Post-Lockdown Education

After six months of widespread disruption to students’ education, private tutoring is more popular now than ever. Since 2009, Simply Learning Tuition has been at the forefront of this shift towards a more personalised education, but we understand that some parents might be put off by the costs. In this article English teacher, private tutor and journalist, Kristina Murkett, explores the proven benefits of post-lockdown tutoring, as well as how it may be more financially feasible than many people realise.

A brave new world

The price of lockdown on education has been costly. A report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that around 2 million children in the UK did little or no schoolwork between April and June. A third of pupils surveyed said they were not engaged with their lessons, fewer than half (42%) bothered to return their work, whilst 40% said they were not in regular contact with their teachers.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said, “When it comes to schooling, COVID-19 has done huge damage, at speed, to our children’s prospects, putting their futures in danger. Many pupils have fallen significantly behind in their learning.”

The future looks equally uncertain. Hundreds of schools have closed already due to positive coronavirus cases (the Department for Education recently announced that only 84% of secondary schools are fully open), and this will inevitably have an adverse effect on exam classes in year 11 and year 13.

It’s easy to focus on statistics and forget about the individual impacts on students. As Professor Sally Power of Cardiff University said, “We tend to talk about facts and figures, but we are talking about people’s futures here, and I think that we should be extremely worried.”

One of the ways in which parents have tried to kick-start curriculum catch up is through private tutoring. Private tutoring has become a hugely sought-after service over the last five years: according to The Telegraph, there are now over 500 tutoring agencies in the UK; parents spend over £6 billion yearly on tuition; 72% of children have used a private tutor for common entrance exams; whilst 43% of students in London have a regular private tutor.

Given the skyrocketing demand there must be a secret behind its success, but is private tutoring really worth it?

Finding a love for learning

There are clearly many benefits to private tutors: they can offer self-paced and self-directed learning in a distraction-free space away from the pressures and expectations of crowded classrooms. Tutors can work with students and their families to provide a bespoke, customised service that suits the pupil’s abilities, needs and interests. It is this personal approach that makes tutoring so effective.

In July Simply Learning Tuition was featured in an article in Vanity Fair that investigated the benefits of tutoring, and concluded that “education is just one more system that can be tinkered with, tailored and fully optimized.” Our education system’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach has its limitations, and “perhaps the traditional curriculum is no longer relevant in a rapidly changing world.”

‘Optimized’ is the key word here: some parents may want a replacement for traditional education, but most want to simply enhance the learning that is already taking place, or minimise disruption in case of local lockdowns.

Parents’ priorities are also deeply personal. Some may want an expert to help their child fine-tune revision and exam technique; some may want a mentor to help build up their child’s confidence; some may want a planner who can help their child balance work with intensive extra-curricular commitments; or some may want a teacher who can challenge their child in a way they are not being at school. A tutor can wear many hats, and should.

Parents are also no longer looking for a tutor based on academic credentials alone; if a tutor is going to imbue ‘soft skills’ such as creativity, resilience, integrity and drive, then they need to have all of those things too. Subject knowledge is still important, but so too is empathy, passion, and being able to instil a love of learning in an increasingly competitive world of exam pressures and league tables.

One client who hired a Maths tutor for her son said that the best thing about tutoring was that “Sebastian now comes out of his Maths sessions with a smile on his face, which I’m not used to seeing. Matthew [the tutor] has found exactly what works to keep Sebastian engaged and we like how Matthew uses practical and fun examples to keep Sebastian focused.” In her eyes, his enthusiasm for his subject was more of an achievement than his grades.

Sometimes tutors are needed because a student simply has untapped potential that isn’t being fulfilled at school.  Tosca , 23, was always an academic high-achiever but became disillusioned when doing her A-levels and ended up narrowly missing out on her Oxford offer. She worked with a private tutor we introduced, re-sat her exams, and went on to graduate in Human Sciences from Oxford with a first class degree. When reflecting on her experiences she said that tutoring gave her tenacity more than anything else; the ability was always there, but her tutor helped her to keep sight of her original ambitions and aspirations.

