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  1. Private Schools
January 1, 2024

Are high-end private tutors worth the money?

With private tuition on the rise and increasing competition in elite schools, knowing who to turn to for tutoring is increasingly challenging – and important

By Livia Giannotti

For HNW and UHNW families, investments are an essential part of long-term plans for the future. But these investments are not just confined to capital. Indeed, many would agree that investing in a child’s schooling is the greatest investment of all. But does a private tutor have a role to play in this elite education landscape?

In the same way wealth managers handle the financial affairs of UHNW clients, there are a number of specialists available to help with admissions, tutoring, exam preparation, consultancy and other student support services.

As the private tutoring market is growing – and is expected to keep increasing at least until 2030, according to a Polaris report – finding a suitable tutor has become a challenge. Moreover, elite schools have seen their fees increase and their admission policies change, significantly transforming the educational and admissions processes – another challenge that specialists can offer help with.

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[See also: The top education and tutoring specialists for high-net-worth individuals]

Spear’s index of the best education specialists for HNW and UHNW families provides details on selected private tutors’ areas of expertise, from admission test preparation to maths tutoring and confidence coaching, offering the possibility to choose the most appropriate tutor for each family’s specific needs.

For Grace Moody-Stuart, the director of the Good Schools Guide, ‘tutor companies will work to meet the brief of the parents.’ She adds: ‘[It] could be anything from stretching a bright child, homeschooling, filling in any gaps that they might have despite being taught well in a good school, prepping for a particular exam, [including] retakes of A-levels or the 11+.’

But while parents will often do anything to ensure their children’s academic success, Spear’s has looked into when – and how – is the investment truly worth it.

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Private tutoring for specific exams

While tutors can offer general support to help pupils with everyday school issues and homework, they are often engaged to help with the preparation of specific exams and admission tests.

GCSE, A-Level and IB tutors

When it comes to exam preparation, tutors work towards a clear end goal. Study is usually based on a syllabus, past papers, and specific subjects.

For Lucy Cawkwell, founder and managing director of Osborne Cawkwell Educational Consultants, GCSEs and A-Levels are formulaic, enabling tutors to have a clear idea of what to expect and how to prepare pupils for it. She says: ‘Students are taught according to detailed syllabi so [..] it’s about working steadily through the different areas, learning the content and understanding the types of questions they will be asked.’

For these types of exams, private tuition can help pupils to determine which subjects they need to work on the most and give them an effective approach to do so. Cawkwell says: ‘For A-Levels, with only three to five subjects being studied, as opposed to the eight-12 done at the GCSE, students go into greater depth in each topic. There are perhaps more complex concepts to absorb and longer exam papers to tackle.’

Common Entrance Exam and admission tests

Regarding school entrance exams, tuition work can help prepare children for the best attitude to adopt rather than focusing only on the content of exams. Cawkwell continues: ‘School entrance tests are often looking to push a student and will often present questions that a student hasn’t faced before to see how he or she copes under pressure.’

[See also: How to get your child into private school in the UK: the expert guide]

In fact, while the content of admission tests is curriculum-based, ‘the questions will look to extend and stretch a student,’ Cawkwell says. Tuition will therefore focus on test techniques such as focus and discipline to sit for 30 minutes and answer questions. 

Cawkwell’s advice is to start private tuition around 18 months before the exam for school entrance exams at 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+, and around 6 months before the 16+ exam.

Mentoring

With the growing consideration and awareness of mental health, pupils’ academic experience is also viewed and valued through the angle of how they face it personally. Moreover, elite schools today value academic attitude in addition to excellence, making it all the more important for pupils to be assisted – both academically and personally.

For Cawkwell, ‘a tutor is really a mentor in an academic environment.’ She says: ‘They can straddle the gap between parents/teachers and a friend. A tutor is a mentor, increasing motivation and engagement, bringing up confidence and working on a growth mindset.’

Cawkwell explains that a mentorship approach to tutoring directly benefits academic performance as ‘if a child is struggling, there are often many other factors […] such as a learning difference, poor study skills, lack of motivation, lack of confidence…’. She adds: ‘The correct approach to learning is more important than what is actually being learnt.’

The opportunity for a mentorship makes the choice of a suitable tutor all the more consequential. ‘It’s important to get the right fit, someone who can stimulate and encourage rather than switch off further,’ says Moody-Stuart.

The drawbacks of private tutoring

Finding a private tutor that is appropriate for a pupil’s needs allows them to avoid experiencing any of the disadvantages it can bring. 

[See also: Should you send your child to an elite boarding school?]

‘It’s important to get the balance right,’ says Moody-Stuart. ‘Too much tutoring on top of school work can lead to burnout and further falling of standards.’ For this reason, intense pressure and a lack of free time can often be observed in pupils who are overly pushed by a tutor.

‘Getting the right character match is also critical,’ Moody-Stuart explains. She adds: ‘Students need to look forward to the tutor session and not dread it. Too much online tutoring and not enough personal contact can also be problematic, particularly with younger children.’

Is private tutoring worth the money?

With private tutoring soaring and academic competition rising between pupils, the decision of whether to engage the services of a tutor is more complex than ever. There are numerous factors to consider, including making sure a tutor has the correct qualifications and checking whether they are employed by a reputable company. Parents should also ask for key information on the tutor’s student turnover and how much supervision the child will be given. 

For Cawkwell, who has over 30 years of tutoring experience, the qualities possessed by leading tutors include ‘academic knowledge’, ‘awareness of the syllabus and what students need to do to get top marks’, ‘teaching ability’ and ‘skill in creating relationships of mutual trust with students’. 

[See also: Are elite boarding schools still a good return on your investment?]

However, Moody-Stuart says it is ‘impossible to tell’ whether private tutoring in general is worth the money. ‘Some tutoring companies will be excellent but relatively inexpensive, others will be very pricey but not necessarily brilliant,’ she says.

Just like most educational matters, private tutoring has to be considered on a case-to-case basis, with in mind the best options for a child’s academic and personal development. Spear’s Education Index considers the most significant factors to make an informed decision.

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