It was controversially announced this week that some state schools in England would work in partnership with a private tutoring company. The company, TLC Education, will set up centres at five state schools, offering one-to-one or small group tuition sessions to pupils at reduced rates. Meanwhile, they will also continue to operate their usual business from the school, offering private tutoring to pupils from other local schools at their normal, higher rate. Some have greeted this move as an essential step in levelling the academic playground; giving state school pupils a chance to enjoy the same advantages paid for by many private school parents. However, others have criticised the scheme as an unfair advantage for those pupils lucky enough to be able to afford it and an “unethical use of public money”.
It is sadly already true that private tutoring may provide an unfair boost for pupils from more affluent families, so it seems puerile to criticise the scheme on those grounds, as the same parents could easily source similarly priced private tuition for their children elsewhere. More significant however, is the claim that the use of public money to fund the centres is ‘unethical’, as it provides an unfair advantage for some state school pupils over others.
As the scheme is only due to be available at a mere five state schools, it is easy to see how parents at other schools might feel angered by the unfair advantage apparently arbitrarily allocated to some pupils over others. It is also unclear how the schools will decide which students will benefit from the extra lessons, or how they will maintain a policy of equal opportunities with regards to the scheme. It is certainly likely that they will be faced with a barrage of requests from irate parents all believing that their own child ought to be allocated extra tutoring!
And then there is something strange about the concession that a school needs to bring in a private tutoring company to bolster its results – surely an admission of failing standards and a lack of appropriate attention to individual students by staff at the school itself? When schools bring in external companies to provide extra sports or drama coaching, or tailored educational experiences outside the immediate confines of the national curriculum, it is generally accepted that these enhance and expand the scope of pupils’ academic experiences. But to turn over teaching time to a private firm within school hours seems a rather double edged approach, suggesting to parents whose children do not benefit from the extra tuition that the education being provided for their children is in some way lacking.
Mr Hutchinson, head-teacher at two Cambridge schools where the scheme will be launched, calls it “a pragmatic decision” that aims to “broaden the opportunity” of private tutoring to encompass as many state school pupils as possible. But critics ask why the money wouldn’t be better spent improving the quality of teaching at the school to benefit all pupils, rather than just a chosen handful. Martin Freedman of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called it an “unethical use of public money…for the school to buy in cheap tuition from that firm instead of using teachers.”
It is unlikely that the foundation of this scheme at so few state schools will have any effect on the national gulf in achievement between state and private school pupils, but it may well serve to stir up and sharpen resentment at the extra opportunities available only to the lucky few.