‘I took my tutor on holiday!’ – the phrase you’ll hear next September and why it’s making their children better.

Have you ever taken out a tutor with you on holiday?

If you already have – well done! If you haven’t, you are missing a trick for a very simple way to rapidly improve your child’s education.

For some it may seem like a strange idea, but it’s actually very common. Over the last few years more and more articles have appeared in national newspapers highlighting this growing trend. The reason for such rapid growth: it makes the difference.

Smart Learning

The key reason for having a tutor with you on holiday is quite simple: it’s about maximising the opportunities you are already giving your children.

Travelling and going abroad is one of the most fascinating experiences a human can have. To see other places is eye opening and exciting. It’s also one of the best ways for children to learn. Another culture, a new way of life, is the perfect intellectual breeding ground. 

Where could a tutor help?

Where a tutor can help is to harness the experiences for effective learning. A tutor can help a child apply what they have learnt in school, and use the exciting environment & experiences to provide the spark to get a child truly into subjects – which will engender a guaranteed improvement in results.


Languages are the really obvious benefit from going on holiday. Whether it’s picking up some more French walking around markets in Cannes, to getting the hang of spoken Arabic in Morocco, visiting countries provides an easy access into a new language. Seeing the thrill on a child’s face when they successfully have a conversation with a local, the realisation that they have cracked part of a language is truly unique.

This is where a tutor can be extremely effective. A tutor in this situation can teach your child language lessons in the morning. Then, using what they’ve learnt, your child can go out and practice in the real world in the afternoon. This repetition and practice ensures that the knowledge will stick.

Unlike in schools where languages can often seem like a translation exercise, when abroad it makes sense to the child as a way to open up a different culture. The lessons don’t even need to take place indoors – they can be out and about on the streets. This is the ultimate learning tool – and would make for a great holiday. What better benefit on having a holiday than to have acquired the basics of a new language for life, and also being able to tell their friends about it.


History is an area that could have a profound influence on your child. It’s overlooked by some parents as it doesn’t appear to directly improve a child’s life (in a way that languages do). However, there are parents all over the country that have seen its potential, and are getting their children into schools and universities.

Where history plays a unique role is in its ability to educate on a wider cultural scale – which can cover everything from art to economics, supporting a myriad of subjects. This broad knowledge helps develop a well-rounded child – which is highly valued.

There is no better time to develop this than when on holiday. Getting a tutor that is familiar with the country or area that you are visiting will help your children expand their historical and cultural awareness. A good tutor will focus on the areas that your child is interested in, developing their knowledge, and providing that inspirational spark that will produce results back at school.

But crucially, where historical knowledge can make a huge difference is in a very short moment that can define the rest of their life – the school or University interview. The historical knowledge acquired on holiday could set your child apart from all the others. It could be the knowledge that convinces an establishment of a desire to learn, and convey that they are an interesting, intelligent person.

Summer is the key time to get ahead for the next year, and for life – and the way to do it is with the help of a tutor on your holiday.

Top tip:

Don’t want to take the tutor with you? Book them to spend some time with your children the week before. Although not quite as effective, it could still help them whilst you’re abroad.

By Jonathan Coates @coates_jonathan

The issues of ‘Progressive Education’

Everything is subject to trends, even education. A recent book by Robert Peal, Progressively Worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools, examines one such trend, and claims that this trend has, almost single-handedly, ruined education for generations of British students.

The trend in question is called ‘progressive education’. The word ‘trend’ may, in fact, be a bit of a misnomer, as progressive education began to flourish in the 1960s and 1970s, and has remained somewhat prominent. Without knowing it, many students and parents will have come into contact with at least some aspects of the progressive theory of education. Progressive education is formulated around the idea that children are better learners when they are given the freedom to experiment, explore, and discover things for themselves. This view holds that teachers are most effective when they avoid a didactic method, wherein they stand in front of a class presenting knowledge to students to commit to memory. Rather, teachers should be more like facilitators, setting the stage for students to learn on their own.

Peal claims that the lackadaisical approach to building bodies of knowledge espoused by this teaching ideology, as well as a permissive approach to behaviour in schools, has led to increasingly poor outcomes for students, a persistent ‘dumbing-down’ of the curriculum, increasingly bad discipline, and high turnover rates for teachers, to name but a few.

