Social Commentary

To Tutor Or Not to Tutor, That is the Question…


We’ve all been there: sitting at the dining room table trying to get our child to do their homework and secretly wanting to scream:’ FINISH YOUR DAMN HOMEWORK SO I CAN GET ON WITH MY LIFE!’ But instead, we smile at them, restraining ourselves, and quietly tell them they need to finish their homework and bribe them with a bit of TV… And then the day arrives when you throw in the towel and call in the professionals.

When I first heard about tutors for children as young as 6 I thought it was absolutely absurd! Of course, I now know that it happens even earlier, and that there is a lot of discussion about whether to get a tutor for your child or not. I never thought I would be one to encourage the use of tutors unless necessary but I’ve come to think of it as I do breastfeeding: If it works well for you to breastfeed (ie. your child is naturally clever and doesn’t need extra help), wonderful, lucky sod, but if it doesn’t work out for one reason or other, well I’m all for bottle-feeding and tutoring.

Now, there is a stigma around tutoring, and many mums hide that their children are getting tutored. More than once, I have had friends who have asked their children’s friends’ nannies for playdates, for the nanny to reply ‘sorry, so-and-so has tutoring that day’ even if the mother of the friend previously denied ever using a tutor. I also know that this tutoring phenomenon is not only prevalent in London, but is in New York (obviously) and is around in other places like Switzerland, Canada, and Monaco.

I think there is a definite place for tutors, especially when a child falls behind in class and needs extra help, then tutoring is absolutely warranted. The problem I find though is that in London everyone ends up being tutored and to keep up, you have to get your child tutored and it isn’t about choice or innate intelligence but how many hours of tutoring they have each week. I mean, I know a 4 year old who already has English tutoring on Mondays, French on Tuesdays, Maths on Thursdays and endless other activities to fill their week! How is anyone else supposed to keep up?

For now, I am holding off having the tutoring conversation with myself, but one day, I realise that I might have to address it. I have been approached by many tutors over the past few years and took the opportunity to ask one to answer a few questions about whether to get a tutor or not, for those who may be interested. It’s quite long and a lot of it you may feel you already know, so feel free to jump to the questions that interest you. More posts on education coming soon!

I have no personal experience with this tutor therefore cannot endorse them in any way. This is purely for informational purposes and to get a tutor’s perspective. 

Milestones Education: WHY GET A TUTOR? 

1. Why should we use tutors in the first place?                                                                                                                                                                                                    

There are so many reasons why tutors are valuable. It is not a one size fits all reason; every individual will have different reasons for getting a tutor. However, from my experience, I can tell you the common reasons people use us. The individual attention that the student gets with using a tutor is extremely valuable. It is something you cannot even get at the top independent schools.

  • Good tutors have the time to truly identify the student’s weaknesses and strengths and then correct them. In the traditional classroom, it is impossible for one teacher to meet all the needs of each student and ensure everyone is up to speed on a topic all the time.
  • If you have a good tutor, there will always be a much higher level of direct communication and feedback with not only the student, but the parent too. This is invaluable. When I train my team of tutors, I always work on ingraining those communication and feedback skills Learners cannot progress without understanding and reflecting on where they are at, where they need to be and how to get there.
  • If you do not believe your children are thriving or reaching their potential this would be another reason. Stagnancy in learning is just as dangerous as decline and strips the student of their confidence. A tutor can fix these problems in a way that often a school or parent cannot.
  • If you have important examinations or are trying to achieve particular goals and grades, you may not know how to get there or it may just be extremely difficult to do so without some help.
  • Most importantly, the proof is in the results. Students progress further and achieve more with tutors.

2. When is the right time to start using a tutor? 

  • When there is a need or a goal that needs to be achieved by a certain time. Also when a subject is causing the student to struggle, feel stressed or under-confident.
  • In general, tuition has greater effects in younger children. From my experience and through my study of cognitive science, I know that younger primary school children have a higher level of learning plasticity in their brains. That is, their learning capacity is much higher than at later stages in life; it is still within the exponential part of the learning curve. The key to giving children the best push ahead in education is to give them a solid foundation during the early stages. It is much harder to go back and fix problems than to build the learning bricks correctly in the first place.

3. How do you help a student who is falling behind?  

  • It also means formulating a robust plan that can be regularly reviewed and monitored for progress. It means setting targets, expectations and goals. It means having a competent teacher who can support the student and help the student learn in a way that is individualised. Students need guidance and direction but they also need praise and feedback.
  • In short, you must first identify the student’s starting points through thorough assessment. They must be able to understand where they are and where they are going.
  • Over the years I have been very passionate about addressing how to most effectively conquer this scenario. It actually lead me to formulate the Milestones Methodology with contributions from psychologists, scientists, and schools.

