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May 10th, 2013

Confessions of a parent who uses tutors

Child being tutored

The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic  measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children;  parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine

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May 04th, 2013

Wedding Bliss. Teaching kids about relationships

I am in a state of euphoria following the joyous and loving wedding last week of my middle child.

Boy working

( I KNOW! How did that happen?) It seems only yesterday I was pulling my hair out wondering how to manage the little renegade, worrying that all my efforts to discipline him were doing him irreparable damage while being completely ineffective anyway. This is the child that regulars in my classes and workshops will know was the impetus for my husband and I taking the parenting course that changed my career and more importantly changed our family’s life and taught me so much about inter-personal relationships generally. So now he’s embarking on his own very important interpersonal relationship and I am really confident that he will handle it well.

When your child takes a partner (and yours may feel a long way off from this – but best to prepare now) you might have a secret wish list that you may not even be aware of yourself for the qualities you would like to find in that person. (Not that you have any say of course –but just hoping!) You would of course wish for them to make your child happy and hope that they will always have your beloved’s back. I am confident that my son and his new wife have three of the necessary attributes that make for a good partnership: they are really good friends, they know how to handle conflict and they share many of the same values. It was apparent that one of their shared values (from the way they planned their wedding) was a common belief in family. Every single member of their extended (and extensive) families was included in some way.

Wedding couple

We can start preparing our children, however young, for future relationships (and current ones) by:

  • modelling for them what it means to be friends and encouraging their own friendships; in particular encouraging in them the qualities that make for good friendships such as sharing, by noticing and mentioning it when we see those qualities in them.
  • spend time with your partner as well as your children so that you can know them well, what they like and dislike, what their goals and concerns are, what makes them laugh, what they value, how they feel about things.
  • ask your partner as well as your children open-ended questions that allow you to find out all of the above.
  • build up a culture of appreciation between your partner and your children by telling them (ALL the time) what you like about them.
  • be on their side, listen to their point of view, give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • model with your partner and teach your children to resolve conflict well, ie ask for what you want or need without criticism or blame (criticism is death to relationships); acknowledge the other person’s point of view; if an interaction gets negative repair and redirect it; compromise.
  • Remember if something has gone wrong it is not as important to assign responsibility for it, ie blame, as it is to repair and move on. I like a quote that was on one of the wedding cards our newly-weds received: if you’re wrong own up, if you’re right shut up.
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