Growth of private tuition tells story of mounting pressure on parents

Our recent research found that 5% of seven-year-olds and 22% of 11-year-olds were receiving extra academic tuition outside of regular school hours. This suggests mounting pressure is being put on parents to make sure their children “perform”, comparable to the performance pressures on schools to achieve good exam results.

We analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking 19,000 children born in 2000 through childhood (so far at age three, five, seven and 11) and plans to continue to adulthood. We looked at the children’s out of school activity, at how it changed during primary school and at patterns of activity for children from different backgrounds. The sample we looked at contained about 11,000 children from a white background and about 2,000 from an ethnic minority background – similar proportions to those in the wider population.

Jump in private tuition

Our findings on the extent of children having private tuition, presented at the British Education Research Association conference in September, seem to be quite a lot higher than previous estimates – although of course we are rarely comparing the same groups of children. A paper by education researcher Judith Ireson found that of 3,000 children aged 10-18, 27% had a private tutor. It was only when she got to children aged 11 to 16-years-old living in London that the figures became as high as 40%.

What seems to shock about our figures is that at such a young age, seven years old, 5% of children are having tutoring of some kind. And substantial proportions of children at age 11 are having tutoring, either for English, maths or school entrance. This varied for different ethnic groups, but over 40% of children identifying as Indian, Black, and other (which includes Chinese) had some kind of tutoring.

What we don’t yet have is data on how to interpret these figures. Over the past ten years we have seen the “scholarisation of childhood”, through which parents face enormous pressure to use whatever resources available to them – including tutoring – to make effective choices about their children’s schooling.

Sometimes schools and parents can struggle to engage with each other. In this context, some parents give up and take their own action. This raises questions about the extent to which schools alone are responsible for their exam results – whether good or bad. But we do not know yet how effective private tuition is and how it might influence exam results.

Tough choices

Our research also found that extra tuition was most common among children whose mothers had a postgraduate degree – 30% – and least common among children whose mothers had no formal qualifications, though it was still relatively high at 19%. This suggests that parents with all types of educational backgrounds put an importance on education.

Our finding that music lessons were taken by 43% of children whose mothers had a postgraduate degree, but only 6% of children whose mothers had no qualifications, could lead us to speculate that less educated parents are choosing extra tuition rather than music lessons. But this would be conjecture and more research is needed to interpret this.

There was other good news in our research: most children (78%) help with chores at home, and 53% several times a week. One in ten children aged 11 have commitments at home, caring for elderly, sick or disabled family members at least once a week. It is not easy to find comparative historical figures for the same age – but one in ten seems much higher than other estimates.

What’s clear overall is that there is unequal access to out of school activities. The expense of the school day is shocking. At Newcastle University we are also carrying out an evaluation of Child North East’s work in schools to poverty proof the school day.

They have found that regular costs such as the cost of uniform, trips, homework, swimming lessons and badges, and pressure to collect charity money stigmatise children and parents. In one school, the holiday drama club costs £100 and so excludes a significant proportion of children. The cost of the end of school prom ranges from £250 to £1,000 per child – but students and parents feel pressured not to miss out.

The next phase of our research will be to look at whether there is an association between different after-school activities and educational attainment at age 11.

Written by: Professor of Educational Inclusion, Newcastle University

Outdated exams are holding children back – not computers in the classroom

A recent report has confirmed that simply increasing the number and use of computers in a school is unlikely to result in significant improvement in “educational outcomes”, including in results for reading, mathematics and science.

The report, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), recommended solutions were fairly predictable and included increasing training for teachers and greater use of innovative teaching methods.

According to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills: “Adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.” We therefore need to get much better at using pedagogies that make the most of technology.

But a significant problem still remains. Even if we combine 21st-century technologies with 21st-century teaching practices we are still stuck with a form of assessment born in the 19th and 20th centuries – the written exam.

Testing the wrong things

Like it or not our national exams continue to dictate children’s “educational outcomes”, the kind of content that is delivered and the skills which pupils are expected to develop. Unfortunately, in many countries these exams do not attempt to assess, evaluate or encourage the development of 21st century skills such as problem solving and critical thinking.

It is easy to understand why the introduction of new technology in the classroom may well have very little, if any, impact on the traditional learning outcomes that are associated with it. For example, if an exam is expected to test a student’s knowledge of a clearly defined subject area which is covered in a single textbook, then having access to the internet in the classroom may well prove to be an unnecessary distraction. Instead, the text book alone may be sufficient.

