The Economist : The Booming Business Of Home Tutoring
Friday, September 18, 2009
…..No one knows how many people work as home tutors: the business is unregulated and many work for cash in hand. But more youngsters are getting education on the side than before. A recent survey by the Sutton Trust, an education charity, found that 22% of parents with 11-16-year-olds in state schools had paid for tutoring at some point. Four years ago, 18% had. Tutoring also starts earlier now than it used to. The standardised tests pupils take at age seven mean that parents whose children are falling behind find out earlier than previously—and today’s cash-rich, time-poor working mothers may well decide their only option is to pay for the homework help their own mothers would have seen as part of their job description. Even parents who already pay for schooling no longer seem to think that tutoring is unnecessary: Charles Bonas, the managing director of a London-based tutoring agency, Bonas MacFarlane, says most of its clients are privately educated…..Underlying this demand is increasing competition to get into the most prestigious universities. Even in the era of university top-up fees it is the taxpayer, not the student, who pays most of the cost of a degree. To limit its liability the government caps student numbers. But school-leaving cohorts have been getting bigger for some years now, and a larger share of school-leavers are going on to further study. The battle for places is particularly acute this autumn because of the shortage of entry-level jobs.
Counter-intuitively, perhaps, rampant grade inflation is adding to the competitive pressure. Students cannot rest on their laurels in the firm expectation of a sheaf of A-grades but take even more care to get them. An eighth of all those taking A-levels now get at least three As. So universities also look at GCSE results when deciding whom to admit—and approach admissions as an exercise in finding reasons to say no. A youngster who slacks or slips up will quickly find that there is no way to redeem himself. So many parents, including those paying for private schools, see home tutoring as a near-compulsory insurance policy. One side-effect is a generation of young people who think that making sure they learn is someone else’s job entirely. “Lazy rich kids who had been mucking around, and coming up to exam time realised they needed help”, is how one tutor describes his pupils. “A lot of it is just checking to see they are doing what they’ve been assigned,” says another. She describes the role of a tutor as “somewhere between hand-holding and prison-guarding”. Another, equally undesirable, is that the league tables of exam results that are used to compare schools are worth a good deal less than meets the eye. A good showing proves little more than that a school is patronised by parents who will do whatever it takes to get good results for their children, not that it does much in the way of quality teaching itself.