Although private tutoring was by no means unheard of in the UK in the past, it has traditionally been seen as a peripheral activity – something indulged in by a handful of worried parents. The widespread and systematic use of private tutoring has more commonly been associated with ‘high pressure’ systems such as Japan and Korea. More recently, though, there has been growing recognition that private tutoring in the UK is more than just a peripheral activity. Research by the Sutton Trust (2015) found extensive use of private tutoring – particularly in some parts of the country. The ‘London factor’ is particularly striking, with those living in London twice as likely to receive tuition – 44% compared with 22% outside London. Here in WISERDEducation we were interested to see whether there were similar level of private tuition in Wales and, if so, where?
It is very important to assess the extent of private tuition because it is likely to be a factor not only in a child’s educational performance, but also in school outcomes. If the level of private parental investment in education is very high, then this may well account for some of the difference in a school’s performance profile. However, researching the extent and motivations of private tutoring (let alone its impact) is extremely difficult. In our research we asked over 1000 children and young people who are participating in the WISERDEducation Multi-Cohort Study (WMCS) whether they had received private tuition at any point and in any subject. We also obtained survey data from about one quarter of their parents. The children are attending 12 secondary schools across Wales that have been carefully selected to include different geographic areas, language use and levels deprivation.
How widespread is tuition in Wales?
The WMCS responses indicate that an average of 14 percent of our students have received private tuition. Overall, this suggests that the incidence of tutoring is less widespread than in England. As we can see from Chart 1, the rate of tutoring increases the nearer the child gets to GCSEs.
Chart 1: Proportion of students receiving private tuition (n=1122)
Our findings show that while tuition in Wales is lower than in England, there are some common features. For example, the profile of the subjects for which private tutoring is provided is broadly similar (Chart 2).
Chart 2: Tuition by subject in England and Wales
*As reported by Ireson and Rushforth (2011) Private tutoring at transition points in the English education system: its nature, extent and purpose. Research Papers in Education, 26(1) 1–19
There are similarities in the kinds of parents who invest in private tuition. As in England, the parents in our sample who pay for private tuition are more qualified and financially well off than those who do not.
However, despite these relatively similar characteristics, a different pattern emerges when we look at the data school by school. In England, private tutoring tends to be associated with those schools with strong performance profiles and in low levels of socio-economic deprivation. However, in Wales, the parents buying private tuition are sending their children to schools at the two extreme ends of the spectrum – to those schools with lower levels of free school meal (FSM) eligibility and to those schools with much higher levels of FSM eligibility (Chart 3).
Chart 3: FSM level of school attended by those pupils receiving private tuition (n=187)
This suggests that parental anxiety about whether a school is providing the right kind of academic support for their children may relate to school composition. Parents whose children are attending relatively advantaged schools where overall attainment levels are high may be investing in private tutoring in order to ensure that their child is ‘keeping up’ and does not fall behind the relatively high levels of attainment of their school peers. However, the even higher incidence of private tutoring amongst parents sending their children to relatively disadvantaged schools suggests that private tutoring may be one way of ‘staying ahead’ or ‘protecting’ their child against the ‘dangers’ of compositional effects.
The issue of private tuition needs to receive far more attention by researchers and policy-makers than it has so far. It may be an important contributor to some of the differences in outcome measures – between schools and between individual students. In Wales, where there is arguably a less ‘marketised’ education system than in England (and certainly less academic selection), there is less parental investment in private tuition. However, the profile of those buying extra support for their children is the same. While some schools are investing in tutoring to support disadvantaged learners, particularly through the use of the Pupil Deprivation Grant, it is unclear whether this is enough to match the levels of private familial investment elsewhere in the system.
A fuller report of this research can be found in Sioned Pearce, Sally Power & Chris Taylor (2017): Private tutoring in Wales: patterns of private investment and public provision, Research Papers in Education, DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2016.1271000.
This research was conducted within the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD). WISERD is a collaborative venture between the Universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea. The research that this publication relates to was undertaken through WISERD Education and was funded by HEFCW (Higher Education Funding Council for Wales).
Prior to joining the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University in 2004 as a Professorial Fellow, Sally Power was based at the Institute of Education, University of London, where she was Head of the School of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies and Director of the Education Policy Research Unit. Before that she also worked at the Universities of Bristol, Warwick and West of England. She is currently Director of WISERD Education and Co-Director of WISERD (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods.
She has extensive experience of working across the education community and with key stakeholders. She was an Elected Council Member of BERA (British Educational Research Association, from 2008-2014) and currently edits their flagship journal, the British Educational Research Journal. She is Chair of the ESRC Grants Assessment Panel B and served on the 2014 Research Excellence Framework for the Education Subpanel. She is also currently a member of the Sutton Trust Research Panel,