Should I really be employing a tutor to secure a place for my son at a good school on the advice of his headteacher?

Libby Lawson's picture
I attended an information session for parents of year 5 and 4 pupils to prepare for the transition to secondary school. There the headteacher talked of the importance of being able to walk to secondary school but then went on to say that her experience shows that those who secure a place in a good local school or a grammar are children who have been tutored from year 4.
If this is an accepted school line how was it news to all those who attended?
I am curious to know what others think about this.
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Sarah's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 00:38

Personally I felt that it was more important for my kids to be able to walk to school, be involved in extra curricular activity and have friends in their locality than finding a school which was at the top of the tables. I've never regretted that decision. My kids attended a school which was about average in terms of results but had a great support network for them - and they've both gone on to do exceptionally well at GCSE and A level. Both are now at University and come home regularly to see the friends they made here. If your kids are bright and they have good home support they will do well. Make life easier for yourself and for them and send them to their local school.

Libby Lawson's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 01:13

I absolutely agree with you Sarah and actually I'm planning on doing just that. In fact my daughter began secondary school in September (gaining a place without the need of a tutor) and because of a recently reinstated sibling policy I'll more likely actually have a greater choice locally.
I guess I'm just very disappointed that the head of our primary seems to have so little faith in the ability and the potential of her pupils and was not it seems able to be more reassuring in terms of the thoroughness of the education pupils are getting and in their preparedness for whatever eventuality and for not basically saying what you have said. When parents are not convinced that their child has had the best of opportunities at primary and the head essentially tells them the school is not equipping them with what they need to get to a good school it is little wonder that parents doubt the qualities of what is on offer locally and join the throngs of anxious parents looking elsewhere and employing tutors.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 08:26

I wonder if the headteacher considered that some parents could not afford years of private tuition or perhaps would not wish to place such stress and anxiety on their child?

Libby Lawson's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 10:43

The school now offers a course of after school sessions in year 5 and 6 to prepare pupils for the Wandsworth test. These are twelve sessions at a cost of £48 available on a first come first served basis delivered by staff at the school. For those who are on benefits this fee is not applicable therefore in the heads words 'no parent has an excuse not to prepare their child for the test.'
Allan, I'm not quite sure what our headteacher considers any more but it is heartening to see that some others out there share my concerns.

A guest's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 12:49

Libby, does that mean that if the course is oversubscribed that some children who want help do not get it? I would be against this kind of pressure and stress for any child but it seems odd to only offer help to some.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 13:01

So who is profiting from the £48 cost? Is this going to the school staff or to the school itself? It seems an entirely inappropriate incentive targeted at solely at the most reactive and financially capable. Is this a state school or private school?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 16:57

Tutoring for 11+ is now a million pound business trading on parental fears. So, ask yourself if your first preference school requires a pass. If it doesn't you don't have to put any stress on your child or spend any money. If, however, your first preference school does require a pass, then find out what the test entails. Then buy a couple of books which practise the type of questions in the test. Don't be bamboozled into buying books which don't practise the type of questions which are not in the test. For example, if the test comprises verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, there's no need to buy 11+ English, 11+ Maths and so on.

And don't waste money on Sats practice papers. These have no educational value. Your child will have enough of Sats when in year 6 and they blight the last year of primary school. A school which pushes Sats relentlessly isn't benefiting your child - its focus is on its league table position.

A TES article, 9 March 2012*, gave the result of research which showed that physical exercise boosted brain function and recommended that children spend at least an hour a day doing some form of moderate to vigorous physical exercise. It will probably be more beneficial to your child to be running about than poring over exercises. The head of your child's school should know that.

*not available on line.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 17:03

If your child is at a state school, then the school could be acting unlawfully in applying a charge. This is what the DfE says:

"School governing bodies and local authorities cannot charge for:

an admission application to any maintained school...

education provided outside school hours if it is part of the National Curriculum#, or part of a syllabus for a prescribed public examination that the pupil is being prepared for at the school, or part of religious education"


If your child is at a private school, then it appears to me that the school is trying to profit from parental anxieties. If the school thinks this type of drilling is necessary it should be providing it for no extra cost.

Libby Lawson's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 17:17

This is a state community school.
According to the school the charge just covers costs -presumably photocopying etc.
I'm not sure if the course is oversubscribed or not but certainly I am aware of children being tutored anyway and perhaps in this additionally -more in English and Maths actually rather than non verbal and verbal reasoning.
I did ask the head in her experience what were pupils being tutored in from year 4 and she suggested prep for the Wandsworth test and perhaps,depending on the aspiration of the parents, in maths and English too.
Personally I do feel all pupils should be better prepared for the Wandsworth test in school time as it is a test administered in school time and the results of which travel with the pupil from one state school to the next. I did do some preparation with my daughter and a friend of hers for the test and I was rather shocked initially at their performance but with familiarity and practice they improved steadily and most significantly their attention to detail and better grasp of vocabulary became apparent in school work. I felt it was worth some effort as it was effectively a learning opportunity and of course I was able to gauge appropriate times for effective learning and held right back when the time didn't seem right. I actually enjoyed that time with my daughter and her friend and I was able to find the time to do it but I don't feel this should be an expected duty of a parent, nor should they feel obliged or financially burdened to employ a tutor or feel the anxiety or assume guilt at not doing.
I wonder if the school is aware of all the private tutoring that goes on and it actually suits them and perhaps secures them better SATs results. This is of course to the detriment of the school community and effective teaching and learning in school. I would like the school to challenge the parents who explain that their child won't be doing homework for the next while as they have a tutor and are focusing on tests. I would like the school to be able to reassure them that the school day is sufficient experience to equip their child for the next stage and be familiar with local secondary schools to know how best to prepare pupils. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be happening at my local primary school.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 17:30

Libby - if the school is state maintained it would appear to be breaking the law. It should not be charging for anything - no photocopying, materials, nothing. The Governing Body should be told.

Libby Lawson's picture
Mon, 12/03/2012 - 00:48

Thanks for your .comments.
Janet - the governing body are fully aware of this. I think the introduction of these sessions was prompted by the governors hoping to deliver good news and demonstrate the schools improved listening to parents and being responsive to them at a time when the school community was alerted to some rather awkward developments at school.

guest's picture
Thu, 29/03/2012 - 11:52

" provided outside school hours if it is part of the National Curriculum#, or part of a syllabus for a prescribed public examination that the pupil is being prepared for at the school, or part of religious education”

I'm confused. Is this Wandsworth test "a prescribed public examination"? I would have thought that term refers to things like SATS and GCSEs. This test doesn't sound like it is part of the National Curriculum or part of a syllabus so charging for these sessions wouldn't be against the law, would it?

Libby Lawson's picture
Thu, 29/03/2012 - 13:34

I'm not sure of the definition of 'public exam' but the Wandsworth test is taken at school during the school day and every yr 6 child in Wandsworth is obliged to sit it and school places are determined by it.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/03/2012 - 14:04

I'm not familiar with the Wandsworth test, but if the parents have no choice about whether their children sit the test then I would think this comes under the category of a "public examination". If the test is mandatory then the school has no right, moral or legal, to expect parents to pay for coaching for the test.

Libby Lawson's picture
Sun, 29/04/2012 - 15:19

I am grateful for the existence of the LSN where an honest an open exchange of views can be had. I would welcome any additional contributions to this and other threads.
Given the massive changes going on in education right now there seems to be an assumption by some -those with the most to gain, that those fearful of the loss of something hard to get back should for some inexplicable reason feel obliged to say nothing.

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