4. How do you make learning fun and interactive? 

  • This is so important, I am glad you asked. There needs to be a bond between tutor and child; there needs to be trust. At Milestones, the team is trained to use visual organisers, apps, videos, podcasts and a large variety of multi-sensory stimuli. Where appropriate we get our students to enter competitions, do reflective diary entries, create presentations and go out to utilise skills in a way that aligns with their interests. Active learning is the only way students truly commit content to memory. You cannot use tutors that will sit and talk at your student for two hours and then set homework. This is passive and the student’s progress will be minimal and slow. You have to engage in discussion and use reflexive questioning to get the student to think about answers or conclusions themselves.

5. What about students who use tutors to get into top schools like Westminster/St Paul’s but then can’t keep up? 

  • This should never really be the case. To me, that says you have had a poorly skilled tutor or the student should not be applying to such schools. This is one of the reasons why I must assess the student to determine their starting points and so I can give an honest indication to the parents of what can be accomplished. You should not be sending your child to a school where they will be continuously struggling. There is a big difference between challenge and struggle. On the other hand, a good tutor would prepare the student in a way that puts them ahead long term. I do not just equip students to pass exams; I equip them with the skillset and knowledge to enter a trajectory of excellence long term.

6. How do you help children handle the pressure of tutoring and school competition? 

  • Students should not be in a position where they dread tuition. A supportive system should be created where the tutor is easing the pressure not causing it.
  • At the same time, this is why I said communication is important; the student has to be on board and understand the purpose of tuition.
  • Again this is why emotional intelligence development is important to me; you want to instil the skills of time management, discipline and self-motivation to deal with any pressure and come out stronger.

7. What do you think of the concept of it being better to be at the top of a lesser school rather than at the bottom of a best school? 

  • How can a student be pushed further or challenged if they are comfortably sitting at the top already? This question assumes these positions are static. If the student is at the bottom of the best school, which means there is room for growth and a plan should be established to put that in motion. The key here is to remove the generalisation and comparison. The focus should be on finding a position in the school that is best for that individual. If a student is at what is generally considered the ‘best school’ but the student is unhappy, struggling and receiving inadequate support than clearly it is not the best school.

8. What advice do you have for children going through exams? 
One of my past students discusses how he dealt with the pressure and competition here>

9. What advice do you have for parents trying to give their kids the best education?

  • Ensure the choices you make are for the right reasons. Do not try and get your child into a school because everyone else is.
  • Get the child assessed; if not by an experienced tutor then get input from your child’s school. Your priority is to establish what is best for them and find the place that will best develop their unique potential.
  • Get involved with your child’s education. Understand what they are finding difficult and what they find easy. Get your child help when they need it- do not let them struggle alone.
  • Do not take schoolleague tables so literally. They are really quite misleading. The factors used to rank them cannot really be standardised and controlled for. There are also many things you need to take into consideration beyond grades in a school!

10. What’s the best advice you have on navigating the super competitive school process in the UK?

  • You need to understand what you are up against. The level of competence today is higher than ever. Even within our cohort of students there are an increasing number of truly brilliant international students well ahead of British education that are now taking top places. Therefore you need to be realistic about the level your child needs to get to and objectively decide whether it is right for them.
  • It is always good to talk to someone who understands the process well and has gone through it before; teachers, parents, students and tutors. The consultations I carry out with parents can be really eye opening and help you decide on next steps.

Anne-Marie Idowu. –Director & Head Tutor of Milestones.




Social Commentary

Everything You Need to Know About Your Child’s Education & Success by Malcolm Gladwell

For those of you who have already read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’, then you already know everything you need to know about your child’s education and future success. If you haven’t, this is a snap picture of what he has found out about the patterns and behaviours of ‘Outliers,’ people out of the norm based on intelligence, success and physical prowess, based on extensive research and some lateral thinking.

1. Being the oldest in the class is a Good Thing.

A study done by two economists found that an older child who was tested against a younger child in the same class with comparable intellect would score higher than the younger child, which can make a huge difference in getting into gifted programs. Therefore, the oldest child will be put in an ‘advanced program’ which  will in turn encourage his/her skills and they will do better than the younger child. Over time, these differences will become big differences which will have a big impact. He uses the example of Junior League Hockey in Canada and the physical superiority January children have over later born children to illustrate that a whole year matters and when you are born matters. (Many NHYMs I know already have the birthdate of their child planned before pregnancy so they are well ahead of me;

2. Hard Work and the 10,000 hour rule.

Most of us have heard of the 10,000 rule already, but it re-enforces that hard work will get you ahead. The best chess players and the best musical prodigies are the ones who put in more time in their art than anyone else. Gladwell looked at a study that showed that once a musician has the talent to get into a top music school, what distinguished the world famous musician versus the rest is the amount of time dedicated to his music. Studies done all show that 10,000 hours of practice are needed to achieve ‘expert’ level at any one complex task, which equates to years of hard work. It takes this amount of time for the brain to process and assimilate expertise and mastery. I clearly remember a friend who was an All American sports player whose parents told me that he would spend hours kicking his ball, all day and every day, which is how he became so good. So get practicing.

