Children as young as three are being put under strain because the private schools market is so competitive that parents feel they have no option but to hire tutors, experts have warned. Keystone has warned that parents should approach tutoring for younger children with caution.
“In many cases tutoring is done by graduates who may have excellent academic credentials but no experience of working with very young children. There is an assumption that the younger the children are the easier they are to teach but the reverse is actually the case. If a child’s earliest experience of education is unpleasant, stressful and deeply frustrating the consequences can be very damaging,” Keystone Director Will Orr-Ewing stated.
“The question we often get asked is: ‘How young can they start?’” said Mr Orr-Ewing, “which reflects huge parental anxiety about competition for places at leading schools in the early years. The question should be ‘when is it appropriate to hire a tutor?’
“Three or four is too young an age for a child to be tutored. The youngest appropriate age we advise is seven, and then only once a week and by tutors who are experienced primary specialists.”
Mr Orr-Ewing’s fears were echoed by Lucie Moore, headmistress of Cameron House School: “We would certainly not encourage or endorse families tutoring or feeling the need to prepare their very young children for reception entrance assessments. Our process is very gentle and relaxed and there would be no benefit or need for preparation by parents.”
And Anke Gosch, who runs the website London PrePrep, said: “Many parents reason that if you're going to spend hundreds of thousands on a private school, you might as well spend a little more and make sure you get into the best one.
“The main problem is that some parents think they can outsource early learning with their child to a tutor in a weekly one hour session, rather than using all the time they have with their child, which is far more valuable.”
Some schools recognise the strain very young children can be subjected to and try to tackle the problem by introducing non-verbal reasoning tests, which in theory do not require preparation, or by taking applicants on a first-come first-serve basis without any testing. Cameron House School, for instance, says it has no expectation or requirements of what children can do. “We do not ‘test’ them,” said Ms Moore. “We play games, sing a song and read them a story and it is more like a ‘play date’.”
But other pre-preps have competitive entrance examinations, and parents often feel they have no option but to engage a tutor to help their children cope.
Massive over-tutoring is never the answer, said Mr Orr-Ewing. “There is a mistaken belief among some parents that more tutoring will equal better results, but that’s not how learning works.
“Unfortunately, some tutors put money ahead of a responsible and balanced approach and won’t say no to extra work, however inappropriate it is for the child. At Keystone we regularly recommend a balanced approach and for children who are too young we are happy to turn them away entirely.”
Mr Orr-Ewing also warned that the potential benefits of tutoring would be significantly undermined if parents had a poor understanding of what tutors should and shouldn’t do.
“Tutoring shouldn’t be seen as outsourced parenting. It’s not a good idea for parents to subcontract all educational interactions out to a tutor. I know of households where the tutor gets minimal interaction with the parents or is entirely dealt with by the PA. That never ends well. Parents have to be involved in their children’s education.
“They should read to their children or help them with their times tables. The best results are achieved when parents are in a visible alliance with the tutor and the child knows it.”
Keystone’s top seven tips for parents
- Don’t give into peer pressure. Overburdening your child with endless tutoring sessions won’t help your child get a place at top schools but it will guarantee that they are miserable.
- Never hire a tutor for a very young child. Seven is the minimum age.
- If you think your child needs a tutor, choose a reputable one who is age appropriate and has training and experience at your child’s level. A good start is the Tutoring Association, whose members have committed to a sensible code of practice.
- Tutoring should be a targeted adjunct to school not an alternative to it. Use it for a specific goal for a limited period of time and no more frequently than two to three times a week.
- If you do engage a tutor, ask for regular reports on a child’s progress.
- Don’t get a tutor to do your child’s homework. It’s supposed to allow a teacher to assess a child. It doesn’t matter if it comes back covered in red ink because they learn through mistakes.
- Don’t use tutoring as parental outsourcing. Be involved in your children’s education. Read to them, help them practise their times tables and model an enthusiasm for the subjects that enthuse you.