JV, a primary teacher in Brent, notes that things have changed quite a bit in the past few years, “ Every school I’ve ever taught in has recommended a blend of child-centred and more formal teaching, but I know from some of the older teachers that I’ve worked with that this is a new-ish development. But I do think that the progressive approach might be clinging on a bit more when it comes to discipline, and maybe even expectations.”

The merits, or not, of progressive education will not be discussed here. As with most things, implementing education policies and practices that tread the middle path between progressive education and more traditional ideas, taking elements from each, seems the best way to serve students, and Peal makes this argument as well. However, Peal’s book inspires some interesting questions in regards to private tuition.

The pervasiveness of progressive ideas in education may also help to explain why tutors can be such an effective tool in increasing a student’s ability levels. While the one-on-one atmosphere most certainly helps, the true driver behind success may very well lie in the fact that many tutors use more traditional, didactic teaching styles with their pupils.

Private tutors don’t have access to resources or funds for complex, interactive lessons, nor are these types of activities particularly useful without an entire class to work with. Rather, tutors focus on imparting the key information and knowledge that unlocks subjects for students, helping their students remember and apply that knowledge, and deploy that knowledge across a range of skill sets. Additionally, time constraints mean that tutors must teach in the way that is going to achieve the greatest impact in the shortest time, regardless of whether that method is necessarily the most fun.

For instance, at Hampstead and Frognal, our tutors who work with students preparing for the 7+ use phonics to increase literacy, rather than the whole-word teaching style recommended by advocates of progressive education. While phonics is often perceived as tedious and boring, students progress much more quickly when this style of instruction is used.

Indeed, Peal points to a shocking statistic that our tutors are too familiar with. Nearly 20% of students in British schools are classified as having Special Educational Needs. This figure stands well above the numbers for any other OECD nation. For our tutors, discussions of children being ‘dyslexic or borderline dyslexic’ are quite common. When tutoring is undertaken, and progress is made, it becomes clear that Peal’s analysis holds quite a bit of weight; the majority of the students classified as having Special Educational Needs, don’t, in fact, have Special Educational Needs. Rather, they are being failed by the educational practices of their teachers and schools.

The same may be said of students who are diagnosed, somewhat casually, as having ADHD. When students, from the time they enter schooling, are never required to focus on a teacher or lesson for an extended period, because lessons are designed, always, to be child-centred, interactive, groupwork-based, or discursive, they never develop the skills necessary to sit still, maintain attention, or follow instructions closely.

In a one-on-one setting, where tutors are better able to exercise discipline over an individual pupil, the problems with attention tend to fade. This is, of course, due in no small part to the more personalised attention. However, if a student can focus in a one-on-one environment, it throws into question any ADHD labels, and leads to a questioning of the classroom environment instead.

In reality, the best way to instruct students is by using a combination of teaching styles, a variety of lesson structures, and a range to techniques. In recent years, it appears as though more schools have been moving away from a strictly progressive teaching and administration style, and towards something a more around the middle ground. This benefits students immensely, and underlines what makes private tuition successful; the ability of the tutor to complement what the pupil experiences in the classroom.

IT in Schools

Education ministers and policy-drivers often go to great lengths to emphasise that education should do nothing if not prepare students for the world that awaits them when they leave school and enter the world of work. And a noble aim this is. While most would agree that education for its own sake is an enriching and rewarding way to spend your time, few would contest that education should also reflect the ‘real world’. It is in this spirit that subjects such as ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) have been steadily introduced to the curriculum.

ICT (including computing, or computer science) would appear to be a perfect choice for those looking to provide themselves with a skill that holds some currency on the job market. More and more jobs require more than a basic grounding in computer programmes, and technology start-ups and businesses form a vibrant part of the economy. Furthermore, IT has come to form the backbone of many more established industries, including, notably, finance.

Despite this, only 10% of students sitting their GCSEs in 2013 chose ICT as a subject. While this number is a huge increase (of 38%) from 2012, this explosion is from a frightfully low base. What explains the low uptake?

The answer may lie in the fact that technology moves incredibly quickly, making it hard for the exam boards that develop curricula to keep up. Even those designed in conjunction with tech giants (such as AQA’s collaboration with Microsoft) run the risk of giving students a thorough grounding in technologies that may be too narrow, or may soon be obsolete.
Ronan, an IT professional with 12 years’ experience working in the industry, points out that a crucial problem is that there are simply too many different technologies, coding languages, and frameworks in use. Moving from one IT job to another, even within a company, may require entirely different sets of skills, a breadth that is hard to condense into an exam-based curriculum. This is not just a challenge faced by schools, universities are just as prone to creating computer science degrees that are effectively worthless.

