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Light the fire; don’t put it out – the pitfalls of extra childhood tuition

This week a leading headmistress warned that mothers and fathers risk undermining their children’s natural development with excessive tuition. So how do parents help their child achieve full potential without pushing them too hard?

Although I work in the field of learning and education these days, I wasn’t the brightest child at school. I’m sure many people will join me with a pang of recognition when I disclose that my school days were spent always struggling to keep up with my friends, experiencing the daily heart sinking feeling as the class compared marks of returned homework, knowing I would rarely achieve better marks than them. I escaped from school with a tidal wave of relief and no more than an average set of qualifications.

So what were my parents doing to try and make my school days ‘the best years of my life’? My mother was a retired headmistress, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was subjected to hours of extra-curricular tuition to ensure I didn’t let the side down.

Private tutoring is on the increase; one study has suggested almost half of families now pay for private tutors in a bid to help children get into the best schools and universities. However, Alexia Bracewell of Longacre School in Guildford believes many parents are “setting up their children to fail” by pushing them too hard.

I did have extra tuition, in French and piano lessons, but I am grateful for these in two ways. I needed French tuition because I was in danger of failing the French GCSE that I had chosen, so it was a necessary blast of half a dozen sessions to get me through. The piano lessons were supposed to give me the chance to learn an instrument, and when I admitted that I didn’t enjoy it, the lessons stopped.

After years spent in an educational sector I believe there are two rules when choosing tuition for your child – necessity and enjoyment. Firstly: necessity. It’s good for a parent to pay for tuition if the child needs it for either the foundation in the basics of education, or to get them through an exam they don’t want to fail. If it’s necessary, pay for it but have a clear achievable goal and then halt.

Secondly, tuition may be good to help a child explore where their talents may lie (or in my case with piano, don’t lie). Tuition broadens the horizons and could help a child decide their future career path. If it stops being fun, stop the tuition. People are most skilled at their natural talents; forcing children down the path of your enjoyment is folly and wasted money.

Motivation is crucial and if parents don’t light their children’s fire for learning, extra tuition will surely extinguish the fire. Simply put, if a child is to succeed with tuition, they must be motivated to do so, either with a goal they want to achieve or the pure enjoyment of unveiling their talents. Let them fulfil their potential, not yours.