Private tuition at GCSE and A-level – Is it really the Hidden Secret of Britain’s Educational Arm Race?

Private tuition at GCSE and A-level – Is it really the Hidden Secret of Britain’s Educational Arm Race?

This headline has a rather strong “educational arm race” tone, but it has been used on media platforms such as the BBC and the TES – Times Educational Supplement – and so on. This is following a quote by Sir Peter Lampl – the chairman of Sutton Educational Trust, in which, a couple of years ago, he said, that ‘Private Tuition is the “hidden secret” of   British Education.’

I agree with Sir Peter’s statement,, but I’d just like to change one word in that sentence, “hidden” and I’d like to replace it with “open”, as, in reality, it is not a secret – at least, not any more.  It is common knowledge that a large proportion of teenagers who achieve the top grades at GCSE and A-level have received some sort of private tuition. Below is a set of statistics from the recent report released a couple or so weeks ago by the Sutton Educational Trust on this rather thought-provoking subject.

Facts and figures surrounding Private Tuition

  1. 27% of state school children have had private tuition – over 40% in London
  2. 35% of those from affluent households have received private tuition
  3. On average, GCSE-year pupils in England spend 9.5 hours per week receiving extra tuition…
  4. Bright teenagers from poor homes get half as much extra tuition as less able pupils from wealthier homes,
  5. There is a steady, year-on-year increase in the number of young people who are getting extra tuition (says the TES – Times Educational Supplement)

For many aspirational parents – those of us that some people call “pushy”, there is no surprise whatever in the above statistics – although it is reassuring to see that what we have always suspected, is, in fact, correct. Looking at the first figure in the list above,   27%, whilst I will not say there is a complete alignment, it is interesting to see that 26.4% of teenagers achieve A or A* grade at A-level – which is very close to 27%! It is not true to say that all those who receive extra tuition obtain A or A* grades; however, it is intriguing how statistics reveal some interesting correlations. There are, indeed, some young people who are very bright and receive no extra tuition, work hard and end up with high grades. At the same time, there are youngsters of about average ability, who study hard and receive private tuition and all the necessary support, and obtain grades that their teachers sometimes see as over-achieving.

Going back to the original title of this blogpost, it is, indeed, an open secret that private tuition works very effectively, although not in every case. The thing is that receiving private tuition is nothing new as it has been around for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. We know that the way musicians such as Amadeus Mozart earned their living over a couple of centuries ago was by giving private music lessons to the children of those who could afford it and also performing in concerts.

Having established that private tuition is effective, one of the recommendations that the Sutton Trust made was that the government should provide financial support to those children who need it, but whose parents can’t afford it, which can be done by schools using what is known as  pupil premium.

Speaking philosophically, there should not be such a thing as extra tuition, where young people are having lessons in the evening and over the weekend. There should be sufficient provision in school, during the allocated school timetable and certainly not beyond school hours. The girl or boy should spend their spare time doing ballet, drama, football, rugby or, heaven forbid, spend more time on their X-Box or just chatting away on their smartphone! However, we all know that, philosophy aside, the reality is that so many young people need that extra support.

It is the case that, not only children in state schools are getting private tuition, young people in private schools are also getting private tuition. You would think that, the parents having forked out as much as £30 to £40k a year in school fees and other expenses, there should not be the need to have to invest more time and money on private tuition. The reality is different and this is my observation over the last three decades, as a teacher and curriculum manager in secondary schools – most of which I spent in the private sector.

Parents are very much aware of what is at stake and the consequences of the sixteen to eighteen-year-old ending up with poor grades at GCSE and A-level. Many are prepared to invest the time and money in doing what they found necessary to give their children that extra advantage in an increasingly competitive world.

Getting the most out of private tuition for your child

Having established the potential benefits of private tuition and the overwhelming evidence to show that it is effective, it must be said that it does not always work. The whole process of deciding, seeking and managing all key aspects of it, in order to ensure that the child gains maximum benefit, requires careful planning, process and monitoring.


Whilst I have witnessed several thousands of young people benefitting from private tuition at GCSE and A-level; sadly, I have also seen many young people, for which private tuition, has provided very little, if any benefit.


One of the aspects that I have witnessed is whereby the young person sees a private tuition session as some sort of therapy session and is very happy just to sit there and absorb more information from the private tutor – without following it up with a little more revision of the topics and importantly, question practice. There is also the challenge of finding the appropriate tutor/teacher – one who delivers the teaching and also the other crucial support surrounding it, in a way that maximises the benefits for the teenager in question.

There are three main aspects to private tuition and all those three areas need to be managed very carefully in order that it is not a waste of money from the parents’ point of view, but, more importantly, a waste of time for the teenager. The key areas are:

  1. The decision-making process – is private tuition necessary, where and how to obtain it?
  2. Finding the right tutor/teacher or tuition centre
  3. Monitoring and supporting the child and the tutor to get the most out of the sessions.

As a parent, I’d like to offer you the gift of a small booklet, which is being released next week.  This booklet will allow you to gain some valuable insight and help you on matters such as: the decision process as to whether your child needs private tuition or not; how to decide between private tuition and tuition centre; and how to help your child to get the most out of any private tuition that you may organise.

You can get a copy of this book by visiting the website below and leaving your details so we can send it to you in the post.    (this webpage will be available from 25th October 2019), alternatively, you can call 020 7112 and ask specifically to be sent a booklet called:

Choosing the Right Tutor for Your Child – a Smart Parents Guide

Below are links to some websites you may find useful about the report from the Sutton Trust and other sets of statistics.

I hope you have found this blogpost useful. Please remember to leave a comment, as we value what you say.