You need only to glance at the shelves of a bookshop, or to skim the surface of Google, to be inundated with exam resources. As you battle your way through AQA textbooks, KS2 worksheets and ISEB syllabi, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s not just your child who is being tested. Figuring out the acronyms is an exam in itself.
Educational material is abundant and widely available to parents. This raises the question of whether private tuition is really necessary any more. Is it worth expense? Is it worth the time and effort involved in finding someone who can enthuse your child and help them to succeed?
Private tutors have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They can tell their OCRs from their Edexels. They know 11+ examinations back-to-front, and can navigate through the maze of admissions criteria. Not all schools ask for the same thing. Entrance exams for state selective and grammar schools are often different to the tests designed by the independent sector. What is more, you can not even be sure that Westminster, London will ask the same sort of questions as St Paul’s Girls’ School, London.
Many state schools — and even some private schools — fail to adequately prepare students for what to expect. A private tutor in English, maths or other curriculum subject can give children the guidance they need and save parents the arduous and difficult task of resource-hunting.
Tutors also know where pupils commonly slip up. Take an 11+ Maths exam, for example. ‘If April 4th was a Thursday, on what day was March 17th?’ ‘What two numbers sum to 30 and have a difference of 6?’ ‘Given that 24 76 x 165 = 408540 find 408540 ÷ 16.5’. These types of question are notorious among tutors, who have seen many a student — and the odd parent — flummoxed by date and number problems.
Private tuition in maths, English, or reasoning for example, is not purely goal-orientated, however. Children should not be turned into exam-taking machines, churning out non-verbal reasoning tests with robotic efficiency. There is only so many shape sequences you can stare at before losing the will to live, let alone to learn.
Instead, tutors can transform a student’s approach to studying. They can restore confidence when anxiety sets in. They can compensate for poor teaching at school. Perhaps most importantly, they can mentor and inspire their pupils, instilling a love of their subject in those that they tutor.
Given the valuable impact of private tuition, you may be wondering when is the best time to hire a tutor. A lot depends on the stage that your child is at. The 11+ English, Maths and Reasoning examination requires students to have learnt all of the skills included in Key Stage 2. This is important as the exams are scheduled either during the autumn term or in the January of Year 6. As a result, pupils will only have officially completed half of the Year 6 curriculum before they sit the tests.
If you leave 11+ preparation until the start of Year 6 you do not give yourself a lot of time. Panic and stress — on your part or that of your child — is not conducive to thinking. At Hampstead and Frognal Tutors, we recommend that students start to prepare in either Year 4 or Year 5 focusing on English tuition and maths tuition to build solid foundations in number, comprehension and story writing. This does not mean that they should be grappling with verbal reasoning over breakfast or with Venn diagrams before bed from the age of eight. However, regular study sessions can make a huge difference to a child’s ability and confidence.
If the 11+ is looming, however, don’t panic! We recommend that a child who is due to start Year 6 this September should have, on average, three hours of focussed tuition per week. This should compensate for the short time span and equip your child with the skills that they need to achieve their potential.
Preparing for GCSEs and A Levels is slightly different. It is essential for teenagers to build up a rapport with their tutor and to feel supported over the course of their studies. It is often beneficial, therefore, for teenagers to be tutored regularly throughout Year 11, 12 or 13.
Regardless of what year your child is in, however, now is the perfect time to get started. The summer holidays bring free time and long days, along with the inevitable cry of ‘I’m bored!’. The lengthy break can also lead to the phenomena known as the ‘summer slide’. Various studies have concluded that literacy declines over the summer, as children replace books with beaches, computer games and iPhones.
Tuition is not the sole way to beat the summer slump. Reading is also a great way to keep things ticking over. For younger children, initiatives like the Summer Reading Challenge (https://summerreadingchallenge.org.uk) showcase the joy of books and are ideal for improving literacy. For teenagers, summer is a good time to read around different subjects in preparation for the coming academic year. A good tutor would be able to draw up reading lists designed to point students in new, exciting directions.
The next time you are grappling with the differences between KS2 and KS3, whilst decoding the meanings of STEP and IB, pause for a moment. As you scan the bookshelves and plunge into the depths of Google, consider whether your energy could be better spent elsewhere. The time may have come to hire a tutor.