3. Opportunity.

Gladwell uses the example of Bill Gates who as a teenager was lucky enough to have a computer in his high school in the 60s. This was considered ‘amazing.’ Most universities didn’t have computers yet, so here he was given an opportunity to play with computers and start programming before any of his peers were able to. This was his opportunity, which enabled him to get ahead of the rest of the world. It was his obsession and he used the 10,000 hour rule to become a world expert. Gladwell states that all outliers benefit from some kind of extraordinary opportunity. So, this is what you can give your children: opportunities. Then it is up to them to take these opportunities or not.

4. Oxbridge and the Ivy Leagues are not the answer to everything.

I hear all around me mothers who are obsessed with their children going to Oxbridge or an Ivy League University. To them, this is their definition of educational success. Yes, the Ivys and Oxbridge open a lot of doors, but they are not going to predict where your child will end up in life. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, he clearly did not need a university degree to succeed. To most, universities will help them succeed, but a good university is good enough. Gladwell takes the last 25 Americans to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and in Medicine and many did not go to the ‘best’ universities, but to ‘good enough’ universities. Many I had never even heard of. The argument is that you would rather have your child at the top of his class at a ‘good’ university, rather than bottom of the class at ‘Oxbridge/Ivy.’ Similarly to point one, the person at the ‘lesser’ university may get more opportunities.

5. Luck Matters.

Being at the right place at the right time is something we can’t predict. Some opportunities are based on luck. Nothing else. And there is nothing you can do about that apart from teaching your child about Good Karma.

6. A Genius IQ won’t guarantee anything. 

Studies have shown that an IQ of 115 is necessary to get into a competitive graduate program and to succeed at it. This is probably what most of my peers are hoping for their children. But much above this IQ won’t guarantee very much. An IQ above 120 doesn’t correlate with personal success. It shows that intelligence has a threshold. For example, a scientist with an IQ of 130 is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as one with an IQ of 180. It is like the Money and Happiness threshold. After a certain threshold, the amount of money you have does not have an impact on your happiness. Success is more than just to do with IQ, it also requires a lot of ‘Practical Intelligence.’ Practical Intelligence can be described as ‘knowing what to say to who, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it with maximum impact.’

7. What you do as a parent has an impact. 

Practical intelligence has a lot to do with what kind of family you were raised in. A study looking at different kinds of families found that two sets of parenting ‘philosophies’ emerged, which were separated by class lines; the wealthy families and the poorer families. Middle class and wealthier parents talked things through and taught their children how to reason. They allowed their children to challenge them, negotiate with them, and question them. They called the middle class style of parenting as ‘concerted cultivation’ which actively ‘fosters and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills.’ Lower class parents let their children develop on their own, and had less involvement in their schooling and extra-curricular activities. (Of course over-parenting, as I’ve mentioned before, can turn your child into a stress and anxiety ridden child, which is not a good thing either!

8. Supportive Parents Lead their Children. 

What you do and what environment you provide your child affects everything she/he will do in the future. I remember growing up and seeing my father surrounded by books and encyclopedias. This taught me that books were interesting and how to be curious. My mother listened to classical music and painted. Even though back then, these were not my chosen subjects or tastes, they were indelibly inscribed in my brain, and I have come to love books, Wikipedia, Tschostakovich, and Art. Middle and upper middle class children’s homes are filled with books, their parents have college educations, they present themselves well and dress appropriately. This is teaching your child practical intelligence; how to interact appropriately with the real world. How to assess and address problems, how to speak up when necessary, and how to learn to manage other people appropriately.

9. Be Aware of Your Cultural Background. 

This comes nicely to the next point that culture matters. Your cultural background matters. Gladwell looked at Airplane accidents from a Korean airline and found that 1st Officers wouldn’t assert themselves against their Captains, which caused a number of airplane crashes. (It did however show that American culture is an affirmative one, as many flight officers would be intimidated by the JFK air controllers. New York is one of the most affirmative cities in the world in my opinion). I have already opined about Jews and their cultural impact in another post and we have all heard about ‘Tiger Moms’ of American Chinese descent, so think about your culture’s pros and cons and address them if possible when raising your child.

10. Perseverance Counts. 

This theme is weaved throughout the book, ‘Outliers.’ Working hard, and working at what you do takes time and perseverance to succeed. It is about using failures as a lesson towards success. Entrepreneurs’s personality traits always include ‘perseverance.’ It is a ‘constant personal evolution (Huffington Post).’ Learning to fail is just as important as succeeding. So whatever your child puts their mind to, be there to support them and let them fail along the way.