And if teachers have a proven track record of producing grade A students without using technology, why risk rocking the boat with new technology? Within this outdated assessment framework of examinations there appears to be little incentive for teachers to introduce and use new forms of technology.

The damage being done by a culture of education built around exams is now also being further exacerbated by the OECD itself and its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey and league tables. Member countries now take great pride in being top of the league table. But this means they’re competing with each other to have the most efficient but outdated assessment framework, which is assessing many skills which are slowly becoming redundant.

And this perverse race to the bottom will continue until assessment systems are reformed and begin to focus more on the development of 21st century skills. PISA has already taken an encouraging step in this direction by introducing a test on problem solving; but the traditional tests still dominate much of its analysis.

Unfortunately, an OECD Education Working Paper from 2009 found that while there was much talk about 21st century skills and competencies there were few specific definitions and “virtually no clear formative or summative assessment policies for these skills”. There was also a distinct lack of relevant teacher training programs, which is a real cause for concern.

Bring in the internet

To help drag assessments systems into the 21st century a simple solution is now being proposed by a number of academics such as our colleague Sugata Mitra at Newcastle University and by Eric Mazur at Harvard. Internet-enabled exams involve introducing the internet into the exam hall. The hope is that they could prove to be a catalyst that will encourage the educational system to reform itself from within.

The organisations writing the examinations would have to think differently. If students have access to the internet then they would no longer be able to use the same old standard exam questions. Instead, they would have to think of new, open and challenging questions which would require students to navigate the internet and identify different perspectives and points of view.

The curriculum would also need to change from being one that is based on things that are known, to one based around big questions that do not have an easy answer. Teachers would also have to focus less on the teaching of facts and more on developing children’s searching, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students would also have to think differently. Remembering facts and figures and passive listening skills would no longer be as important. Instead, the development of 21st century skills would become critical, including skills associated with the effective use of multiple forms of technology.

In 2010, the Danish government began experimenting with internet enabled examinations with initial success. Mark Dawe, the former chief executive of the OCR exam body in the UK, has also suggested that this is a reform whose time has come. Now it is time for others to think the unthinkable and blaze new trails.

Written by:

, Lecturer, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University.

, PhD candidate in Digital Civics, Newcastle University

The education of the heart

By Tran Nhan, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

In this blog post I would like to reflect on my working experience as a part-time Head of English at KOTO Vocational Training Center, Vietnam, a charity organization to train underprivileged youths to work in international hospitality industry. The center is considered the second home of all the youths here, the home where they can feel love, empathy and so much caring to compensate for all the misery they had to suffer during their childhood. The teachers here (both Vietnamese and international volunteers) are normally called “elder sisters/brothers” and we, sisters and brothers, do not just teach them the essential knowledge and skills for hospitality industry but more importantly, we assist them to change their identities from low self-esteem and inefficacy to confidence and success within an 18-month training programme. That seemingly incredible mission has been successfully achieved with the graduation of more than twenty classes so far. The secret behind this success, I firmly believe, lies in the educational philosophy of this center – KNOW ONE TEACH ONE – which reflects the education of the heart and mind mentioned by Sir Ken Robinson, Dalai Lama and Aristotle with his unequivocal saying: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

The educational environment here favors formative assessment.  The teachers have a good understanding of the learners’ living circumstances as well as the affective baggage they may bring to class so that they can be patient, empathetic and wholeheartedly accompany the learners to attainment in their study. Constant verbal feedback is given to the learners both inside and outside class regarding how they progress after each lesson. Weaker learners are boosted by a special tutoring programme with extra support from both Vietnamese and international volunteers. As the learners share the same dormitory, they are assigned to study in pair at home so that they can give and receive mutual support to/from their classmates and the senior learners. Learning and assessment here are similar to what Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4) refers to as “an inter-subjective social process, situated in, and accomplished by interaction between students and teachers.”

