Prospective parents often ask me about our attitude to tutoring. Without doubt the first thing to say is that tutoring a boy to secure for him a place in a school where he will probably struggle academically is destructive in a way that often becomes clear only when it is almost too late to repair or prevent the significant damage to the boy's morale and even mental health that can arise from such a situation. All heads of very academic schools have seen this happen, even though selective schools invariably try hard to ensure their entry exam system genuinely detects potential.
I do, however, understand parents' concern on this matter. For many years now there have been so many youngsters seeking places in well-regarded schools, especially in London, that significant numbers of parents have felt compelled to employ tutors in order to give their sons and daughters the best possible chance of success. They are also aware, however, that some Headmasters and Headmistresses have criticised tutoring publicly and they do not wish to take action which might count against their children.
I have no desire to place parents in a situation which makes them feel as though they are between a rock and a hard place. Further, I am not prepared to condemn tutoring out of hand as there are circumstances where it can be justified. Firstly, the unavoidable absence of a teacher as a result of maternity or paternity leave or illness might so disrupt a child's education at a crucial time that the parents think they have no option other than to use a tutor. Secondly, in my school the majority of our boys join us at 7+ and part of the assessment process requires them to take formal examinations when they have to work on their own and in silence for forty or forty-five minutes. If the boy is at a school which does not give the pupils practice in sitting such assessments, it is wise to provide him with experience of completing an examination in a limited period of time and without any help. Parents can do this themselves, of course, but it is often better if this is done by a tutor. The emotional connection between parents and their children can often create problems which an external tutor will not experience!
Tutoring of this kind is considered, focused and no more than once or twice a week. Often, however, pupils are being tutored for several sessions a week in an effort to secure places at schools for which they are not suited. There are parents who will not face the fact that, even if the tutoring does work in the short term and their youngster is successful in winning a place in a highly selective school, he will almost certainly be unhappy there as the pace will be too fast for him. Their only option then will be further tutoring to ensure he has some prospect of keeping up with his peers. This is a recipe for further unhappiness.
In the case of King's College Junior School, it is also important for parents to be aware that our entry process involves an interview and an activity session, which lasts for two and a half hours. There is no way of successfully tutoring a boy for these aspects of the assessment procedure as they do not follow a set pattern so what is required of each boy cannot be predicted in advance. The objective of our assessment process is to identify boys who are bright and interested in the world around them. These are attributes which can be encouraged and we certainly want parents to play different games with their children, take them to museums, the cinema and theatre, give them opportunities in sport, music and drama and many other meaningful leisure pursuits. Such attributes, however, cannot be tutored.
While I will not, therefore, criticise tutoring per se, I would urge parents to consider their motives carefully and avoid taking this path if their objective is to get their child into a school which is patently not suited to their needs and abilities. Listen carefully to the advice offered by your son's current school and understand that if he does not win a place at a particular school, opportunities may arise that are actually far better for your son.
Friday 21 April 2017