Exam boards have set about addressing this problem by focusing on the fundamentals, such as how computers interpret and use data, but, at GCSE level, many courses still feature too much of the ‘how to use Powerpoint’ material, leaving students bored senseless. Newer course materials feature some introductions to coding, and problem-solving using advanced technologies, but this doesn’t solve the obsolescence problem.

To further compound this issue, there is a distinct scarcity of highly-qualified computer science teachers at GCSE and A-Level. This is largely due to the fact that those with the relevant knowledge are working in the field, rather than teaching. Of those who have entered the teaching profession, many graduated with their degrees in computer science too long ago, making the information and technologies that they studied out-of-date.

What we are left with is a seemingly impossible task: to create a curriculum that provides a strong foundation in the key technologies, whilst simultaneously providing the skills for an ever-changing field; a curriculum that anticipates a changing jobs landscape without being too in hock to trends; a programme that helps students develop skills to a reasonable degree of proficiency, whilst acknowledging that focusing on one or two sets of skills or technologies ignores the sheer volume of other systems in operation.

The answer to this dilemma may very well be to treat ICT qualifications almost like a vocational course. IT resources and materials are available in large quantities online, and are often free to use. The relative abundance of ‘self-help’ materials encourages students who are passionate about computer science to strike out on their own and develop skills they find interesting or relevant. Additionally, job placements are very often the best way to develop IT skills.

Ronan confirms that entering the workforce with any amount of real-world experience is more valuable than any qualification or degree. ‘You may start out doing menial tasks, like migrating data or fixing minor bugs, but eventually you move on to bigger or more complicated tasks, and grow your skill set from there.’

Working with companies to create internship-type placements for GCSE or A-Level students could be a promising way to create an environment in which fundamentals (however those are defined) are learned in the classroom, and the ‘nitty-gritty’ of coding, systems, and frameworks is learned in real-world situations, thus also encouraging students to learn crucial job-market skills and teaching them to adapt to new challenges, think on their feet, and study independently.

Exam boards are right to review skills such as creating documents and spreadsheets and using databases, but their focus needs to be beyond this; on programming for mobile technologies, web-based technologies and programming, and coding languages and frameworks. Only with an emphasis in these areas will British students emerge with a qualification that would ever mean something to an employer. Many examiners are moving decidedly in the right direction, but encouraging practical skill development in the workplace would better serve students.

Gove is Gone

It’s official. Michael Gove, in all of his divisive glory, is no longer the Education Secretary, and will be setting up camp instead in the Chief Whip’s office. Teachers across the country tripped over themselves in the rush to cheer his demise, but what does Michael Gove’s removal, and his replacement with Nicky Morgan, mean for education in the UK?

The decidedly unexciting answer is: probably not much.

Nicky Morgan, first elected to Parliament as Member for Loughborough in 2010, has moved to the education brief from a stint as a Treasury Minister. She will also hold the Women and Equality portfolio—something which is already raising eyebrows considering her votes against same-sex marriage and her points of view on abortion access. Apart from serving, for a time, as a school governor, little seems to qualify Mrs. Morgan for her role at the helm of the Department for Education, and her voting record suggests that she agrees with the vast majority of her predecessor’s reforms.

Many may laud the raising of a woman to such a high position, as opposed to the ‘pale, male, and stale’, but Mrs. Morgan’s privately educated background would appear not to be a vast departure from the Tory stereotype. Michael Gove’s personal story, and his personal experiences of education, may have been more of an asset to him in his Education role than Mrs. Morgan’s may prove.

More importantly, perhaps, is the timing of Mrs. Morgan’s appointment. With this reshuffle coming as close as it does to the next general election, it is unlikely that she is expected to implement anything real or new, and, assuming that she wanted to, there would be very little time in which to do it. For the time being, she is likely to remain a place-holder of sorts, and to be one of the many recently promoted female MPs intended to make the Conservative cabinet more representative of the party as a whole.

Though many of Mr. Gove’s reforms were controversial, and he singularly failed to get teachers and other academic professionals on-side, the broad sweep of his reforms was generally in the right direction. Moves to increase accountability, create a more rigorous curriculum, and free schools, teachers, and parents to create dynamic and independent learning environments have followed the patterns set elsewhere in the world that have achieved strong results for students.