It is easy for students to get locked into a negative mind-set, where they believe they are inherently ‘bad’ at something, don’t try, and so the vicious circle continues.  However, with a little interactivity, ingenuity and imagination, tutors can help to break these assumptions. As Nathaniel McCullagh, Director of Simply Learning Tuition, said in an interview with The Guardian, “Individual tuition can rebuild the child’s self-esteem and restore their will to try again.”

 An investment in the future

Many parents may understand and appreciate the benefits of tuition but argue that the costs are prohibitive. Whilst it is no doubt an investment, it may be within more parents’ reach than they realise; tutoring is no longer something reserved solely for the wealthy, jet-setting elite (in fact, up to 30% of our clients attend state schools).

The cost of private education is upwards of £20,000 a year per child; the cost of having a private tutor for a couple of hours a week is roughly £5,000 a year per child. For a quarter of the price of school fees, parents can have a significant impact on their child’s wellbeing, academic progress, participation in class and stress levels. When put in perspective, this seems like a relatively minor investment.

There are also more options than ever before. Technological improvements have made online tutoring not only feasible, but actually favoured by many students. For example, it has removed the obstacle of physical proximity for students at boarding schools or those who live in more remote areas, and it has widened the pool of available tutors and therefore made it more likely parents can find an excellent match for their child.

Lots of tutoring agencies do pro bono work, or offer cheaper, online group classes, normally with a maximum of five students. These are particularly suited for younger students who might be preparing for entrance examinations or simply want help revising the core topics in English and Maths. At SLT, these classes normally cost around £300 for 9 lessons, and so can offer a cost-effective alternative that is still collaborative, engaging and interactive, whilst also giving personalised feedback.

Flexibility is key too. Whilst long-term, sustained support is inevitably more effective than last minute cramming, tutoring does not need to be unnecessarily intense. It can be very tempting for parents to request a quick-fix solution, especially given the increased number of students re-sitting exams in November. However, when it comes to choosing the number of tutoring hours quality is more important than quantity; a few strategically placed hours, say over exeats, holidays, or weekday evenings, can have a compounded benefit even in the short term. Academic breakthroughs do not need to break the bank.

Looking ahead

A holistic approach is needed now more than ever. As a direct result of school closures, learning loss and mental health problems are on the increase. There is no doubt that tutoring can help to provide continuity and consistency in an uncertain time. The fact that the government announced in June that it would supply £350 million towards the National Tutoring Project  proves that tutoring is seen as a reliable, effective and timely solution for our current situation. SLT has applied to help provide this tuition, but we are pleased to be helping more directly as part of Tutor The Nation, a new charity that introduces university undergraduates to provide free tuition for disadvantaged students. So far, over 20,000 hours have been delivered.

In 2018 The Economist cited a large-group study, which found that small group tuition by university students helped pupils to advance by three months – the length of school-time missed in lockdown. Their research suggested that there were three key factors to successful tutoring: consistent practice and feedback; a focus on the process of learning, rather than merely the acquisition of knowledge; and a tutor who knows their pupil well.

This is why it is so important to be proactive rather than reactive in finding a tutor. As tutoring is a hybrid of teaching, coaching and mentoring, it can take time to build up a mutual rapport. The sooner a relationship between a student and a tutor is established, the sooner a tutor can start to create a recovery plan of small, manageable targets, whether that be a change in routines, improving attendance or participation in school, or focusing on wellbeing.

In a time of such unprecedented upheaval, private tutors can offer a supportive, reassuring and personalised service. This is reflected in Simply Learning Tuition’s mission: our passion, professionalism and expertise means we know how education is not just about academic success, but also happiness and confidence. We understand that time and money are precious, but we believe that tutoring, when applied appropriately is an investment that will reap huge dividends.

This article was first published in the ‘Education Focus’ feature in The Polo Times October Issue.