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Why don't you...?

I have completed my one-to-one appointments with Year 5 parents to discuss future schools; it has been fascinating, and I love these meetings. 

Finding the right Senior School is not an exact science, and helping parents to shape their strategy is really rewarding. I bumped into a past Pilgrims’ parent at the Everyman cinema a couple of weeks back, and she thanked me for suggesting the Senior School that they chose for her son six years ago as he has had such a great time there; it was a very (overly?) generous things to say, but it meant a lot to me.

At these meetings, often the conversation turns to preparing for the Senior School entry process, and especially the ISEB.  Almost inevitably the thorny issue of tutoring comes up, and a number of parents have encouraged me to put down in black and white my views on this subject as it would be helpful to many parents.

Tutoring over a short period, working towards a specific goal, certainly has its place.  As a maths teacher, of course I helped both my daughters with a few targeted sessions in the run-up to their SATS; it would have been perverse not to have done so.  I know of boys who have needed a short-term boost with a specific problem, and a little one-to-one time can really pay dividends.

However, I am sceptical about the value or need for long term, regular tutoring.  Amongst others, this really is for three reasons:

  1. Firstly, I believe that you hit the law of diminishing returns pretty quickly (particularly when preparing for something like a non-verbal reasoning test).  Give me a child for one hour and I reckon it can make 10% difference; with the second hour it might make 5%; every hour after that and the return diminishes pretty quickly to nothing.
  2. Secondly, even if the tutoring is successful (which I doubt), the result is squeezing your son into a school for which they are probably ill-suited.  Setting a child up for five years of struggle is in no-one’s interest, least of all the child’s.
  3. Finally, think of all the other useful things that one could do with the time invested in tutoring sessions.

It is this last point that I really want to focus on.  Every hour spent with a tutor is an hour missed spent doing something else.  I have said to some of the parents in my recent meetings that I think all 11-year-olds should have been to, as a minimum:

  1. The Science Museum
  2. The Natural History Museum
  3. The British Museum
  4. The Royal Opera House
  5. The Southbank for a concert or a play

I am sure that others could come up with many more things for this list.  And there are tonnes of horizon-widening activities to do besides; taking up a hobby (a sports team, some rock climbing, collecting knick-knacks) shows interest and commitment.  Even if it is just reading a good book or going out for a long walk in the country, I would argue that it is more valuable than regular tutoring.

I have written previously about the value of ‘Cultural Capital’ (read here), and that is something that one needs to invest in; it takes time.  Apart from anything else, Senior School interviewers are all looking for this sort of thing.  This time of year I am often talking to Senior School registrars about results, and their feedback about how engaging boys are in interviews or group tasks is enlightening, and it is often very important to their success.

Of course, this has value way beyond Senior School entry.  Developing an interest in the world around them is one of the key skills that young people need to develop if they are going to thrive in later life.  There was a famous BBC TV series when I was a young called "Why don’t you…?” which had a catchphrase: “Why don’t you just turn off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?”

If you are tempted to get a tutor for your son, I would simply say, “Why don’t you….?”

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