In this learning environment, more traits of divergent assessment can also be observed. Serious attempts are made at the beginning of the course to establish what the learners already knew, understood or could do via open and explicit dialogues as is mentioned by Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4). As most of the learners here start with no English, ‘helping questions’ rather than ‘testing questions,’ have been employed to guide them through the process of constructing new knowledge, correcting mistakes and prompting further engagement. The Know One Teach One culture also indicates that very little explicit ‘teaching’ is found here rather the learners can engage alongside with their “elder sisters and brothers” and peers in carrying out “tasks with high authenticity in the communities of practice in question” (Crossouard, 2009, p.78).

In a nutshell, what I have experienced in KOTO Vocational Training Center is rather contrastive to the traditional form of schools: it favours formative and divergent assessment rather than summative one and a process of co-inquiry rather than measurement (Hargreaves, 2005, p.218). There is a simple truth that I could realize, my heart sings every time I head for the Center.

Author biographical data: Tran Nhan is an IPhD candidate in Education and Communication at School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, the United Kingdom. She works as a lecturer of English in the University of Foreign Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Her research interests include assessment in higher education, thinking skills and learner and teacher identity.


Crossouard, B. (2009) ‘A sociocultural reflection on formative assessment and collaborative challenges in the states of Jersey’, Research Papers in Education, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 77-93.

Hargreaves, E. (2005) ‘Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the (black) box’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 213–224.

Pryor, J. & Crossouard, B. (2008) ‘A socio-cultural theorisation of formative assessment’, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 34, pp. 1-20.

Behaviour Conference Reflection

Matt McGuire, PGCE Trainee reflects on what he learnt from the Behaviour Conference

undefinedPlato said that “all learning has an emotional base” suggesting that behaviour puts a student’s feelings on display, so teachers need to know exactly what to say to enable students to process the information and get on with it. The workhops focussed on how we as teachers can act in ways where good behaviour is inevitable and bad behaviour is rare. Throughout the day it became clear that the most significant factor is the quality of the teacher, and how behaviour is something that is taught rather something that is managed. As a teacher it is important to not only know but also understand the tools at our disposal including voice and body language. Looking at scenarios, I learnt the importance of planning for behaviour through understanding student’s backgrounds in order to implement appropriate strategies. Although reflection is important, it is important not to dwell on the negatives and instead learn from them. Finally, I learnt that when teaching behaviour, students can be motivated in different ways.  Teachers must decide which technique is most appropriate to use, depending on the individual situation.

Florelena Galvis, SD PGCE Trainee reflects on the day and what she personally gained.

Last Friday’s Behaviour Conference provided a great opportunity for teacher trainees to discuss and understand a topic that is central in today’s teaching classrooms: behaviour management. The conference opened with a lecture about “Behaviour and/for Learning”, by Dr Simon Gibbs, Reader in Educational Psychology. In this talk, Dr Gibbs focused on how teachers could turn poor behaviour into positive learning by creating classroom routines and adopting strategies that would directly address students’ anxieties, reminding us all that a significant portion of the nation’s pupils are excluded every year due to undesirable performances in the classroom. How can teachers make a difference in children’s learning process?

A series of workshops continued, initiated by a discussion about why students behave the way they do. In this first session trainees learnt about the nature of behaviour, which was defined as “thoughts and feelings in display”, meaning that pupils carry with them “bags of stress and fears” caused by situations at home, outside home or maybe even at school, and that we teachers need to take this into consideration. The following session concentrated on behaviour management techniques and strategies, and presented a very effective way to minimise poor behaviour in the classroom: see everybody, hear what is going on, communicate clearly and uses body language appropriately. The next workshop encouraged a discussion that involved real classroom scenarios and effective ways to deal with these that would promote a safe learning environment within the classroom. For example, a good way to deal with a misbehaving student is to give them choices where the responsibility for changing their behaviour around falls entirely on them. The final session referred to how teachers can help improve behaviour for learning by incorporating tactics in their lesson plans that account for any opportunity of misbehaviour or prevent misconduct from escalating.


All four workshops presented several ways that teacher can deal with poor behaviour effectively in the classroom, and a common conclusion from all four meetings was that teaching is an emotional profession, and that teachers must control their emotions and reactions in front of every occurrence of poor behaviour, no matter how bad this is, in order to be able to successfully deal with them.

The behaviour conference was not only exciting and enjoyable, but also very enriching in arguments and answers. It allowed trainees to think about possible behaviour situations that could threaten the progress of their lessons and potentially turn into a build-up of whole-class poor conduct. The conference provided a fertile base for participants to think about ideas and strategies that could be put in place to minimise poor behaviour and to maximise learning. Trainees left the conference feeling more confident about managing students’ behaviour, and willing to try different techniques that could help them secure behaviour for learning and, more importantly, overcome their apprehensions about behaviour management.

