- Growth in the use of private tutoring frequently hits the headlines. The Sutton Trust estimates the annual value of the private tuition market in the United Kingdom to be worth between £1-2 billion per year. The Trust has also found that, over the last decade, the proportion of 11-16 year olds who have ever received private tuition in England and Wales has risen from 18% to 25%.1
- The growth in the private tuition market is being driven by pressures on schools and pupils to perform in exams and tests at different ages. It is particularly concerning that this appears to be affecting younger and younger children. In a 2015 report, academics found that 5% of seven years olds were having tutoring of some kind.2
- The private tuition market is also driven by selective entrance exams: polling conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of The Sutton Trust in 2016 found that between the ages of 11-16, nearly a fifth (18%) of those who had received tuition said that it was to help with an entrance exam.3
- There are concerns about how the use of private tuition might be to the advantage of wealthier pupils in general. The Sutton Trust, for example, maintains that “Students who receive private tuition disproportionately are those who are already advantaged and our past research has shown that about twice as many attend private schools as in the national population as a whole”.4
- The Sutton Trust has frequently advocated for the introduction of “means-tested voucher system, funded through the Pupil Premium, enabling lower income families to purchase additional educational support.” 5 This proposal is based on the assumption that private tuition itself is a significant reason for the differences of attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.
- However, the fact that wealthier pupils access more tuition, does not tell us that this is the reason for better performance in exams overall. There are many reasons why children from more advantaged backgrounds may perform better at school, but the particular impact of tuition is not yet known. A recent academic study concluded that “we do not know yet how effective private tuition is and how it might influence exam results.” 6
- In support of its proposal, The Sutton Trust cites an Education Endowment Foundation review of evidence on the effectiveness of one-to-one tuition.7 However, this review specifically looked at programmes delivered within schools. Furthermore, it emphasised that “tuition should be additional to, but explicitly linked with, normal teaching, and that teachers should monitor progress to ensure the tutoring is beneficial.” It also said that programmes “using experienced and specifically trained teachers” are twice as effective as “programmes involving teaching assistants or volunteers”.8
- A further issue is the types of tuition accessed by pupils from different backgrounds. The Sutton Trust’s latest research noted that “given high socio-economic status pupils are already doing well in their core academic subjects in school, they can spend their additional study time building supplementary skills which employers and universities look for.” 9 A recent study also found that 26% of children in households with an income above the poverty line had music lessons, compared with 4% of poor children.10
- These findings suggest further problems with assuming increasing access to private tuition for poorer pupils would help reduce the attainment gap.
- If subsidised tuition is focussed only on core subjects, disadvantaged pupils could miss out on the broad range of extra-curricular activities and opportunities for personal development that their wealthier peers enjoy. It is important that children from all backgrounds have access to a wide range of experiences and activities in and out of school.
- There is emerging evidence that other structured initiatives on the school site, such as after-school clubs, are an effective way to boost attainment among disadvantaged children and also “provide a framework within which pupils can experience opportunities outside of the curriculum that might otherwise be outside of their reach.” 11
- It is also clear that children are experiencing mental health problems because of pressure from exams and assessment; we need to consider the impact of further pressure, in the form of private tuition, on their mental health.
- Another reason to be concerned about the increase in private tuition is that providers of tuition remain largely unregulated. The NUT believes that money could be more effectively spent within schools, ensuring that pupils who require additional support are identified early and receive adequate support.
- The booming private tuition market is a symptom of the problem with an education system that is becoming too heavily focused on attainment in exams and tests and in a narrow range of so-called “core” subjects.
- Solutions to this problem lie in fundamental changes to the nature of the school accountability system and to the culture of testing, not in placing more emphasis on the need for private tuition.
1 Philip Kirby (September, 2016), Shadow schooling: Private tuition and social mobility in the UK, Sutton Trust, p. 2.
2 Liz Todd (October, 2015), ‘Growth of private tuition tells story of mounting pressure on parents’ The Conversation.
3 Shadow schooling, p. 19.
4 John Jerrim (September 2017), Extra Time: Private tuition and out-of-school study, new international evidence, Sutton Trust, p. 2.
5 Ibid, p. 5.
6 ‘Growth of private tuition tells story of mounting pressure on parents’
7 Extra Time, p. 6.
8 Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: ‘One to one tuition’.
9 Extra Time, p. 14.
10 Jenny Chanfreau et al. (2015) Unequal access to Out of School Activities, Natcen,p.4.
11 Emily Tanner et al. (2016), Can out of school activities close the education gap?, Nuffield Foundation.