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Tutoring prevents pupils working out own problems for themselves, warns top London headteacher

Private tuition can be harmful to the long-term academic prospects of children, a leading London headteacher warned today.

Victoria Bingham, head of South Hampstead High School, said children who are tutored miss out on the “struggle time” needed to work out problems for themselves, and many end up unable to think independently and lacking intellectual confidence.

She urged parents to “be brave” and not to resort to private tutors for their children at the first sign that they are struggling at school.

It comes after the Standard revealed that the number of London pupils who have received private tuition is at its highest level since records began.

Almost half the secondary-school pupils in the capital have been helped by a tutor, in what the Sutton Trust called an “educational arms race”.

Mrs Bingham warned that the rise in tutoring is part of the “over strategisation” of childhood in which youngsters have no time to “sit idly and think about big questions”.

She said: “I feel passionately that tutoring robs children of the critical ability to surmount problems by themselves. Parents cannot keep outsourcing their children’s academic challenges.”

Experts have long complained that private tuition is fuelling inequality by putting poorer children at a disadvantage and adding stress to children’s lives. Mrs Bingham believes it can be harmful academically as well.

She said: “There is a loss of ‘struggle time’, and it encourages microstep thinking, where someone helps you through every single stage. If you always have someone to hold your hand you won’t be able to work it out for yourself.

“One of the most valuable lessons of all is when you don’t ‘get’ something and have to use books, the internet, teachers’ comments and practice examples to figure it out for yourself. If you are doing well academically, getting a tutor to take you through that robs you of your intellectual independence.”

She said private tuition can be valuable for children who have exhausted all other options, but it should not be the default position for all children.

Mrs Bingham said she does not know how many pupils at her school have private tutors because parents do not openly talk about it, but admitted that many probably do.

The £18,000-a-year school is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, a network of independent girls’ schools.

Mrs Bingham said: “I really feel for parents — if your friends are hiring tutors you worry that your children are missing out. I want parents to have the bravery to see that… it is better academically not to have a tutor, unless their children are genuinely struggling.”

Luke Shelley, director of Tavistock Tutors, said: “I am sure that there are some not-so-great tutors who teach in a ‘parrot fashion’ way and feed children answers just to help them pass a test. But a good tutor helps children understand the concepts and get to the answers themselves by providing support, in the way a parent might.”

Article first appeared in The Evening Standard, September 2017

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