Are you still undecided about Eleven Plus tuition? Do you ever wonder if tutoring is a ‘waste of money’? Many parents feel that they have to tutor to ‘keep up’ with their friends even if they are not sure that grammar school is the right choice for their child. Deciding whether or not to tutor can be a bewildering experience and, with so much conflicting advice, parents often leave it until the last minute to make a decision. If you are still undecided, read on to find out more about the benefits of tuition and how to choose a tutor.

Why tutor?

The Buckinghamshire Eleven Plus exam was updated again in 2018, and is now more complex, with a far greater range of question types than ever before. This means there is more to prepare for and, with competition for grammar school places fierce, children need to be achieving high scores to be in with a chance of obtaining a place. Although some of the test content is covered in school, there are a significant number of question types that are not in the school curriculum. The added pressure of working to strict timings and under exam conditions makes it difficult for children to qualify if they have not had any form of additional preparation.

For most children, the Eleven Plus will be the first significant exam that they take and many parents believe that it is important to prepare them for it, in the same way they will prepare for any other exams, such as GCSEs. Whilst some parents choose the ‘DIY’ approach and prepare their children at home, many simply don’t have the time or resources to do so; others worry that it would put a strain on their relationship and prefer to enlist the support of a professional.

Eleven Plus tuition offers many more benefits than simply preparing for the exam, though of course a grammar school place will be the motivation for many parents and children. Covering the Eleven Plus topics will give children strong foundations in English and mathematics, help them achieve their best at primary school, and can lead to them being placed in a higher set at whichever secondary school they move on to.

With over-sized classes and a lack of resources in many schools, it is often impossible for teachers to give children the individual attention they need. It is also difficult for teachers to adapt their teaching to suit every child’s individual way of learning which can make a huge difference to a child’s performance. Good quality tutoring, whether one-to-one or in a small group setting, provides each child with a more tailored approach, focusing on their individual learning goals, and providing more opportunity for individual support.

The right approach, in a friendly and supportive learning environment, can lead to a positive change in even the most reluctant learners. Effective tutoring is not just about learning subject knowledge or how to tackle specific exam questions; it should also focus on developing the child overall. A tutor who has a more rounded approach, teaching pupils how to develop a positive mindset for learning, will increase their chances of succeeding both at school and in life.

Which tutor?

So, you’ve decided tuition is for you…what should you look for when choosing a tutor?

Tuition is a growing industry and there are so many to choose from it is often difficult to know where to start. The three main types of tutor are as follows:

  1. Independent tutors: working alone, these tutors either teach their lessons in their own home or yours. There are some excellent independent tutors, e.g. qualified teachers who are tutoring for additional money and who have the best interests of their students at heart. Unfortunately, there are also other individuals who have little experience or subject knowledge but have set themselves up as a tutor in order to make money. It is therefore important to do your research before choosing an independent tutor.
  2. Agency tutors: there are a number of tuition agencies that will help you to find a local tutor. Some of these thoroughly vet their tutors; others don’t. If you are using a tuition agency, it is important to find out how they recruit their tutors, what qualifications and experience they look for (if any) and whether or not they do any safeguarding checks.
  3. Tuition centres: these vary in their approach from computer-based programmes which the students work through independently to teacher-led lessons using a range of resources and teaching strategies. If you are considering a centre, go along and visit, see the environment and meet some of the team. As with agencies, ask about their recruitment procedures and make sure they have safeguarding policies in place. Often, centres will offer a free assessment or trial session which is a great way for you and your child to get a feel for the centre.

Once you’ve decided on the type of tutor, there are a number of key points to consider:

Qualifications and experience: The tuition industry is, as yet, unregulated. Anyone can set themselves up a tutor so it is important to ask for evidence of qualifications and experience. References from other parents are a good place to start or look for comments and testimonials on websites and social media.

Safety: A tutor should have a current Disclosures and Barring Service (DBS) check and should be happy to show you their clearance form – this is particularly important for one-to-one tutoring that is taking place at the tutor’s or your home. Remember, though, that a DBS certificate is not a guarantee of the individual’s integrity and before you commit to anything, it is important to check references, meet the tutor and ‘trust your gut’. If you do take your child to the tutor’s home, wait whilst the lessons takes place; if the tutor comes to you, have the lesson take place in a room with an open door and within your eyesight.

