What do we think about ‘private tuition’? If by that you understand me to mean parents employing someone privately to boost their child’s prospects of success at school, I’ve always been a bit chary. My belief is that schools ought to be able to provide all the tuition and support their pupils need. Yet, it is clear that the examination success of some schools in affluent areas is based in part on the fact that some of the parents employ private tutors to supplement the school’s work so the school has not really earned its league table position. We even had the rather preposterous report recently of Eton complaining that private coaching for the entrance exam and interview unfairly advantaged those from the prosperous south-east, meaning that their intake wasn’t as balanced across geographical regions as they would wish! Hm, didn’t have Eton down as a champion of equal opportunities!
Now, it seems, schools are using the so-called ‘pupil premium’ money to employ private tutoring companies to provide one-to-one or small group ‘support’. It is telling, in the Guardian report (see link below), that Henrietta Spiegelberg, the managing director of Greater London Tutors, which works with 15 state primary and secondary schools, said schools were recognising that one-to-one tuition and teaching in smaller groups was “extremely beneficial”. Well, as far as I’m concerned, we should be funding our schools sufficiently so that they could provide the right sort of teacher-pupil ratios in the first place. There seems to be a wide disparity between schools as to the price they are paying. From my experience, employing as it were ‘casual’ staff should be at about £25 per hour but according to the report, agencies charge up to £1400 per day, although I’m not sure how many teachers they actually get for that. I suppose the schools are happy to let the agency cope with recruitment, CRB checks and so forth as they may not be lucky enough to know of recently retired or part-time teachers who are prepared to work a few more hours. In my experience, schools’ own staff will put in extra after-school ‘workshops’ at no extra charge, but, if the money is available to pay them, maybe they should get a little extra for the extra hours. However, I’m a little uncomfortable with this as I believe the job of teacher should encompass this sort of thing. Generally, I’m unhappy with private businesses creaming off money for providing a service that schools ought to be providing as part of their ‘basics’. It all seems to be part of the move away from a state-run system towards a more consumer-based one where if you want something more you pay for it, and to be part of an ethos in which you can buy advantage if you can afford it.