Family Hub 19 April 2000


Will Orr-Ewing is Founder and Director of Keystone Tutors and offers his perspective on CE and the benefits – and pitfalls – of tutoring children to pass admissions tests.

When is the right time to use a tutoring service?

It all depends on the child. The extent of the tutoring, the scope of it and the duration of it all depends on the child, where they’re coming from and where they’re trying to get to. The beauty of tutoring is that you can take a bespoke approach for each child.

Many children are coming either from the state sector or an international background and trying to get a sense of their strengths within the curriculum is essential. We favour long-term, low stakes assessment.

When isn’t the right time?

It’s all got to be age and educationally appropriate, so doing lots of hours per day in an intensive period isn’t something an 11, 12 or 13 year old does without some cost. It comes at the risk of burnout and anxiety about their results. We recommend taking the heat out of the process. It’s all to do with the focus. What we really don’t like is doing anything more than a few months of test preparation. What we would rather do is make this a fun process built around developing subject based skills.

Where tutoring often goes wrong is when it’s a tutor with a bunch of past papers. If, for example, you notice a child has advances to make in inference and then practice only that, that’s OK. But if you can deconstruct that skill and work on that without the pressure and context of an exam, then this will build their skill and confidence to meet their exam when the time is right.

What do you wish parents knew about the admissions process?

Far too little is known about the process. So many parents will say they would like a tutor, they should be from Oxbridge and there should be lots of exam practice. The university the tutor went to is totally irrelevant when it comes to school admissions. Instead, they should be looking at demonstrable experience and training in that specific exam.

I’d want to know that they had worked with a number of children on a more than one year basis on entrance examinations for the schools they were interested in and look at the progress of those pupils. Experience is much more important than the tutor’s own education. Not just doing past paper after past paper but a much more educationally holistic and skills-based approach that tracks those skills.

Is there any value in tutoring a child for the interview process?

There is a larger consideration here where schools can easily spot children that have been badly tutored for an interview. If a child has been given a range of stock phrases, those will come out in a clumsy way. Exams and interviews may be cram-and-tutor proof but they’re not education-proof. They don’t want to see crumbly foundations with a veneer of things that have been learned only for the short-term. Instead, we recommend doing one or two practices: We want to hear why you like the books you like or want to go to a particular school as a way of ensuring that it isn’t an anxiety-inducing process. What we don’t want is for you to think there is a perfect answer that you have to memorise as we want their answers to be fresh and organic.

What are your thoughts on digital tutoring services?

I think they definitely have their place and our tutors always like students to look at those kinds of resources between lessons. They are great for diagnostics and practice, but they aren’t great at teaching. Most kids benefit from their teacher or tutor at this point more than they do from an online video, and in fact those are the times you want to engage with your teacher or tutor the most.

As a tutor, what’s your advice for parents concerned about their children’s performance ahead of the 11+?

Year 6 to Year 8 is a very tumultuous time and many children develop a lot in year 7 and 8. Sometimes there is a worry that if the result doesn’t go well at 11+ then their future is doomed. But take it from a tutor of 15 years, children can turn it around and do really well at 13+. We see so many late developers who are flying by the time GCSE and A Levels come along.

I’d love parents and children to know that your performance at Year 11 isn’t the be-all and end-all. There are so many more bites of the apple for educational success and exams really should be put into their proper context.

How can parents from the state sector better understand independent school entry?

ISEB publishes all of its specifications online and you can put that against the KS2 Primary curriculum and see where there might be disparities, but there aren’t as many differences as you might think! There isn’t the gulf between the two sectors that you might think. So your child won’t be at a disadvantage if they haven’t been to a prep school and studied CE.

The most helpful thing would be if some state schools adopted CE at KS3 as it really offers that breadth. Free Schools have the option to choose their own curricula and if primary and Free schools were to use them, that could be great, and I know that some state schools love how clear the ISEB syllabus is.

The final point I’d make is that private schools actively want to increase access and they will in fact do so for many of those coming from the State sector, so if you have a particular worry, you should talk to them directly. They would love to hear from you and will happily support children coming from a state school.

Will Orr-Ewing attended Harrow School before undertaking a degree in History at Oriel College, Oxford. After graduating he was a history teacher at Fulham Prep School. He has been tutoring since 2005 and founded Keystone Tutors in 2007.

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