Leo Evans, co-founder and education expert of The Profs

We've seen a significant and persistent rise in the demand for private tuition from lower-income households in recent years. Families are using private tuition to bridge the gap between state and full-time private education.

For example, if your son or daughter is at a state school and predicted in two A-grades at A level subject but also a C in maths. This prediction, if correct, will rule out many top universities. This is where tutoring comes in. 

How do tutors target a student’s weakest area? What methods are used?

Class-based learning has distributional failings; it targets the average student whilst trying not to isolate the students at the top and the bottom of the capability/will distributions too much. Tutoring moves at the student's pace and can be tailored to their specific needs, interests and goals and so is a more efficient and effective way of learning.

The methods used focus more on building confidence and enjoyment than class-based learning does, as the point of tutoring is typically to unlock the recipient’s potential to learn and study independently. Good tutoring is self-defeating; when it works, it is typically no longer needed.

Do you think private schools do enough to support children in all subjects which match the fees they pay?

That is a distributional question; there is some mean and some variance across a multi-dimensional distribution of institutions/subjects/levels/teachers/locations etc. It's not a binary issue and thus simplifying it down to one becomes somewhat sentimental and not rational in approach. Probably on average the mean is higher, and the variance lower, of the distribution of value and outcomes in paid versus free education, otherwise there would be no market for paid education.

Which schools provide what value at what price and to whom is better answered by some objective ranking criteria (goodschoolsguide etc). There will, at the individual and collective level, be free schools that are infinitely better value than private schools and likewise private schools which cannot have their educational experience replicated for free.

Ultimately, is education down to the student and not the type of school they attend?

In part, as drive comes from within. But children and teenagers are on average immature in their approach to learning and understanding the financial and social returns from doing so over the long run. However, their parents are far less so and so a lot of drive comes from them naturally.

Anecdotally (and personally) I would say family values, involvement and input in a child's education seem to be the biggest determinant of outcomes. Far more so probably that the free versus paid school argument deals with. Elite private schools have plenty of scholarship whose parents couldn't have afforded it otherwise but got in on merit, family determination and hard work.

Likewise, state schools are full of bright, hardworking kids who go on to achieve any outcome you can imagine. One thing I have noticed in the higher echelons of academia, corporates and business is that the single biggest predictor of success seems to be coming from having a good family, somewhat independently of exactly how much wealth/income they have.

Learning doesn't stop at the school gates and ambition, determination and grit are rarely taught on a curriculum. The aspirational class are drawn from all social classes.

'There is no quick fix for lost learning'

Tutoring is a great addition to the curriculum if implemented well. That is, inspiring educators unlocking individual potential through targeted interventions. Sadly, there will be a joint hypothesis problem brewing; does tutoring work and can the government implement it properly, I have my doubts about the latter.

Taking a step back, the real issue is that Covid has laid bare the immutable nature of our education system to physical location. Lack of foresight has led to a situation where something that can be done extremely well online (i.e. teaching), isn't.

Investment in technology and some changes in ideas/approach by the clearly behind-the-curve formal education system and the people who populate it is needed.

This is the only real long-term solution to the problem. In the short term, it seems as good a place as any to start and I commend the government for trying to find a solution.

Leo Evans, co-founder and education expert of The Profs

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