Walter Kerr, director of Oppidan Education, argues that tutoring should be about so much more than securing A*s and school places.
Tutoring is certainly subject to its fair share of misconceptions. In the most narrow of definitions, the tutoring market sees academic support as target-based, prescriptive teaching with utilitarian goals and short-term rewards. This is exemplified by the parent who employs the help of a tutor to bolster their child’s chances of passing an exam or assessment. For many, the proof is in the pudding. Testimonials for tutors often read, ‘let’s wait before we give our verdict’.
To judge one-on-one support in this way is fundamentally limiting. Tutors may indirectly improve a child’s chances to succeed in exams but rarely are they wholly responsible for the attainment of better grades. Schools and teachers are already doing a brilliant job in providing the support children require. They therefore neither need, nor seek to endorse, the extra support tutoring brings. Their remarks about the industry are scathing at best.
Role of the tutor
If academic tuition is here to stay, and the rising number of tutoring companies would suggest so, what can it offer away from the ‘promise’ of better grades? Better put, can teaching outside the classroom, in whatever form we ascribe it, work harmoniously alongside schools to provide direction and stability for a child?
Contrary to popular belief, spoon-feeding a child the material to pass an exam is not the most important benefit of a tutor. The most productive step a tutor can take is to help children invest their energy in the process of learning. What excellent mentoring does is illicit in a child the foresight to see what his or her education can bring. It should foster confidence in children and should give them the conviction to succeed on their own. In this way, they return to school with renewed enthusiasm for their subjects and a sense of perspective that will help them reap the rewards their education is offering.
I asked five of Oppidan’s mentors which skills they thought important to teach their children, away from the restrictions of the syllabus:
1. Overcoming perfectionism
‘Children should try and distance themselves from what other people think. They should trust that all they need to do and worry about is doing their best. It is vital for children to know early on that mistakes are not only “ok” but also essential for their development.’
2. Building self-worth
‘Tutors often focus on the importance of confidence, particularly in interviews for pre-tests. This is a mistake; instead, tutors should help guide children to feel comfortable within their own talents and their own successes commensurate with their ability. Self-esteem is vital, not least, in presenting in front of one’s own peers.’
3. Being adaptable
‘The values on which we judge employability are in a state of perpetual change and children must be given the tools to adapt to these shifting expectations.’
4. Enjoying education
‘Children should aspire towards a humble curiosity in a wide array of subjects in order to value their education for the sake of education, not because “it is in the test”.’
5. Valuing empathy and cooperation
‘In our radically changing modern context, the ability to empathise with fellow students will be a defining factor in a child’s long-term success or failure. Tutors should help students learn to work as a team and to trust the abilities of others.’
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