Giving your child an academic advantage - at what cost?


The recent release of HSC results has given me an idea.

I’m going to start an education program for newborn babies. Scrap that. I’m probably too late if I wait until a child exists outside the womb – on the outside there are so many more distractions, like parents and the sky.

I’m going to start an education program for fetuses. I’m not talking about playing Mozart across a bulging tummy. I’m talking about sending really tiny tutors down digestive tracts to start on basic English, maths and because Latin is the building block of so many languages, and medicine and law use it as the basis of a lot of its terminology – I’ll also do an Introduction to Latin course.

I mean by six weeks in-utero the brain is beginning to divide into five parts. Surely one of those parts can start conjugating Latin verbs.

The program may sound ridiculous, but if it gives your child an advantage, that’s the name of the modern parenting game. There are tutoring centres (shadow education it’s called) that will start with a child at six months of age and these “centres of education” will tell you that if you leave tutoring until school age, you’ve left your academic success run too late.

Watch Mia Freedman talk about school below. Post continues after video.


All it takes is extra hours of tutoring (four-eight), from a really young age and academic dominance in life is “practically guaranteed”.

One tutor I spoke to said she ran “creative writing’ classes for six-year-olds, where parents regularly wanted to see her after class to discuss their child’s performance and work out how to get “more out of them”. At six they were just not producing like J.K Rowling. Their ideas weren’t creative enough. Something was obviously wrong, but a bit of pushing, time and money could surely fix it.

“I did it for a while because it paid really good money, but I stopped after six months because it became really uncomfortable trying to teach kids who didn’t want to be there whose parents kept ‘checking in’,” she said.

“There were a few kids who liked it, but most just wanted to play.”

Another tutor said, at $60 an hour, she “basically just did the kids’ homework, because the parents were busy but wanted to make sure there child stayed ‘competitive’.”

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Image: iStock.

Remember, this is not tutoring because of learning difficulties or a child finding it hard to grasp basic mathematical concepts and foundations, this is tutoring for your child to get in front, stay in front, be the best.

I don’t get this academic arms race. Not one bit. Smart parents trying to make their kids the smartest because being really bright is not good enough. These same smart parents are surely also reading the latest studies linking ‘checklisted childhoods’ – where there is pressure for children to tick the right boxes and be successful academically, musically, in sports, socially  – to a rise in childhood mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and an inability for children to develop resilience.


It may not be an A in extension Maths but resilience can be really useful as an adult in the real world.

For years I have heard tales of shadow education at primary and high schools that have made me feel uneasy.

There’s the story of Chris who went to pick up his 12-year-old daughter from a party at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. She had just started at a selective high school five months before and was looking forward to the party because her classmates were always busy. When he went to pick up her up, his daughter was the last one there.

“Am I late?” he asked. “I’m so sorry.”

“No, you’re not late,” the birthday girl’s mother said. “Everyone was picked up an hour ago to go to tutoring.”

tutor image istock
Image: iStock.

I went to a gathering recently where one parent was talking about her son wanting tutoring. He is in year 11 at a private school and they are already paying significant sums of money for his education.

“He’s saying everyone in his maths class is getting tutoring and can he get it. When the teacher brings up a new subject, the other boys have already done it at tutoring, so the teacher moves on quickly and he is getting further behind. He’s in one of the top maths classes. It’s $900 a month for tutoring. It’s ridiculous.”

I’ve spoken to high school students who say that it’s not uncommon for tutors to do English and other assignments for their students – with the parents knowledge. The children who don’t get the tutoring are told it all “washes out in exams” and “it will even out in the end”. That doesn’t really seem to be a good enough response. It’s unethical and simply wrong to pass off someone else’s work as your own. But if gets you 19 out of 20 instead of 16…Your child is special, right?

Whenever questioned about the why, “Why does Johnny or Jane need tutoring in English when they are coming third in the class?” The answer is that it’s what the child wants. They really want to be tutored so they don’t fall behind. Do you think, maybe, that kind of pressure is coming from somewhere, or someone, else?

should i get my child a tutor
Image: iStock.

And what if you are the type of parent who won’t do their children’s homework or assignments for them and wouldn’t dream of letting a tutor do it. Are you doing a disservice to your child by not helping them “keep up” with the rest of the class, or by leaving them alone to tackle the ups and downs of academic work are you doing them a long term favour?


Either way it’s a really horrible feeling to look at your child and think my choice here is to say no to tutoring and see you get further behind the rest of the shadow educated students in your class, or say yes and be intimately involved in some kind of academic results hamster wheel.

Rebecca Sparrow recently asked what are the important take-outs in your child’s school life.

“This is not about choosing private or public. Both can be wonderful,” she wrote.

“This is about digging deeper and making different factors a priority if you are lucky enough to be able to go ‘high school shopping’. Let’s start by putting inclusion, respect, balance and community service at the top of our list.”

Good friends, courage, commitment, resilience, fun, life, hard work, understanding too.

The parenting race doesn’t end with that HSC number. There are decades and decades that come after.

If we are lucky, life is long, hard, surprising and hopefully often wonderful and I think it’s best I look beyond the number my children will be given when they finish school at the tender age of 18, and concentrate on preparing them for the vast, complicated existence that comes after it.