Is Tutoring the new Botox?

By Ian Hunt, MD Gabbitas Education

With former tutors including famous names such as H G Wells, Graeme Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Edward Elgar, Gabbitas is the oldest tutoring institution in the world. We have a rich and respected history in the world of tutoring and our clients have included British and European royalty as well as many, many families across the whole social spectrum.

So you might be surprised to hear me compare tutoring to Botox; a fashionable cosmetic treatment originally developed to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. What are their similarities? Well, despite a poor press, both tutoring and Botox can have a beneficial effect if used for their fit and proper purpose. But used ill-advisedly with a ‘one size fits all’ attitude, or as a ‘quick fix’ in the hands of someone inexperienced or unqualified, both could have a negative impact. Papering over the cracks merely acts as a masking agent for deeper and more serious issues, and although the temptation to find short-term solutions is an understandable one the outcomes can have a more detrimental long-term effect.

For example, where a child that is naturally struggling to keep up in year 6 is being tutored for a grammar school entrance examination, it may well be that a series of sessions with a top tutor will result in an increased chance of success. Unfortunately, having gained entry to the highly intellectual environment of the new school, all too often the child becomes unhappy scraping along at the bottom of the extremely competitive academic barrel. Self-esteem issues, a lack of self-confidence and a sense of inadequacy can all emerge in an environment that is often not best suited for their particular needs. However, if they were to attend a different school and take on a tutor to help with the clarification of specific topics within subjects, then the benefit of tutoring could be enormous. Add this to a genuine dialogue with the school about where the gaps are in a pupil’s understanding, and you have a powerful and hugely positive combination.

The concept of tiger parenting is often attributed to the Chinese mother. However, it doesn’t take much to identify exactly the same traits in the London middle class parent. A combined sense of paranoia at not keeping up with their peers coupled with a fear of not doing the best by their children creates a ludicrous scramble for unnecessary tutoring amongst this group.

I often travel through China lecturing on the benefits of the British education system. It is an irony not lost on me that at a time when Chinese parents are rightly examining their own education system and philosophy and concluding that it puts too much pressure on their young learners, our own British parents are often seen hurtling in the opposite direction; scrambling for more and more tutoring after school and at weekends. And the unfortunate outcome in many cases? A bloated distortion of their child’s ability rather than a genuine improvement in areas most needed.

So when is tutoring genuinely required and most appropriately applicable? There is no doubt that some children struggle with specific concepts in certain subjects. Tutoring can genuinely help here. Sometimes hard-pressed teachers don’t have the time or resources to ensure that every child is on the same page academically. Equally, it can be used as a confidence aid in certain subjects to check understanding and develop a sense of self-belief. In languages, for example, regular oral discussions in a foreign language with a tutor can develop a much stronger sense of the grammar and context.

Once you have identified a genuine need for tutoring, the best piece of advice I can give is to find a highly qualified, well-respected and appropriate tutor. Ask for references. Ensure they have experience in the specific subjects and level you require. Then discuss this with their school. It shouldn’t be an uncomfortable discussion and there should be no sense of blame placed by either party for a lack of progress; more a desire to see how things may be improved. A dialogue between their subject teacher and tutor so often yields excellent outcomes for your child.

So always ask the question ‘why does your child need tutoring?’ before you inject your hard-earned money into this increasingly popular service. You will then be able to look at yourself and your child in the mirror and be proud of the results!

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