an exam.

A great article from The Oxford Royale Company on '10 ways to go the extra mile when studying for your GCSE' stated:

It's never too early to start preparing for university, but for those conscientious enough to do so, the rewards are immediate as well as long term. By going the extra mile when you're studying for your GCSEs, you pave the way for a bright and prosperous future: hard work translates to better grades, and better grades translate to better university prospects; and better university prospects translate to better career prospects. Putting in a little extra effort now is, as they say, a 'no-brainer'.

4. How do you assess pupils' progress?

Tutor Mark, Llandinam - Maths, Electronics, Physics...

Progress is measured in several ways. Regular checks on their knowledge base, at the end of a particular topic, through questioning and actual exam papers.

Home-work is another good way to check progress - student is encouraged to show full working of solutions at each stage.
Checking of question comprehension - especially exam questions.

Candidate reviews and feedback are given both verbally and written at the end of every lesson.5.

Tutor Ash, Exeter - English, History, Geography, Psychology...

Assessment tends to be ongoing in an informal way, plus formal assessment paralleling their assessment at school: i.e. I serve as an extra marker on their coursework, or help explain or contextualise feedback their school teachers have written on assessed pieces of school work.

Tutor Charlotte, Westcliff-on-sea - English...

I always begin the first lesson with a "baseline" assessment so that I can see precisely their abilities and skills without any intervention. I then create an individual tuition plan to address the weaknesses. I will explicitly teach these skills over several weeks and then retest the student periodically to track their progress. I keep a record of their test grades so that the student, myself and the parents can see clear progression and so that I can ensure I am spending enough time on the areas most in need of intervention.

The way a tutor assesses their pupil is unique to their own methods and different tutors use different techniques to assess their pupils progress. An article on The Essex Government website states:

One-to-one has opened up the school's dialogue with parents, too. There are meetings to explain tuition plans and parents dropping their children off on Saturdays often stay for a cup of coffee and a chat about their child's progress.

A parent should be as involved as possible with both the tutor and their child so that they can stay informed of their child's progress. Knowing how your child is coping and whether the tutor is meeting your, and your child's, expectations is important.

5. How many students can a tutor successfully teach over the same time period?

Tutor Daniel, Cheadle - English, Maths, History...

I am a full-time professional tutor, so I teach as many as 27 students per week. I spend much of my day preparing for lessons and ensuring that my students are making the maximum amount of progress possible.

Tutor Polly, Leicester - English, French...

I think this depends on the tutor's capacity. Personally, my ideal number of students would be ten a week because I tend to tutor in the evenings and it is quite intensive, so more than two hours solid teaching whilst doable, isn't the ideal.

Tutor Marina, Winchester - Maths, English...

I can successfully tutor 30 pupils a week enabling me to plan effectively for lessons, mark homework and keep track of what each pupil is doing.

Tutor Andrew, Poulton-le-Fylde - Maths, Special Needs...

I have just stopped full-time teaching in a school, and have 12 hours per week in the evenings of 1:1. I could not have managed that whilst still being full-time. Even the 12 is occasionally a big ask, because I teach from Year 4 to Year 11 students, with wide range of abilities, expectations, travel time, personal issues and disabilities /learning difficulties. Pulled apart sometimes!!

From our tutors' feedback it is clear to see that this really does vary depending on the type of tutor and what other jobs they may be doing at the same time; a full-time school teacher simply does not have the same time available to teach private lessons as a tutor that is dedicated purely to private tuition.

6. What is the average cost of a private lesson for GCSE preparation?

Tutor Daniel, Cheadle - English, Maths, History...

I charge £50 per hour, although it is possible to engage a tutor with a good reputation from around the £35 mark.

Tutor William, Penarth - Maths, Physics...

I teach from primary to university level inclusive. I feel the teaching skills required are the same, only the content varies. That may appear a surprising view but I have found it to be true in practice. Therefore I charge the same at all levels which is £25 per hour.

Tutor Polly, Leicester - English, French...

I think I'm undercharging compared to other adverts I've seen. I charge £20 an hour whereas the average for private tuition in Leicester seems to be £25 an hour.

Tutor Mark, Llandinam - Maths, Physics, Electronics...

It really depends - if a lot of preparation is required then the lessons do run at a loss.
I will give you a recent example. Maths GSCE Foundation. Time to prep (2) two hours.
Time to deliver (1) one hour. Driving time (1) one hour - return. Reviews and feedback 30 minutes.
Fee charged £30
Average per hour £6.60
This does not include fuel used, wear & tear or depreciation.

First Tutors did some research into the average costs of core GCSE subjects for private tuition from 1st January 2014 to 1st December 2015 around the UK. The table below shows the data we collected:

Average Cost Of GCSE Tuition (nationwide)
Subject 2014 2015
Maths £23.24 £24.08
English £24.63 £25.93
Chemistry £24.00 £25.52
Physics £24.70 £26.57
Biology £24.18 £25.02
Combined Science £25.15 £26.21
French (academic) £24.13 £25.53
Spanish (academic) £22.38 £23.48
German (academic) £22.11 £23.88

The figures show a steady average cost of approximately £23.84 in 2014 and a steady average cost of approximately £25.14 in 2015. Tutor prices vary, as we have seen from our Tutor feedback above, and there are many factors that play a part in how a tutor charges for their lessons; experience, qualifications, distance of travelling, course content etc. Finding a tutor that is available, experienced and within your local area is no longer a difficult task. First Tutors offers a simple and effective method of finding a tutor in any subject and level around the UK.

We also took the time to ask some parents why they hired a private tutor for their children for their GCSE preparation. Here are what some of them had to say:

I have paid for private tutors - both for my daughter who was struggling before GCSEs. Both times it was extremely helpful more for her and my older son who needed help just with maths. It was weekly and they benefited in the sense they both passed. However, I didn't mention it to others simply because lots of my children's friends weren't being tutored for issues, or bad lessons at school but simply because their parents gave in to the pressure to push them get top marks.


As a parent and tutor the problem is some people just don't seem to be able to accept that there children just aren't as capable of getting A* (nothing else counts, as far as they are concerned). Their children are tutored, made to resit the year, moved schools - until they get the result they want. Its 'corporate parenting'.


Part of the reason I am ashamed to admit, is because all my daughter's friends had tutors and I felt if she didn't have one she'd be at an unfair disadvantage. She did extremely well but hard to say she would have done anyway, as the tutor predicted high grades for her from the start


I've never had a tutor for my kids but the pressure is there. Lots of people at my sons school have tutors. I can understand if a child needs help of confidence boosting but that's rarely the case in my experience.

The different views from parents shows that more and more are now seeking the help of a private tutor for their child. GCSEs are very important for all children and achieving the grades they need sometimes means seeking a helping hand. Some parents do not see the need of a private tutor and many put their faith in the schools alone to ensure their child succeeds. Seeking the help of a private tutor is a new growing trend and more parents are discovering the benefits of boosting a child's confidence and understanding in preparing them for the all important GCSE exams.

First Tutors would like to take this opportunity to thank all those tutors and parents who took the time to provide this invaluable feedback.