That is not to say, of course, that every reform, or reform proposal, was on target. Nor did his abrasive approach win many friends. However, his time as Education Secretary forced schools, teachers, parents, and society at large, to think seriously about what is most important about education and different ways to achieve it.
If we are to take anything from Mr. Gove’s replacement, it is that the Government seems willing to acknowledge that the furious pace of his reforms needs a cooling-down period, and reforms need time to settle in. While teething problems with policies are worked through, it may be helpful to have a face in the Department for Education without such a strongly established agenda.

Education Apps Review for 4-8 year olds

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With tablet computers and smartphones becoming ever-more ubiquitous, it is inevitable that they will eventually form an integral part of the educational landscape for our children. Indeed, that is already being borne out, to some degree, by the plethora of educational games and apps available for Apple’s family of products.
This month, we have taken a look at some of the free offerings aimed at children aged 4 to 8. While most of these apps would require in-app purchases in order to unlock the full degree of enriching content, they are free to download, and thus, free to test. If your child doesn’t take to it, you’re not out-of-pocket. Below are brief snapshots of apps covering a wide range of topics, from fundamental English and Maths, through to coding!

Little Pim- Offering a variety of languages, including Russian and Chinese, Little Pim effectively consists of flashcards, with accompanying audio, that help children learn a basic range of vocabulary in the chosen language. There is nothing too impressive here, however, the variety of languages on offer is great to whet the appetite for more!

Daisy the Dino – A great introduction to computer coding to young children, Daisy the Dino uses a dinosaur animation that the child controls using basic commands. This programme introduces children to the logic and sequencing commands used within more sophisticated programming. There are two modes, one allowing the player to create any sort of animation they choose, and another setting specific challenges that grow more complex as the child progresses. Hopscotch, the makers of this app, also make other coding apps, allowing children to progress to more difficult challenges once they have mastered the basics.

BrainPOP UK- BrainPOP provides a series of short educational videos across a range of subjects, including science, technology, and the arts. Children watch the videos, then take quizzes based on what they just watched. There are three free movies per subject area, with more available to purchase. This app is best suited for the older kids in the age group (7-8).

Planet Geo- Planet Geo presents children with a series of map-based challenges on various aspects of geography. Puzzles include locating UNESCO World Heritage Sites on a global map, fitting countries into their respective continents, grouping countries by location. There are 6 puzzle types, only one of which is entirely free, but with interesting geography puzzles and bold graphics, this app is a great way to challenge and extend geography knowledge.

Spellinglish- Spellinglish is a pretty straightforward spelling app. The app announces words and asks the children to spell them, keeping track of their statistics as they progress through the levels. The vocabulary is varied, and many of the words will be quite a challenge, even for the older children in this age group. However, it’s a great app for introducing new words, and stretching the abilities of those children with more developed spelling and phonics skills.

Language! – This app, by Tribalnova, has three very basic games contained within it covering vocabulary, sentence formation, and listening comprehension. While these games are likely to be vastly too simplistic for native English speakers, this app would be a great way of helping very young children who are learning English to grasp the basics. The vocabulary and listening games require children to identify items that are hidden around the screen, while the sentence formation game presents them with a selection of verbs and nouns in picture form, and asks them to create short sentences by placing the words in a sensible order.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge – This app, produced by the British Council, is perhaps the best entirely free grammar and spelling app available. Children can choose from ‘Grammar’, ‘Words’, or ‘Spelling’ categories, and choose their level of difficulty within each category, allowing the app to grow with the child’s abilities. Each category has a selection of interesting topics to choose from, and the app produces a quiz on each. This app also introduces a number of unique language challenges, including introducing young children to idiomatic expressions and the foundations of more complex grammar.

Storytelling- The Storytelling app walks children through three activities related to a single story- reading it, illustrating it, and writing it. Children read along with an illustrated story to familiarise themselves with it. They can then complete a challenge wherein they match illustrations from the story with the appropriate story point. Finally, they are able to use the illustrations from the story as inspiration for their own story. This app is a great way to introduce young children to key storytelling concepts such as structuring and presenting, describing, and resolving problems or conflicts.