It takes a village to raise a SOLE

Panel sole nyc 007

SOLE NYC in Harlem has got its work cut out. Simply introducing the concept of self organised learning is a challenge in most schools, but at John B. Russwurm PS 197M they will also be using it to engage particularly hard-to-reach students.

“I didn’t want to do this in a school where everyone was doing ok – I wanted to do it here because I knew it could make a real difference,” says Natalia Arrendondo, who is the driving force behind SOLE NYC and will be overseeing the research into reading comprehension, social skills and how young students navigate Big Questions.

Professor Sugata Mitra officially opened SOLE NYC today (14 October) as the first dedicated American SOLE research lab. It joins five other labs in India and two in the UK that have all been created as part of his 2013 TED Prize wish to build a School in the Cloud.

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the whole of the USA, with students divided not only by race, but also by socio-economic status. SOLE NYC is in a high poverty and low income area, where most families live on well under $25,000 a year.

Most of PS 197M’s students come from less well-off African American families, along with those from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds. “Some kids have difficult home lives,” explains Natalia. “This can have a knock-on effect on behavioural issues and make it difficult for them to engage in class.”

Natalia sees her role as SOLE lab co-ordinator as also part counsellor, trying to talk to the students to see what’s going on and offer a bit of stability in their lives.

This SOLE lab, which is being funded through Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, will cater from Pre K (three to four-year-olds) up to 5th grade (12-13-year-olds) and will be run by a committee made up of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

The design the students decided upon that best reflected their idea of ‘adventure’ for the SOLE lab was a jungle, complete with an animal mural with clouds, monkeys and butterflies hanging down from the ceiling.

The plan is for classrooms to cycle through the SOLE lab so that there is a session happening at all times (4+ sessions a day).

“I feel very lucky that everything has come together in such an amazing way,” says Natalia Arredondo, who is a PhD student at Newcastle University currently living in New York. “I’ve been bowled over by the help the school has provided – custodians, teachers, construction workers and parents have all come together to help, often after school hours. They’ve made it their own project. It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child, but in Harlem it’s taken a village to build this SOLE lab.

“I’m confident about what will happen with the students but what I’m curious about is the teachers, as very few are into inquiry-based learning and it’s very much the opposite of traditional teaching.

“Whether the teachers embrace it or not is crucial and I think this is where the work will need to be done.”

Natalia has already carried out several SOLEs in the school to get the students used to the idea of working in this way and was surprised how quickly they took to it.

PS 197M is a focus school, meaning it has failed to pass state examinations several years running and so becomes the district’s focus, with more support and visits from the superintendent’s office as a result.

Natalia carried out a lot of research and demonstrated in all types of schools in the area before deciding to locate it in Harlem. “Natasha (Spann, the school principal) has a passion for education – she just loves it but is in a difficult spot,” Natalia says. “I wasn’t sure if she’d go for this, as it’s a gamble, but in the end I just put it to her, stepped back, and did as Sugata would, sitting back and just letting it happen.”

Written by Sarah Cossom, Media Relations Manager

Opening up a discussion: Do coaches and mentors make successful educational leaders?

In October 2015, I was fortunate to be able to lead a discussion session at the first ever WomenEd unconference.  WomenEd[1] is a grassroots movement which connects existing and aspiring leaders in education. The group exists to address the fact that even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education there still remain gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level. My session was entitled ‘Do coaches and mentors make successful educational leaders?’  The session was a learning conversation.  I invited the participants to discuss the fact that many women take roles as mentors or coaches in schools and colleges, playing a key role in facilitating professional development and building learning cultures, but to consider the degree to which acting as a coach or mentor might prepare us for, or dissuade us from, leadership.  While this is an issue of relevance to women in education, it is not exclusively so.  As Teaching Schools and School Direct extend the reach and scale of their combined roles in the ‘self-improving school-led system’ it seems logical that coaching and mentoring activities will expand. When working well both coaching and mentoring draw on, and build up, the cultural competency and linguistic skills of both parties. In terms of impact it is frequently reported that coaches and mentors find the role has a positive impact on their own teaching, but what about its impact on their potential and practice as leaders?

