What Is a Tutor Really For?

October 20, 2016 by Minerva Tutors,

In a Times2 article this week, ‘Super-tutor’ Mark Maclaine blew the lid on the best and worst of the tutoring industry, from an eight year old boy with 15 different tutors to an academic breakthrough with a teenage girl struggling at school after her mother’s death.

The sheer breadth of experiences Maclaine offered in his many years as a tutor (totalling 20,000 hours of tutoring, he claims) – whether he was tutoring the children of royalty, whisked away on a private jet at a few hours notice, or helping 6,000 economically disadvantaged students get free tuition through his company, Tutorfair – raises the question:

what is a tutor for?

To many reading this, the answer might seem obvious: my child is struggling in a certain subject, and needs a bit of extra help getting up to the required standard. But even this raises a whole load of new questions.

What is the required standard? Who requires it? Is the child struggling with confidence and motivation, or the technical requirements of a subject? Are they actually struggling, or just not quite as good as the very best students in that subject? If it’s in a few subjects, is there something greater underlying these struggles? Has the child asked for a tutor? Have you, as a parent, suggested it? Is it a failing of the school, the student, the parents, none of the above, or all three?

This might seem like over-complicating a simple issue, but it’s quite the opposite. Tutoring, now a £2 billion industry in the UK, is about far more than ‘a bit of extra help’ in any given subject. In our experience, tutoring can help address:

  • confidence issues
  • personal problems
  • learning difficulties
  • the failings or inadequacies of teachers
  • the issue of having absent parents
  • the disruption caused by a difficult home/family life

One thing Maclaine is very clear about is that “tutoring for the sake of tutoring is not helpful…just because that’s what everyone else does.”

According to educational charity the Sutton Trust, tutoring is on the increase at every level:

  • nearly half of all school children in London aged 11-16 have had at least one tutor
  • 42% (over 150,000) of state-educated students age 11-16 in London have had tutoring at some point
  • 25% of state-educated students living outside London have also received tutoring
  • Private school students are twice as likely to have had a tutor as state school students, but tutoring exists everywhere and is something parents are increasingly willing to invest in
  • 43% of state-school teachers have tutored outside their main job at some point
  • Over the last 10 years, the proportion of 11-16 year olds who have ever received private tuition has risen from 18% to 25%

We have noticed that tutoring is no longer something that parents are bashful or secretive about, nor something that schools discourage or see as a threat to how they operate. But, other than the obvious scramble for places at good schools, these figures do not tell us why one-on-one tuition has become so popular.

Outside exam results, the benefits of tutoring – like building up a child’s confidence and motivation – can help them succeed beyond the classroom, and better prepare them for life outside it. Unsurprisingly, with students feeling happier and more confident, this tends to lead to a significant improvement in the classroom too.

Indeed, some parents have recognised this, and request a mentor rather than a tutor. We have begun catering to this demand through the Minerva mentoring programme, which is designed to help children who may struggle more socially than academically learn how to interact better with other people and the world around them. An extracurricular tutor, if you will.

And we believe that such a person can have as much positive impact on a child’s development as an academic tutor. For this reason, we encourage our tutors to motivate and inspire their pupils, and nudge them towards becoming more well-rounded individuals, as opposed to merely coaching them for exams.

A tutor can be part-friend part-teacher, and while this may seem strange, it is also exactly the dynamic that some children benefit from the most. Someone who is neither parent nor teacher who is willing to listen to them, connect with them and dedicate time one-on-one to address a problem that may otherwise seem insurmountable. This is especially important if a child is shy and struggles to speak up in a classroom when they don’t understand something, has been made to feel they can’t do a particular subject, or worse, told that they’re just ‘stupid.’

So what is a tutor really for? It’s hard to say, exactly. Indeed, a lot of people – tutors, parents and students included – may not know what they needed a tutor for until a few sessions in, and it may end up being something different to what was first assumed:

  • An issue of a student’s ability may turn out to have far more to do with confidence
  • A bright student who is struggling could be dealing with a previously undiagnosed learning difficulty that has been missed in school
  • A child may not have been being taught with a style/method that best suits them and how they learn
  • Crucially, tutors are there to help
  • They are there to solve – and sometimes even diagnose – problems that may not be so easily
  • addressed by parents or school teachers
  • They can add another dimension to a child’s education, one that ultimately goes far beyond improved results in the classroom (or even beyond helping them get into a great school)

We believe tutoring shouldn’t be a permanent fix: the aim of having a tutor should be to get to the stage where you no longer need a tutor.

And we believe that tutoring should have a positive effect, such that when it comes to an end, the student still wants a tutor – but no longer needs one.

Stats courtesy of the report from the Sutton Trust

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