Azara Blog: Private tuition a waste of money

Blog home page | Blog archive

Google   Bookmark and Share

Date published: 2005/04/08

The BBC says:

Some parents who pay for private tuition for their children might be wasting their money, a study suggests.

Research from London University's Institute of Education suggests more than a quarter of students have private tuition before their GCSE exams.

A study of more than 300 pupils who took GCSEs in 2003 found extra lessons raised maths results slightly, but made little difference to English grades.

Boys were most likely to benefit from private tutoring, researchers said.

If you were a scientist, and wanting to do this study properly, you would randomly take 300 students (well, perhaps more than 300 students, to get better statistics) and split them into two groups randomly. You would then give exams to both groups to check that what the baseline score is (hopefully similar, since the groups are randomly chosen). Then one group would receive tuition from some randomly chosen group of tutors. Then you would give them another exam, and see whether the tutored group has improved relative to the untutored group. (And all the while guaranteeing that neither the students nor tutors realise they are involved in the study, and that is almost impossible to achieve.)

The BBC article does not make it clear whether or not this is what happened. The article is pretty much a repeat of the Institute of Education (IoE) press release, except that the BBC left out a few crucial details, and the IOE press release says:

Private tuition may give a boost to students' GCSE results, but some parents may be wasting their money, according to new research from the Institute of Education.

Students who have private tuition in mathematics during the two years before GCSEs achieve on average just under half a grade higher - which can mean a C rather than a D grade - than students who do not have a tutor. And while some improve by well over half a grade, others do not see any improvement at all. Those who benefit most are boys.

Researchers Judith Ireson and Katie Rushforth surveyed over 300 year 11 students who had taken GCSEs in 2003. Forty-eight of them had had private tuition in maths during years 10 and 11, with boys and girls having similar amounts. But the boys increased their maths scores by almost three-quarters of a grade while the tuition had little effect on girls' performance.

Only 20 students had had private tuition in English and there was very little impact on GCSE grades.
Notes for editors:

A questionnaire survey of over 3,500 pupils in years 6, 11 and 13 was undertaken in 30 primary schools and 34 secondary schools and colleges in England. Parents of all these pupils were also surveyed and 1170 questionnaires returned. The schools were selected to represent a range of demographic characteristics and school organisation and within each school two classes representing the full range of ability were selected on a random basis. The impact of private tuition in years 10 and 11 on GCSE attainment was assessed using information for year 11 pupils in 7 schools. This controlled statistically for other factors known to affect achievement, including prior attainment in Key Stage 3 tests (taken in year 9), school, gender, ethnic group and socio-economic status.

So there were only 48 students out of the 300 who had maths tuition (not a big sample) and they were not randomly chosen to receive the tuition. So this pretty much invalidates any possible conclusion, in spite of the warm words about the results being "controlled statistically". It's quite possible that these particular students were getting tuition because they had finally hit a roadblock in their studies, and that without the tuition they would have done much worse. Needless to say, the take-home message ("private tuition is a waste of money") is just what the chattering class educationalists (and people who work for the BBC) would love to believe, so they are happy to take the results at face value. Of course it is quite possible that private tuition is a waste of money, but the study does not really provide any evidence one way or the other.

All material not included from other sources is copyright For further information or questions email: info [at] cambridge2000 [dot] com (replace "[at]" with "@" and "[dot]" with ".").