A recent article in The Telegraph led with the headline, “Private tutoring is abhorrent says private school head.” (read it here) The position taken by the piece was that if a child needs tutoring to get into a school, then the school is probably not for them. I agree – to a point.
As the recipient of a private education, I don’t remember ever being tutored to get into my school, only a short burst before Chemistry GCSE to scrape my C. I never particularly struggled academically and there is no doubt that I received a good education. I was lucky in that I attended good schools before this one and I had a teacher for a mother (see one of her blogs here) who ensured I really knew the basics and that I learned to think for myself and be independent from an early age – all skills that made it easy for me to get through the school selection process. My sister also went to the same school and was awarded a full scholarship – again without the need for tuition.
So, I ask myself, had I not been to good schools from the start and not had a supportive mother who knew what was needed – would I have needed tuition to get into the school? Clearly I was intelligent enough to be there, otherwise I would have struggled academically, so had I needed help to get into the school, would that have been “wrong”?
I have, on many occasions, seen the children referred to in the article – pushed and drilled to get into a school, only to be miserable once they get there as they struggle every step of the way to keep pace with their peers. There is no doubt these children exist and would, arguably, be better off staying in the state education system – that’s assuming there are good state schools in their area. And that’s another factor – as a parent – if you were faced with an under-performing state school or a well-respected fee paying one – which would you want your child to go to if you were able to make it happen?
My position is a little different to those of the head teachers quoted in The Telegraph. Yes, drilling children so they are like “performing animals” (according to the article) is not necessarily a good idea. These children will almost certainly find their academic experience more stressful than necessary and will probably need regular extra help to get them through. What I believe, however, is that many children will thrive once they get there and it is these children that need to be identified and supported, so they have the best chance to get in. The tutoring itself should not be “performing animal” style – more it should ensure that the child not only knows their basic subject skills inside out, but also that they are able to think for themselves and develop strategies to solve problems.
That’s why I love what I do at MagiKats – ultimate academic level is not our key goal. We want to ensure every child, not matter their background or starting point, is able to realise their full potential. Not only do we work to ensure they really know their subjects of English and/or maths, but we help them develop study skills, thinking skills and problem solving skills – making it far more likely that if they ever had to sit for an entrance exam, they would be well placed to work their way through and, more importantly, would then have the necessary skills to thrive in their new school environment.
Before anyone accuses me of elitism and of overlooking the qualities of our state education system, I would say that I am lucky in that I live on the doorstep of some of the best rated state schools in the UK. Any child in this area has the best of both worlds potentially available to them. That is a luxury that many parents in other parts of the UK do not have and for many, a private school education is the best available for those that can take advantage of it. That is not necessarily right, but it’s a fact.
By Sarah Marsh, Director of Operations, MagiKats Ltd