Maths teaching outsourced to India

10th September 2010 at 01:00
Primary embraces private-sector approach as top don says it could become the norm

A north London primary has become the first school to follow a controversial private sector trend by outsourcing maths teaching to India.

Ashmount Primary in Islington is running a pilot with half of its Year 6 pupils, providing them with one-to-one tuition using teachers based more than 4,000 miles away on the subcontinent - and now the school is planning to expand it to other pupils and year groups.

The service is being rolled out around the country and one leading education academic has predicted that it could become mainstream.

The idea of moving back-office work or customer service centres to the subcontinent is commonplace in the private sector.

But this is believed to be the first time it has happened in teaching. Each Ashmount pupil is given a headset and logs on to the website where they can interact with the tutor while following their instructions on the screen, which works in a similar way to an interactive whiteboard. It costs the school pound;12 per hour per pupil.

Ashmount assistant headteacher Rebecca Stacey said the service has made a significant difference to her pupils' understanding of the subject.

"We were approached to do the pilot, and started very small with just a few pupils, but we quickly realised it was having a positive impact and so increased it so half of our Year 6 pupils are using it," Ms Stacey said.

"We intend to roll it out so the whole of Year 6 is using it and perhaps down to Years 4 and 5."

Dylan Wiliam, director of London University's Institute of Education, said such a system could work for many more schools, but that there are also dangers.

"It will depend on how good their English is," Mr Wiliam said. "They will also need to understand the cultural conventions of this country. For example, long division is laid out differently in different countries.

"Having said that, I am sure that this will become commonplace in time. If brain surgery can now be done remotely, why not maths teaching? As with many things in education, it's not a silly idea, but as we have discovered in recent years, a lot of things that appeared to be good ideas at the time turn out to be useless, or worse," he added.

The service, which is called BrightSpark Education, and was set up by UK- based entrepreneur Tom Hooper. His company employs more than 100 Indian- based tutors full time, all of which are maths graduates with teaching experience, and each tutor undergoes security checks.

"I was a tutor myself to make a bit of extra money when I was at university and after I graduated," Mr Hooper said. "But paying for additional tuition can be very expensive, in London you can be spending up to pound;40 an hour."

He added: "So it just seemed to make sense when I thought of providing live learning online, which could be flexible and engaging."

All of the tutors are trained in the English maths curriculum at key stages 2, 3 and 4. The service can be tailored to each child as the teacher sees fit, and each session is supervised giving the teacher control.

Ms Stacey added: "We try to keep every pupil with the same tutor. The kids really enjoy it. It is a different way of approaching the subject with children who might find it harder to engage with maths."

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