Grammaropolis- Grammaropolis walks children through the different parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, and interjections. Taking a page from Schoolhouse Rock, each section presents a series of short videos which explain and demonstrate the usage of the part of speech in questions, after which children complete quizzes which demonstrate what they’ve learned. The videos are catchy and colourful, and are a great way to make learning grammar less dry!

Maths Trainer- This app is great for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division drills. There are no frills here, just basic question and answer. Despite the basic nature of the app, it is a good app for helping children practice basic calculations.

DoodleMaths- DoodleMaths is a very comprehensive maths app. To begin with, children complete an assessment that determines their strengths and weaknesses across numerous mathematics topics, including calculations, geometry, and fractions and decimals. Once the app has determined the child’s strengths and weaknesses, it presents daily maths problems to build competency. Covering a vast range of problem types, as well as accommodating the child’s age and ability level, this is a great app to try!

Maths Wiz- Another quiz-style app, Maths Wiz covers a range of topics from addition through to basic geometry. Children can either complete quizzes, or enter ‘study mode’ which presents them with a range of questions and tracks the ones that they perform the best on. While not as sophisticated as DoddleMaths, this app allows children to practice different maths subjects, and to progress to more difficult material as they master one area.

Maths, Age 3-5 / 4-6 – These apps, part of a series aimed to grow with the child, begins with the very basics, such as sorting, matching, counting, and comparing, and progresses to more basic calculations. These apps are a great way to introduce young children to the concepts that form the foundations of a strong understanding of maths in a way that doesn’t necessarily focus on numbers.

Abolishing the Eleven-Plus

Dr. Christopher Ray, the head of Manchester Grammar school has raised concerns at the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference this year about the ‘hot housing’ process that many children undergo at 11+ and 13+.

According to Dr. Ray, tutoring has become de rigueur for many middle class families when preparing for selective school exams. The problem arises after those students have entered their schools of choice, when intensively tutored pupils may struggle to keep up with their more academically talented peers. Students who have been too intensively prepared, but lack passion for their subjects or broader curiosity and work-ethic, may struggle to keep up with other students as school work becomes more demanding.

This raises an interesting question about the role of tutoring in academic achievement.

Every parent wants their child to do well, and for many, the best options are state-run grammar schools or private educational institutions. Entrance exams are notoriously competitive, leading parents to employ tutors to give their children an edge. But Dr. Ray’s comments highlight something very important: that tutoring should be about more than just a test.

Tutoring specifically for the 11+ or 13+ can have myriad benefits. Tutors can boost a child’s confidence, help them feel comfortable with questions or material that they may not have seen otherwise, and help them work on their study skills and time management. However, there is a danger in focusing tuition too exclusively on one exam. Teaching students only the skills necessary to pass an exam may neglect the wider basis required to form a strong foundation for GCSE and A-level success.

A truly effective tutor will work with children not just to prepare them for one exam or qualification, but will help them to develop their skills more generally. This means not just focusing on drilling through past papers and practice exercises, but broadening the scope of work to make sure that students understand, and can apply, a broad range of concepts and skills. A great tutor will recognise that, in order to succeed, a student needs help developing study and reasoning skills, not just knowledge of specific questions.

This means encouraging children to engage with literature, rather than just tackle comprehension questions, or to apply mathematical concepts and practices to everyday life.

There are, of course, limitations to how much of this broader goal tuition can accomplish on a weekly basis. This means that the most successful tutor will form strong working partnerships with parents to ensure that a student’s development extends beyond the hour or two a week that the tutor is there.

Schools are getting better at identifying which students have been intensively prepared and which are truly keen and able students. A greater emphasis on interviews in the admissions process has been part of an increased effort by schools to ‘tutor-proof’ the admissions process. Indeed, some schools, such as Mill Hill and Merchant Taylor’s, interview students prior to the written examination; further evidence of the increasingly important role that the interview is playing in the admissions process.

Even the interviews themselves are changing. Schools are asking a wider range of more challenging, and less concrete, questions, as a way of determining the potential and character of the interviewee. The questions are designed specifically to reveal those students who are naturally articulate, well-informed, and confident, rather than those who have been intensively prepared or coached.

In light of these developments, a much better use of the funds and time dedicated to tuition will be to make sure that tuition complements preparation for exams with more comprehensive skills development.

The best tutors, like the best classroom teachers, will already know how to inspire children to love learning. Ultimately, that is the quality that will serve the children best in the future.

To view Dr. Ray’s original comments to The Telegraph newspaper, please visit the link below.