Tutoring is a 6 billion dollar industry in Australia and it’s growing. Over the course of the past five years the formerly niche market has grown 40%. This is a trend throughout the developed world.
So what is driving a minimum of 19% of Australian households to employ a tutor? And what does it say about schools, parenting and the aspirational nature of society? Some of the reasons for the higher demand for tutors include:
- Parents feel poorly qualified to deal with the learning problems their children face.
- Changes to the curriculum mean that parents don’t recognise the content or processes employed in contemporary courses.
- Parents of students in schools that are not high performing are trying to help their children remain competitive.
- Academic selective high schools require a particularly high set of results in primary school as a prerequisite. Parents with high aspirations are often happy to pay the $60 to $90 per hour for a tutor.
- There are elite, high performing schools where tutoring has become more about keeping up rather than catching up. Parents consider the extra money on tutoring essential to survive in the thin air at the top of the league ladder.
- There is a lifestyle and parenting element to the industry. Many people see it as a way of avoiding the blow ups that happen between kids and their parents over homework.
All that said, tutors aren’t always the answer. They can be a complete waste of money. So before you employ a tutor, ask yourself these questions:
Have you had a conversation with the school first?
If your child is underperforming, ask the teacher to articulate exactly why and what the two of you can do about it together. Education is a partnership between parents and teachers. Just be aware that you might not like what you hear. There is a chance your child is underperforming because she is not pulling her weight or is simply taking longer to learn than other kids.
Have you explored your school’s offerings in terms of support?
Many schools offer extra help for students, particularly in the areas of numeracy and literacy. At Santa Maria College we have a ‘Study Buddies’ homework club for five sessions a week. It is staffed by teachers and older students and kids can get help with content, revision, information technology and organisation. We also have tuition ad mentoring programs for students in the senior years. Many schools have similar arrangements. There are also staff in schools, like Heads of Year and Homeroom Teachers who are able to help with organisation and self management. Utilise them before you start paying for external tutors.
Why is your child struggling?
Problems with school work may be indicative of other problems whether social, emotional or development. Make sure you can name the problem you are dealing with, otherwise dealing with it will be difficult. Children struggle at school for many reasons. They might have:
- Learning problems
- Poor organisational skills
- Missed vital concepts early on in their education
- Mental blocks around certain subjects
- A poor work ethic
- General health or mental health issues
How can a tutor help?
A tutor can help your child with organisational skills which may make a big difference to your child’s learning across the curriculum. In this case you only need a tutor in the short term. The same can be said for students who have missed vital skills earlier on in their education. Once those building blocks are in place they should be fine in the long term.
When a student has a mental block around a particular concept or subject, tutoring can be used to cause a shift. Take for example algebra in the mathematics course. If a tutor can help them achieve some success it will give them the confidence that this subject is not beyond their understanding. It will help them adopt a growth mindset.
There are very few instances where a tutor should be required long term. If a tutor is helping a child with their homework to the extent that continued good grades require the retention of that tutor, then that tutor is not very effective. As much as some kids like to pass on the responsibility of completing homework tasks, it is the student who should be doing the work, not the tutor.
When choosing a tutor make sure that they have knowledge of the sanctioned curriculum. They should also understand the sequence of foundation skills that will ensure that gaps in learning can be addressed. For this reason, you will probably get more value for money from a qualified teacher.
Are you being realistic in your expectations?
It is unfair to subject a child to ongoing tutoring to lift grades if they do not have the natural ability to sustain those grades. Be realistic in your expectations. Yes, every child can learn anything given enough time and instruction, but at what cost? These kids have seven hours of school a day doing things they are not very good at, and then you ask them to do more with a tutor when they get home. Not fair.
In senior school, some parents are so committed to the idea of their child attending university that they will forget about checking in with their child about what they want in life. Maybe there are other areas that time and money could be invested in. Remember, there is no point getting a child to university if they don’t have the inclination or ability to succeed there. Discuss all the different available options with your child. What will help her achieve those ambitions?
Are you sub-contracting your parenting?
Hmmm…awkward one, but it has to be asked. Is getting a tutor for your child a way of avoiding your obligations? Research tells us that a child will be much more successful at school if parents are interested and involved. That said, if you don’t have the skills to help it is a perfectly legitimate decision, so long as your child sees you communicating with the tutor and keeping a clear eye on what is happening. You can’t just hand over and walk away.
I think it is important to recognise that young children in particular may learn just as much by spending time with you as they would with a tutor. Making a cake and working out measurements, figuring out football statistics, talking about and analysing current affairs. This sort of ‘point of need’ teaching is very powerful. Kids remember skills that they learnt when they needed them, much more than when they learnt them doing exercises from a book.
The very best tutor is the one you don’t need anymore. The one who communicates clearly with you, understands your objectives and helps you to enable your child to cope at school confidently on their own. And sometimes, the best tutor is you.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here
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