I have a history of research, teaching and school-based CPD in coaching and mentoring, as is evident by other blog posts on this site and elsewhere[2].  While they serve different purposes coaching and mentoring might both provide levers and pathways into good leadership.  However, in relation to the links between coaching and mentoring of teachers (for the development of teaching practices) and educational leadership I have the following concerns;

  • The objectives and practices of coaching and mentoring often get distorted by the performative culture in schools and can fail to have the positive impact that is their potential. In previous work we have explored this through CHAT (Cultural-Historical Activity Theory)[3]. As we wrote in the abstract of the paper, coaching in educational settings is an alluring concept, as it carries associations with life coaching and well-being, sports coaching and achievement and improving educational attainment. Although there are examples of successful deployment in schools, there is also evidence that coaching often struggles to meet expectations. We used socio-cultural theory to explore why coaching does NOT transplant readily to schools, particularly in England, where the object of coaching activity may be in contradiction to the object of dominant activity in schools – meeting examination targets.
  • Coaches and mentors have the opportunity to develop great communication skills. However, this opportunity is not always realised.  Too often these activities are squeezed into very busy working weeks, given inadequate time, or are hijacked (deliberately or inadvertently) by a narrowly-defined target-based sense of professional development.  Developing, practicing and sustaining excellent coaching or mentoring requires a certain language, and a willingness to look beyond the particulars of specific lessons. It requires a more open understanding of a shared process of informed scrutiny than is typically possible in a hurried conversation or one which has overtones of performance management.  The communication skills being rehearsed in coaching or mentoring can become rather diminished.  If they are not, and coaching or mentoring becomes more sophisticated then the participants develop a new language for talking about teaching and learning, linking together critical incidents and whole lesson characteristics (for example), and exploring each-others’ understanding using a broad interactional repertoire which allows for challenge, exploration of ideas and co-construction.  Good coaches and mentors support successful formation of teacher identities that go beyond the requirements to demonstrate a checklist of competencies.  Previous research illustrates these levels of development of both coaching[4] and mentoring[5]. But, even when it works at this level there may still be a problem.  Educational leadership has become a very managerial process – one through which a priority is holding colleagues to account.  The language of exploration and development which might be developed through coaching and mentoring does not always translate easily to accountability regimes.
  • While coaches and mentors may gain real insight into the issues affecting colleagues and learners in their school (and sometimes beyond) this ‘intelligence’ may not then be translated in to leadership. This gap may be caused by the difficulties in resolving activities at different scales.  Coaching and mentoring are typically inter-personal activities, focusing on an individual’s practices, and only the most sophisticated coaching and mentoring successfully relates this too influences of policy or society (at school level or beyond).  Coaching and mentoring can generate the sort of professional knowledge which comes from the ground up or from lateral conversations.  School leaders and managers often deal with top down implementation of the latest national agenda.  Expertise or dilemmas from the classroom or practitioner conversations can easily be squeezed out in this context.  As such, even when coaches or mentors become leaders they may not easily be able to draw on what they learned in that context.
  • Good coaches and mentors can get pigeon holed (or even pigeon hole themselves) and their talents may not be developed in relation to educational leadership. This may be exacerbated by the issues raised above. We have evidence that some coaches would rather let coaching dwindle than let it fall in to the hands of senior leadership.  We also know that if SLT set up coaching programmes they have to work hard to overcome their own tendencies to over-manage it in the direction of the latest school agenda.

So, my questions at this point are framed by a core concern of how we can use the experience of coaching and mentoring for better educational leadership. I believe that coaching and mentoring can provide genuine opportunities for educational development through a focus on pedagogy, learning and learners, colleagues’ professional practices, school and curriculum structures, challenges and opportunities for change and improvement and staff and students’ wellbeing. I am, however, concerned that the vital link to educational leadership is not secure.

Blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse




[3] Lofthouse, R. & Leat, D. (2013) An Activity Theory Perspective on Peer Coaching. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 2 (1), pp.8-20.

[4] Lofthouse, R., Leat, D & Towler, C. (2010) Improving Teacher Coaching in Schools; A Practical Guide, CfBT Education Trust

[5] Lofthouse, R. & Wright, D.G. (2012) Teacher education lesson observation as boundary crossing. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education 2012, Vol. 1. (3), pp.89-103.