Reinforcing a child's education doesn't begin and end with hiring a tutor. Parents have a vital role to play in educating their children, and can make tutoring doubly effective by promoting intellectual stimulation at home.
Inspirational, dedicated tutoring can transform a child’s academic fortunes. It can mean the difference between a B and an A* at GCSE, or between being accepted to a top school or missing out on a place, while the best tutors will boost their pupils confidence and self-esteem as well as guiding them to top marks. At the same time, though, when a child does well it is very rarely just because they were tutored. Tutoring is a supplement, rather than a diet, and the foundation of educational nourishment is provided neither by teachers nor tutors but by the environment, activities and influences that a child is exposed to outside of lessons.
There can be a tendency to feel that once a good school and/or tutor is found a parent’s role in the process of education is over, and this is understandable: when paying for a service one expects results, and good schools and good tutors should provide them. However, just as a doctor will struggle to treat a patient that fails to take care of his own health, a tutor can only do so much to help a pupil that isn’t being educationally stimulated outside of lessons. Parents need to understand that they are a critical – perhaps the most critical – component of their children’s educational journey.
This is firstly because children will naturally imitate the behaviour and values of their parents. Parents who lament the fact that their child doesn’t read should ask themselves how often they read themselves, both with and away from their children. Likewise, if parents feel that their children are spending too much time on screens, they should lead by example, and cut down their own usage as well as their children’s.
Then there’s the matter of free time. What a child does outside of lessons will have a direct effect on her progress, and parents can contribute to academic success with stimulating activities at home. Free time doesn’t need to mean sitting on the sofa watching TV or playing with an iPad; instead it can mean cooking, playing music, building with Lego, playing board games, going on outdoor expeditions or visiting museums. At the same time doing absolutely nothing (and again, that doesn’t mean being on an iPad) has its own merits. Overstimulating children, maxing out their timetables with dozens of extra-curricular activities and leaving no room for down-time should be avoided, while periods of “nothingness”, where children make their own fun away from adult supervision, are essential for developing creativity and natural inquisitiveness.
The final way in which parents can contribute to their children’s success is by making sure homework gets done. Many tutors (particularly in the run-up to exams) will set homework exercises, and it is neither realistic nor (up to a certain age) reasonable to expect children to jump up, go to their room and do their homework without any pushing and prodding. Enforcing independent study might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s vital in teaching a child to self-manage and take responsibility for his work.
A lot of this might seem blindingly obvious – I hope it is. The only point I’m trying to make is that, rather than seeing themselves as separate to a child’s education, parents should understand the immensely positive contribution they can make to their child’s success. By complementing and supporting the work of a tutor when he or she isn’t around and by creating an environment conducive to learning, parents can hugely increase the progress children will make from being tutored. Education doesn’t have to be for ‘educators’; parents can make a difference too.
Raphael Hetherington is an educational consultant at UK Study Centre.