Ofsted registration: Some tuition companies are registered with Ofsted. This gives you the peace of mind that all their policies are in place and up to date and their staff will have been trained in safeguarding and health and safety procedures. It may also mean that you can pay for your child’s tuition using Childcare Vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare which will significantly reduce the amount you actually pay.

Teaching philosophy: Ask about the tutor’s approach – simply drilling a child in exam questions or techniques may have limited success. Look for a more holistic approach, where lessons focus not just on teaching subject matter but also on developing the child as a whole by boosting their confidence, helping them to cope with stress and developing independent thinking and problem-solving skills. Ask how the tutor motivates their pupils: an approach that focuses on positive choices and on developing a child’s inner motivation will have a more far-reaching impact than one that is based upon ‘pleasing the teacher’ or ‘fear of failure’.

Resources: Ask what type of resources are used and whether or not these are included in the fees. Is the tuition programme planned by experienced tutors? Is it all computer-based or are a variety of resources used? Are the students taught how to tackle the different question types or will they spend most of their time completing question paper after question paper? Is there any homework? Who will mark it: you or the tutor? What happens over the summer holidays? Make sure that the tutor uses a range of resources and approaches and understands how to make learning enjoyable. Children learn better when they’re having fun!

Financial: The cost of tuition can vary significantly from tutor to tutor and sometimes it can be difficult to work out exactly what you are getting for your money. As with anything, good quality tuition comes at a price and it is important to consider the full picture when deciding which tutor to go with. Questions to ask include:

  • Are all resources included in the fees?
  • How many lessons are there?
  • Can I pay by instalments?
  • Do you accept Childcare Vouchers or Tax-Free Childcare?
  • If my child misses a lesson, may I reschedule?
  • If the tutor is ill or cannot take the lesson, what happens?
  • What happens if I decide to cancel the tuition?

For families with limited finances, some tuition companies offer bursaries, with fees either part of fully paid. If you don’t think you would qualify for a bursary and have a limited budget, it is still worth asking the tutor if they can recommend a more affordable tuition programme for your child.

Feedback: Ask how often you’ll receive feedback about your child’s progress and in what form. You need regular feedback to find out if the tutoring is helping your child and if there is anything you can do to support them at home. If you have any concerns about how your child is coping, speak to your tutor as they will be able to give you an insight into how they are getting on in the lessons and remember: this may be quite different to your child’s own interpretation!

Listen to your child: Ask your child how they are finding the sessions – they will spend a lot of time with their tutor and if they don’t enjoy it, you may experience tears and tantrums every session. If this happens, it may be time to review your options: talk to your child to find out what they don’t like and talk to the tutor to see if they have any suggestions. Sometimes, it may simply be that your child is too tired and changing the lesson time may help; or perhaps there is a personality clash and changing the tutor may be the solution.

Having said that, it is highly likely that at some point in their tuition a child will go through a spell of not wanting to attend scheduled sessions or complete set homework; in the same way they may suddenly decide they no longer want to go to ballet or swimming club. If your child reaches that point, talk to your tutor as they will doubtless have suggestions and strategies for supporting your child through this phase.

When to start

When considering Eleven Plus tuition, there is no right or wrong time to start. The most popular time is a year before, whilst your child is in year five, and there are a number of tutors who offer one-year Eleven Plus courses. However, the increased content of the updated Eleven Plus test means there is now too much to comfortably cover in a year. The knock-on effect of this will be either that some aspects are simply not covered or that more work will be sent home for students to do independently. This can put additional pressure on families at what can already be a stressful time.

Many parents are now opting to start tuition two years in advance, when their child enters year four (with some starting even sooner). This earlier start enables a steadier approach to tuition, meaning no last-minute cramming, and provides more time for children to embed subject content and exam strategies. The added benefits mean that children are likely to progress more rapidly at school, increase in confidence and generally do better academically than they would otherwise have done.

If your child only has a year to go, don’t worry: a well-planned tuition programme that makes use of holiday times can help to spread the load and ensure your child’s preparation is as stress-free as possible.

Need a little help?

Flying Start Tuition is an award-winning tuition centre offering classes for children from year one through to GCSEs, including their popular Eleven Plus programmes. Classes run throughout the year at their main centre in Chesham and at their five satellite centres in Amersham, Aylesbury, Berkhamsted, Jordans Village and Little Chalfont.

Flying Start are Ofsted registered and accept Childcare Vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare. Bursaries are also available – please ask for details.

For further information, contact:

t: 01494 772 898