Types of tutoring
At one end of the tutoring scale are the individual tutors who specialise in particular subjects, at times working through tutoring agencies. On the other end are coaching colleges offering tutoring in a variety of subjects.
Psychologist and former school teacher Jocelyn Brewer says finding the right fit for your child can take some trial and error: "Someone who did well in their Higher School Certificate might have some skills to offer in understanding the content, but not [in] how humans learn and how they think. Bigger colleges may have the benefit of more resources … and track records to sell to parents. However, I don't see many of those places offering any kind of psychological peak performance training or talking about balance, wellbeing, self-care, or stress management."
"Someone who did well in their Higher School Certificate might have some skills to offer in understanding the content, but not [in] how humans learn and how they think." - Jocelyn Brewer
One-on-one instruction provided by a tutor works to assist students individually, says Dr Pearl Subban, lecturer at the Monash University Faculty of Education. She says having the undivided attention of a tutor can help students target specific weaknesses and improve their results.
How much does tutoring cost?
The cost of one-on-one tutoring varies widely, but you can expect to pay between $30 and $100 per hour.
Tutoring case studies
Although several people reported positive experiences with tutoring, the quality of tutors can be patchy and several sources told us that it's important to check a tutor's references before employing them.
One former tutor described her unfortunate experience: "I told my agency I had a bachelor degree in geography, and completed Year 12 English, French and history, and would be happy to tutor in those subjects at an appropriate level. What was I hired to teach, multiple times? Maths. I quit maths in year 10. All I could do was buy the textbooks and try to stay one week ahead of them."
There's a range of coaching colleges in Australia. Some of the larger colleges include Kumon, James An Coaching College and North Shore Coaching College. There are also colleges operating on a smaller scale, such as the Sydney-based Matrix and Dux College. And it seems you can almost never be too young to attend – believe it or not, some colleges take on students in preschool!
Coaching colleges tend to have group classes, but sometimes offer individual tutoring with their teachers.
The Kumon tutoring method requires kids to complete about 30 minutes worth of worksheets every day of the week and attend twice-weekly study sessions at a Kumon centre, where students work independently but get feedback from teachers.
Other coaching colleges take different approaches depending on what you want to achieve. For example, North Shore Coaching College claims to incorporate regular testing into its selective schools program in order to prepare students for exam conditions and help improve techniques. Dux says that it helps students prepare for their HSC by structuring homework in the same way as HSC questions.
How much do coaching colleges cost?
Costs can vary widely depending on the number of sessions your child undertakes, their age and their subjects.
- Kumon's initial fee is $70, then $120 per subject per month for all materials and twice-weekly classes.
- At Sydney's Dux College, fees range from $500 per subject for two hours of coaching a week for one term of 10 weeks for Year 9 students to $870 per term for three hours of Extension 2 maths coaching for Year 12.
- At Matrix, Year 7 students pay $564.30 for weekly 90-minute lessons per nine-week term while those in Year 12 studying English pay $742.50 for the same.
Anecdotally, some of the larger coaching colleges may nudge parents towards more frequent classes and therefore charge more.
Coaching college case studies
Anna enrolled her 10-year-old daughter Lara in maths at Kumon earlier this year. "Kumon does seem to be improving her maths, she is definitely getting faster," Anna says. "I haven't had a report card or parent-teacher night yet so I don't know for sure… I think it's good for kids who need lots of practice rather than one-on-one time."
Miranda took her son to a large coaching college, but he only attended two four-hour sessions before she called it quits. "It cost $64 for each four-hour session. Some kids stayed longer doing tests in the morning and then having an afternoon session and some kids were going twice a week. It was a shocker. The kids spent the first session sitting replica tests and the next session, a week later, the teacher went through the answers that most kids got wrong. My son hated it. He said it was like being in prison."
Marketing of coaching colleges
Coaching colleges use a range of techniques to get new students on board. Success rates for scholarships, selective school acceptances and high marks are used in advertising material. Some coaching colleges will even offer scholarships to their best students to keep them committed.
One former student told this story: "When I was in year 6 all my friends were getting selective school coaching so my mum took me to a coaching college to try it out. Before they placed me in a class, I had to do an IQ test and I did really well. After they marked my test, the manager offered me a scholarship as long as I agreed to have my picture on the success wall if I got into a selective school."
Linda (not her real name), a NSW selective-school teacher who is particularly scathing about the move towards coaching in recent years, told CHOICE that colleges may prey on vulnerable parents and students.
"The colleges are profit-oriented, and they continually tell the students and their parents that they are not yet quite good enough to sit the exam, but if they did the additional Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoon (at an extra $300 or so per week) the kid might just manage to scrape in to a school with a more prestigious reputation. This endless mantra of 'not quite good enough', added to the stresses of the financial burden the parents are under, is really horrible and starts a chain of depression and anxiety that we see very commonly here. By the time they reach their HSC many kids are completely mentally unwell, and often relations with their parents are extremely fragile."
Should you get tutoring for your kids?
Parents get tutoring for their children for a whole host of reasons. They may be falling behind in class, or they may want to secure a very competitive spot in a selective school or popular university course.
"The assistance of a tutor may ensure a higher grade in weaker subjects," says Dr Subban. "Receiving individual, targeted assistance certainly pays dividends. The student has the undivided attention of an experienced, knowledgeable tutor, and could consequently process and absorb skills and content that are required for success. Skills are often reinforced and content knowledge consolidated."
The experts we spoke with told us that, generally speaking, tutoring does get results, but it can have its downsides. "It may become unproductive in two cases," says Dr Subban. "Firstly, an unhealthy dependence could act as a barrier to students thinking for themselves, problem-solving independently, and being able to make decisions about tackling a task without support. Secondly, it is important that tutors align their services with the school curriculum. It is counterproductive for students, who are already experiencing challenges, to learn unrelated or irrelevant content."
Selective-school teacher Linda believes coaching has been bad for students and selective schools in general. "I would say that more than 99% of our students have been coached to get here," she says. "The move towards coaching colleges has had a very obvious and negative effect.
"One problem is that the kids themselves believe they aren't actually smart enough to be here, so they stay on the coaching treadmill to keep up. Also, because it is now such a lucrative business, several people have set up franchises and employ barely adequate teachers."
She believes tutoring should not be a long-term commitment. "Tutoring should only be short and sharp – a brief period of remedial help if a child is struggling. The tutor should be an expert not only in that particular subject, but also in childhood psychology and teaching practice, and the idea should be to take advantage of the one-to-one situation to go at the child's pace and build their confidence."
Six tips for finding the right tutor
- Check their qualifications.
- Check their references.
- Find out about what successes they have had with past students.
- Get several quotes to ensure their charges are reasonable.
- If attempting to remediate a problem, ask the tutor to keep in touch with teachers and work alongside them to meet your child's needs.
Consider sharing the cost of private tutoring with another student close to your child's level to save on costs.
- Check up on your child's progress; if their marks aren't improving, consider whether you've found
the right tutor.