Is too much tutoring child abuse?
Britain is currently having a love hate relationship with private tutoring. Parents, if they are honest, want to do it to get their kids into grammar and private schools but the schools themselves are not so keen. In a previous article published in 2013 we looked at schools trying to formulate a tutor proof entrance exam and the addictive nature of tutoring.
The latest backlash is from a surprising source; according to a head teacher’s leader sending pupils to private tutors for up to two hours after school is tantamount to “child abuse”.
Many pushy parents are making their children “miserable” by subjecting them to academic coaching in the evening, said Gail Larkin, president of the U.K. based National Association of Head Teachers. She said large numbers of parents succumbed to the pressure of the “playground parliament” – groups of ambitious mothers congregating outside school – by giving children as young as five unnecessary extra tuition.
Mrs Larkin leveled particular criticism towards Explore Learning – the tutoring company that has opened branches in shopping centers, high streets and supermarkets. The development had normalized after school tutoring and weekend tuition, making it more socially-acceptable for parents, she said.
The number of children being sent to private tutors in the United Kingdom has reached a record high as pressure on them to get good results grows according to research, but it was claimed that most children would get more benefit from everyday activities such as swimming, Scouts, football, ballet classes or simply being given time to play in the park.
The comments will reignite the debate over the private tutoring industry, which has boomed in popularity over the last decade. One study last year suggested a quarter of parents now paid for tuition, up from 18 per cent just five years earlier, usually in preparation for school entrance exams.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mrs Larkin criticized parents who dropped their children into branches of Explore Learning in the evening or at the weekend while they shop. She described the process as “torture”, adding: “The parents think they are doing something really worthwhile; I think it is child abuse. “We went into Sainsbury’s the other afternoon… When we came out about 4 o’clock it was full up with kids; kids who had spent a day in school. Straight out of school, straight in there.”
But Bill Mills, the chief executive of Explore Learning, rejected the claims, insisting a university-led evaluation of the company had found its tuition was “beneficial to both boys and girls of all abilities”, with improvements in their confidence levels.
“Explore succeeds best when it not only helps children directly but also helps them to thrive at school,” he said. “It is not just, or even mainly, academic progress that matters most, but also the personal development of children, including gains in confidence, enthusiasm for learning and self-esteem.
“Pressure plays no part in what we do. Children generally see themselves as coming to a club and the motivation for joining comes from them as much as it does from their parents.”
In the New Year, the NAHT will issue the latest in a series of advice leaflets to parents about how they can support their children outside school.
Seven have already been published in a joint project with the charity Family Action covering subjects such as online safety. The three new publications will focus on the importance of praise and reward, improving children’s self-worth and another on special educational needs.
Mrs Larkin, a former Surrey primary head, who now acts as an adviser to other school leaders, said tutoring was being fueled by a sense of one-upmanship among competitive parents.
“The pressure comes from each other; the ‘playground parliament’ I call it,” she said. “Parents think they have to do it because all of the others are doing it.” She added: “These parents used to come to me at school and say, ‘do you think I’m a bad parent? Do you think I ought to get a tutor?’ I used to say, ‘no, if your child works hard at school and you help them with the homework we give, you are doing a good job’.”
In some parts of the south-east, the industry is driven by the presence of grammar schools, she said, with “children as young as five being tutored after a day’s schooling” in preparation for entrance exams.
But Mrs Larkin insisted the development was making many children miserable and damaging levels of “self-worth”.
“I have had children in tears because it is the day that they go to their tutor and they don’t want to go,” she said.
She added: “Putting your child in there for two or three hours after school… I think, ‘you poor thing’.
“Wouldn’t they be better off in the park playing after a day in school, or having swimming lessons or going to Brownies, Beavers or Cubs? I’m not saying the parents have got to be with them 24/7 but wouldn’t they be better having a swimming lesson?
“They should be going and having piano lessons, or music, or singing in a choir. I used to say to parents, ‘just go for a walk in the woods’. I think children are under so much pressure these days.”
She insisted parents should play a larger part in educating their children in the home, even if they lead busy lives.
“I think it is part of parenting to help children with their homework, even if you’re not very able yourself,” she said. “It is part of your role and we are too busy absolving parents of their responsibilities instead of supporting them. As the National Association of Head Teachers, I think our role is to support the parents in bringing up their children in all aspects of their childhood.”
Where I live in Florida the tutoring companies are in the strip malls, especially if the strip mall is close to a school and the kids can walk there after school however I think that it’s only a matter of time before after school tutoring centers pop up in Target and shopping malls in America. It makes sound business sense to position yourself near the parents and near the parents’ money! I don’t envisage this backlash against tutoring crossing the Atlantic, not with the crisis of confidence with public education in the U.S.A.
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