Thursday, 31 January 2013

Does private tutoring disadvantage low-income students?

Alternatives to private tutoring
Last year almost a quarter of 11 to 16 year olds (23%) in England had some form of private tuition. Of these over half (53%) were being coached for a specific test or exam.

With the number of parents paying for private tuition on the rise, are wealthy families gaining an unfair advantage? Particularly when it comes to preparing their children for entrance exams to grammar schools?

Private tuition and coaching has been recognised as helping students to develop both technical understanding as well as their confidence. For many students passing an exam can be as much about learning and understanding as it is about having the confidence in their own ability and demonstrating it in their exams. Partnering with a private tutor can therefore offer the reassurance that they often need, giving them an advantage when it comes to getting the marks required to pass entrance exams or even to examinations at higher levels.

Some parents pay thousands of pounds to private tutors to get their children through their exams. Critics however have raised concerns and accuse private tuition as entrenching the divide between the rich and poor. Pointing to national data that demonstrates the differences in academic attainment; low income households are half as likely to get 5 good GCSEs as the rest of their year group. Policy makers are beginning to recognise this issue and are looking at ways to limit the impact of private tuition.

In the South East of England, the local authority for Kent has decided to change their 11+ exam to make it ‘tutor-proof’ in order to reduce the gap and avoid students whose parents can afford private coaching to have an unfair advantage over those who are less well-off.

For many parents it’s understandable that those that can afford coaching want to offer their child the best head start possible but the concern is that school acceptance tests are becoming less about an individual’s academic ability and more about how well they’ve been coached to pass an entrance exam. Kent is one of the first local authorities to attempt tutor proofing their exams, but as yet it’s not clear how effective this will be at preventing class inequalities.

The debate is ongoing and while many recognise the problems associated with private tutoring the argument also stands that whether a child does gain an advantage or not. If a parent isn’t satisfied with their student’s school or current educational provision then is there anything wrong in them paying for more focussed, one-to-one support?

The answer is not a clear one; no— students shouldn’t have an unfair advantage in entrance exams but then again if we could all afford coaching wouldn’t we want to invest in our child’s future...

For many parents private tuition is out of the question given the high-hourly rates. And although some local authorities are starting to intervene, low-income families will still suffer. So what is the answer?

Although one-to-one, at home tutoring is often preferable; many parents are beginning to consider the alternatives to private tutoring. For students throughout the UK; classrooms can be a noisy and disruptive environment in which many find it difficult to grasp key concepts and principles. Parents are therefore turning their attention to e-learning and online tuition platforms to give their child support and confidence, at a fraction of the price of one-to-one coaching.

According to several established parent blogging sites; e-learning resources can let parents track and monitor performance, encourage sporadic and scheduled revision and help develop a student’s wider understanding of a subject. In many cases online tutoring videos are supported across mobile devices and it is this blended learning approach that is helping scores of students up and down the country improve their academic success.

Have your say, post your comments below to carry on the discussion.

Find out more about alternative online GCSE revision resources.