Some say tutors boost results; others say they can make it harder for students to think for themselves.
THE STUDENT JOEL REINES
I’VE had three tutors for five subjects this year. My mum is one of the vast majority of HSC parents who, according to Australian Tutoring Association figures, is in external tuition overdrive.
But no matter how much I am hothoused, my tutors aren’t going to be sitting next to me in the exam room, so I am going to have to draw on my own knowledge and skills to get me through.
Private tutors can be useful, especially if a student is facing difficulties in a subject, but you shouldn’t rely on them as the magic solution to get you through the HSC. Being over-tutored can mean that students may lose the ability to do their own research, which is vital. Having information virtually fed to you on a platter will only get you so far.
It’s interesting that the students who usually come top in the state aren’t those who use coaching. Rather they are the ones who do extensive reading for themselves. This allows them to gain a greater understanding than what is in the textbook and is the key to their success.
At my school students are encouraged to do further reading on each topic and to think independently. The underlying message is that you have to fully embrace a subject to develop a passion for it, which naturally breeds success.
At this school the use of external tutors is discouraged. Teachers will organise one-on-one private lessons with students whose results are lacking, especially when they are preparing for a big assignment. This is a great system, since most teachers know their students’ capabilities far better than an outside coach and they also have a vested interest in getting the best HSC results.
If a student finds their results are lacking in one particular subject then tutors should be used but there has to be a happy medium between using tutors to help a student get the best possible marks, and encouraging them to work harder for themselves. To avoid over-using tutors students should ask themselves: will extra tuition really improve my marks dramatically, or will I just become lazy by putting the burden of my school assignments on my coaches?
External tutoring may ”buy” students a few extra marks, but learning how to be an independent researcher will ensure success in the HSC and beyond.
Joel Reines is a year 12 student at Reddam House, North Bondi.
THE PRINCIPAL JULIE GREENHALGH
FOR the most part, my advice to students is to avoid getting external tutoring as preparation for the HSC exams.
Classroom teachers who are well qualified, up-to-date with changes in syllabus requirements, experienced and hard working will provide all the assistance that is necessary for students to succeed at the HSC, so long as the students make the best use of their class time and take advantage of offers of additional help from their teachers.
The NSW Board of Studies gives an indication of the time needed to complete the HSC courses, and schools determine their timetables so that students have enough time to cover the work in class. However, sometimes, additional time and/or assistance is necessary.
Girls at Meriden are able to get additional assistance, if needed, from their teachers at lunch time and after school. Over the recent school holidays, many of the year 12 teachers have held additional classes, and girls have been emailing practice essays to their teachers on a very frequent basis. All this gives the girls the additional help that they may need. I imagine that most schools offer some form of additional assistance to their HSC students.
In my experience, students who have an external tutor tend to rely too heavily on the tutor. Rather than drawing on the expertise of their class teacher in an efficient way, these students do not use their class time well; nor do they take advantage of the out-of-class assistance that is being offered by the classroom teacher and the school.
Our school, for example, runs a maths centre where the girls in years 7 to 12 can get assistance from the maths staff after school at no additional cost.
The only time where a tutor may be of some assistance is when a student has missed a substantial amount of school. This may be through ill-health or for family reasons. This is the only time when I would recommend to parents that some short-term tutoring may be of help.
Dr Julie Greenhalgh is principal of Meriden School, Strathfield.
THE ADMINISTRATOR BRIAN CROKE
A TUTOR’S services are simply irrelevant to the success of most HSC students, although parental and peer-group insecurity is driving the expansion of a lucrative but unregulated tutoring industry. That is because an HSC cohort now comprises more than 70,000 students, each with different hopes and aspirations. They are tomorrow’s teachers and nurses, farmers and mechanics, chefs and bureaucrats. Meeting their diverse curriculum needs involves a wide range of subjects, from classical Greek to tourism and events. Tutoring only caters for a small minority of subjects, namely those which students expect will improve their competitive entrance to a particular university option. For them the main game is not the HSC but the ATAR. Most HSC students judge their relative success in their own unique way and usually by whether or not the HSC opens the door to their preferred course of study. The HSC is designed for a culture which measures success in terms of personal goals and through mastery of a wide repertoire of knowledge and skills, not just by mastery of facts and time on task which are the virtues promoted by the tutoring industry.
The HSC is no sprint, requiring a tutor in the final stages to achieve a personal best. It is a two-year course of study involving assessments, practical projects and an examination. Most successful students learn best by engaging with their daily teacher, not deferring to their weekly tutor. Beyond the tutor’s reach, the HSC also lets flourish high levels of creativity in music, visual arts, drama and design, not to mention the capacity for sophisticated work flowing from extension 2 English and extension history. Student success springs from confidence in knowing that they have met such demands by themselves and with their teachers’ guidance.
Some students may benefit from targeted tutoring, but for many a dependence on tutoring for HSC success only adds undue stress. Year in, year out, successful students return to their schools to preach the same message to the next generation: keep a study/life balance, be realistic about your goals, set high expectations for yourself, work consistently, eat and sleep properly. Tutoring never rates a mention.
Brian Croke is executive director of the Catholic Education Commission, NSW.
THE TUTOR ROB PRIOR
WITH such fierce competition for university entrance, tutors and tutoring colleges fulfil a vital need for HSC students.
While some students have the ability to succeed without outside assistance, there are many factors that motivate students and parents to seek tutoring. It could be the student lacks the foundations necessary to cope with work presented to them in later years. Or perhaps they are having difficulty keeping pace with their peers and need specialised attention. Often it is simply that the student lacks the discipline and focus to maintain a committed approach to studying.
Many of the students we have tutored are very motivated and have high aspirations. Most are satisfied with the education they receive at school, but want to be challenged and exposed to the different perspectives tutoring can provide. They are also keen to be spurred on by healthy competition with like-minded students.
When I started tutoring in the mid-1970s, the demand was mainly for remedial assistance for students who were struggling with their studies. By the early ’90s, an increasing number of students with lofty ambitions turned to tutoring to gain the best opportunity to enter high-end university courses, such as medicine, law and economics.
This period also marked a big expansion of multiculturalism, with education made a priority by parents who wanted their children to have a better life than they had. These parents felt that, even beyond enrolling their children in selective and private schools, extra tutoring could provide an advantage in the quest for tertiary entrance. Tutors offer personal attention, helping students to develop their understanding and skills, in order to approach school exams and the HSC with greater confidence.
To meet increasing demand, a growing number of options emerged and the tutoring industry gained momentum. Now a wide spectrum of tutoring opportunities are available, from one-on-one tutors and computer programs to structured courses offered by tutoring colleges such as ours.
Parents seeking tutoring for their children should consider the options and not be afraid to request a trial lesson before committing. This way, their child will feel empowered to choose the option that will work for them.
Robert Prior is the founder and principal of PRIOR Education Australia.