How to choose a tutoring service

Should you stump up for tutoring?

Student and tutor writing in pencil.

Whether little Johnny is behind in maths, or pint-sized Polly struggles with her reading, we school up on what you need to know about choosing a tutor for your child.

Consumer members Vanessa and Andy Hancock are both teachers but have happily shelled out $50 an hour for maths tutoring for their son over the past four years. “It’s absolutely money well spent. Our education system doesn’t have enough resources for children that need additional learning support,” they said.

Consumer staffer Karen can’t speak highly enough about her experience when her son was at primary school. “After taking him to a tutoring service, we were advised to check for a learning difficulty. I hate to think where we would be if we didn’t get tutoring in year four, which led to a diagnosis,” she said.

While there are no official student numbers, the New Zealand Tutoring Association (NZTA) said it’s a growing market. Founded in 2008, the industry group has 90 members covering most of the major players. Board member Dr Ralph Wesseling said the NZTA was set up to represent tutors and tutoring organisations, but also to reassure consumers that tutoring offered by members was of a high standard.

Does tutoring make a difference?

The experts we spoke to said if your child needs some help, tutoring can be a good way to go.

Michael Drake, from Victoria University’s School of Education and an ex-mathematics teacher said for maths, in particular, tutoring can help. “Once a learner gets behind in maths, it’s very hard to catch up without extra help. A good tutor will work out which pieces of maths caused trouble in the past and teach those first. It’s not a quick fix and needs student commitment,” Mr Drake said.

The experts we spoke to said if your child needed help, tutoring could be a good way to go.

Teachers we spoke to agreed that good tutoring reinforces what the child is learning at school and can be positive for shy or anxious kids.

Professor John Hattie, director of Melbourne Education Research Institute, said to have the most impact, you require great teachers. “They are often like drill factories or programmes that just help kids do their homework,” Professor Hattie said.

Before you go down the tutoring road, talk to your child’s teacher. They’ll offer the best gauge on whether your child is struggling and may suggest some other tactics.

Gisborne teacher Kristen Simmons said parents may worry about their child’s progress, especially compared with an older sibling. “But as teachers we see the growth and progress a child makes – they are often just too tired to show their parents at the end of the day,” she said.

If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, you may be able to access extra services at school, such as reading recovery programmes or one-on-one hours with a teacher aide. Most schools will have a SENCO (special education needs coordinator) who ensures students with high needs get the programmes and support they require.

It’s not just if your child is struggling academically. Tutoring can also be an option for accelerated learning or high-school students for exam preparation or to help them secure a spot in a university course.

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Does homework help?

Whether it’s a child that fights it, a parent that expects it, or a teacher that sees it as another task to add to the list – we all have a view on homework.

Professor John Hattie said the overall effects of homework are likely to have a positive impact on student achievement, but there are some important moderators.

“Homework has a low effect in primary school, but a higher effect in secondary school. It’s not to do with the age-group, but what the homework is. If you’re practicing something you’ve already learned – that’s positive. However, if it’s learning something new by yourself the impact goes right down,” he said. He added there’s no evidence setting homework helps students develop time-management skills.

There’s no legal requirement for schools to assign homework. The Ministry of Education said schools can set their own homework agenda. It said research suggests for primary school age, homework should be short and frequent, and monitored by the teacher. Studies have also found interactive homework, such as playing card and dice games, and using maths when cooking has a positive effect. Reading at home – either on their own or to an older child or adult – is also beneficial.

If you don’t understand your child’s homework, talk to their teacher. You won’t be the first or last to do this.

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