Paying for extra tuition to get your child into the best secondary school or university – or to improve their school grades – is a tricky one for me. I say this as someone who has reached the position very slowly over recent years, that the only way to make education fair for everyone in this country is to abolish all private schools (this is despite my love and admiration for my many privately educated friends – and husband). This way everyone would simply go to their local school and all the money and middle-class pushiness would be fairly distributed to make all schools the best they can be. Not a commonly held position in the salons of Notting Hill I suspect. And perhaps a subject for another day because this post is about tuition. But you see the similarity – does it create a fair level playing field if some children are tutored and others are not? Those with the money will do better – whether they are the brightest or not. Some then get the advantage of going to a “better” school – others will get better grades , and so better jobs or places at better universities. They will earn more money and so on and so forth.
The conundrum of course for all “pinko” parents (my nickname from my very own public school boy husband) is whether to allow their personal principles to affect their children’s lives and particularly their education. It’s one that has wrong-footed many a Labour politician – but thankfully I am a mere journalist, so will not be held to the same scrutiny by anyone but myself.
The thing is – and yes I do feel I need an excuse – my daughter has hearing problems – and as a result has got a little behind in maths. I admit it would not be her natural subject anyway (it’s certainly not mine) but because of this I have been asking friends about good local tutors for more than a year. Then a few months ago, I was approached by Tutorfair who wanted to talk to me about a very different approach to tutoring.
I would not normally go via an agency – why pay a fee on top of what could already be £30 to £60 an hour? But with my pinko tendencies, I was immediately hooked by Tutorfair’s USP : for every student who pays – a child who can’t gets free tutoring.
Yes, really. What a great idea. It’s the underlying principle of the agency and the scheme works through Tutorfair’s partnership with inner city schools. The class teachers pick out the students and the tutors from Tutorfair go in and give these pupils one to one teaching – for nothing.
It’s clear that all students benefit from one on one teaching – but this is about helping children who are struggling with a subject or school generally. It’s about helping them learn, making their normal work seem easier and more managable and perhaps preventing them being turned off school all together. Because I think sometimes, when children say ‘this is boring,’ they really mean, ‘it’s too hard and I can’t get my head round it.’
So it’s a great principle- but doesn’t that mean it will cost more than a tutor from another agency? No, apparently not because the booking process is via their website so they say they can afford to take smaller commissions. OK then – but do they have the best tutors ? Well teachers and tutors are a caring lot and apparently the whole charity element attracts the most passionate and dedicated types who are hot on social responsibility. I have to say they have some impressive people on their books with a huge range of talents and experiences: from university students, who are still completing their degrees or masters, to former teachers, to those who have made professional tutoring a career and have decades of experience.
The website allows you to search by subject – science and languages as well as Maths and English – or for a particular purpose whether prep school entrance exams or A level tuition. Many of the tutors have a short video profile you can view to give you a better idea of what they’re like – though some of them do seem understandably self-conscious!
Tutorfair then offered me a free lesson and the pick of any tutor I wanted to put them to the test. I chose TomL : I liked his photo, he looked kind (yes, I know it’s not Plenty More Fish or Plenty of Fish or whatever) and I felt his educational background with a first in Maths from Oxford, along many other qualifications, would probably just about allow him to deal with Year 5 Maths and a slightly freaked out 10 year old! My only slight concern was that I still had to use their website to book – because it’s a key part of how they work. I’m naturally lazy about these things – odd for a blogger I know – and more used to shoving grubby notes in people’s hands at the end of a lesson – a bit more Steptoe and Son in approach. But in fact it was very straight-forward and saves you having to double park and run to a cash machine – not that I would ever do that obviously. So no worries there.
Tom himself was, or should I say, is, gentle calm and patient – exactly what my daughter needs – and is not remotely intellectually intimidating – though clearly ridiculously clever. In fact, we like him so much, he is now going to be Amelie’s permanent tutor. I did a quick check with her after the lesson – as the pupil/teacher dynamic is important as well as the tutor’s qualifications and experience – but I was already pretty sure he was just right for her and she agreed. And of course that means that another child somewhere will get a free lesson.