The great tutoring myth.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that tutoring services aimed at school-aged students was for those struggling in a particular subject area. It was meant to be corrective. That’s how I always thought of it.

In fact I was feeling pretty smug about the fact that none of my kids had required tutoring so far.

So you can imagine my surprise when my friend whose son got into a selective school told me that his new teacher had to tell the class to limit their tutoring sessions to once or twice a week, so they can “have a childhood”.

But these kids are already smart. Some of them are geniuses. Why would they need tutoring?

It turns out there are two main reasons:

  1. Because their parents are really competitive and want them to get ahead of the pack
  2. Because these kids really, really love learning and school is not enough for them.

Who are these smart, Stepford children? It’s like discovering a whole new world.

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I, like most parents, live in the “normal” world whereby my children often fake illnesses to get out of school and whinge and moan whenever they have to do homework.

Apparently it’s called “tutoring for extension” as opposed to “tutoring for support”.

I asked the question on one of the many Facebook parenting forums I am a member of and was introduced to a completely different world in which ambitious students and their equally ambitious parents are forking out thousands on tutors each year.

Above average kids tend to go to coaching primarily to help them get into a selective high school. There is a massive market out there for that. Others just need motivation or just brain stimulation.

It has become very common, especially for kids and parents with high expectations and ambitions to get into selective schools.

Kids at private schools do it too. I know one school where all the kids on the honour roll are turtored because they don’t want to get 79 per cent they want to get 89 per cent. Some tutors are doing assignments. That’s cheating.

Teachers generally dislike the excessive tutoring, as it doesn’t teach the kids to think or problem solve, but just to rote learn, and puts a lot of pressure on them.

Tutoring services are no longer just for support. They are now for extension. Image: iStock

They actually have tutoring schools dedicated to out of hours coaching to teach kids skills at a higher level. 

There's a whole industry in getting kids into selective schools.

I went to a selective school and my friends wanted to do tutoring. They loved it.

But tutoring for extension isn't without its issues:

I think some parents think they are doing the right thing but fail to consider the negative long term impact this kind of tutoring can have on kids.

I know someone who is the counsellor at one of the selective schools - by year 12 some of the kids are disasters. No outside hobbies or friends as their only focus is study, no real world experience and incredible pressure placed on them by their families with no emotional support. Yes, not every kid, depending on how the parents approach it, but they're not isolated cases.

It's really quite sad and is often just parents trying to fulfill their own desires. I have no real expectations of my kids with regards to school, other than that they do their best.

Then there are those parents who still use tutoring the old-fashioned way:

I sent my daughter to tutoring after she asked me for help with maths and she did not understand my explanation and I couldn't help her to understand so I called in the experts. Told her to ask the teacher, it did help but she was reluctant. I think she was embarrassed. It both comforts us that she can go to her tutor anytime with a question and not feel embarrassed or dumb!

At my school lots of kids are tutored because their parents don't speak English well enough to help their kids. They feel they are disadvantaged so they pay for group tutoring. It is cheaper in groups. Some of it is really helpful and some is not good value for money.

I'm a teacher and have done tutoring for many years. Personally I will only tutor for support and not for extension.

And this from tutors:


I was an English and Creative Writing tutor for high school boys. They really loved it. I would never write their essays for them or anything. It was all them, I would direct and instruct. I set up respect from the start and it went very well.

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I tutored heaps of kids who could have improved their marks drastically by doing one thing: working harder. That's it. They don't need a tutor, just need to sit down for a few hours and write the essay.

I also think it can be an unfair advantage. I tutored boys who would pay me a fortune, when there are kids in low-income areas who only learned English two years ago, and have no access to a tutor. I reckon it broadens the gap.

There is so much pressure on the tutors too from the parents to get good results. So at times you find yourself essentially writing the essay. I never had a tutor and I would find myself getting cranky that this kind of advantage was available.

I had one kid who would put his hands behind his head while I typed. So much arrogance. And they email you/text you at any time with demands, because that's how they've been brought up. You work FOR them.

I tutored for a few years and hated it, mainly because it felt like I was employed as a tool to cheat the system a little bit. Smarter kids want the upper hand on smarter kids so the gap is definitely widening.

A lot of it comes down to school culture, too. If a lot of kids at school have tutors, then everyone will be more competitive and more will get tutors and it's just an endless cycle.

I completely understand that it shouldn't be the norm, but also teachers can't cater to every skill level and way of learning that each child needs, which is where a tutor can really help.

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