The tuition industry is growing rapidly in Britain, doing great work in improving numeracy and literacy and also aiding social mobility and aspiration. As former Marlborough headmaster Edward Gould said, the bigger the fence, the more ladders parents will use to get their children over the top.
At the expensive end of the spectrum, oligarchs prep their children to within an inch of their lives over the three months before they take the Common Entrance. Consultants such as Bonas MacFarlane make it their business to shoehorn these children into schools the parents had never heard of 12 months before. Alternatively, there are the prep school parents who in the holidays quietly pull out their little black book of young Oxbridge students and pay them to give Johnny a boost and propel him to the top of the pile.
Less privileged parents are also looking beyond school for education. Kent’s grammar school system, for example, means it is a hotbed of 11-plus prepping. It is no surprise that they also have some of the highest scoring 11-plus results in the country. Tuition centres do not have to employ qualified teachers, although many of them do. They provide flexible timetabling, catch-up classes and a focused environment whose only role is to maximise pupils’ chances of getting high marks in exams.
With no government interference apart from childcare vouchers, the industry is left on its own. Parents know that these centres can be a secret weapon in their quest for their children to have a better life — especially when they have little choice over which school their children attend. First- generation immigrants in particular are acutely aware of the leg-up these centres provide.
Overseas, it’s no surprise that after-school tuition centres are popular in countries with the highest global numeracy such as South Korea and Japan. There they have rock-star tutors who earn millions of dollars a year by teaching to packed classrooms and live-streaming to their followers.
Michael Gove was entirely right when he referred to the UK’s education system as ‘the blob’; getting anything done is like wading through treacle. But the tuition industry knows full well that the more the blob grows, the better an alternative they become. From 11-plus to university entrance, schools do not have a monopoly on learning. Surely this is an industry we should be championing.