Spiralling exam panic sparks tutoring boom

18th April 2014 at 01:00
Nationals anxiety leads to `steady stream' of students seeking help

Private tutors across Scotland are reporting a surge in students joining last-minute study sessions as parents panic that neither children nor teachers are ready for the new National qualifications.

Tutoring service Step Ahead said a "steady stream" of young people across central and eastern Scotland were seeking help because they were not adequately prepared for National 4 and 5. After-school education provider Kumon, which has its biggest UK centre in Aberdeen, also noted a significant spike in demand, including a "phenomenal" 50 per cent increase last year in S3 students, who are now about to complete their coursework and exams for Nationals.

Teaching unions said the increase reflected record anxiety levels among staff and students over the new Nationals, with the first exams due to be sat at the end of this month.

George Hawkins, director of Step Ahead, said: "In the past few weeks we have seen a noticeable rise in people coming to us. Parents are alarmed that pupils have perhaps not had the opportunity which they would have had in previous years [to prepare properly] and they are panicking.

"There is quite a bit of confusion not only among parents and youngsters but in truth I think many teachers have found it very difficult to be ready. Tutors who are also teachers are reporting that colleagues find it stressful and don't feel as prepared as they would like to be."

Kerr McConnell, regional manager at Kumon, said: "All our instructors are saying that they have noticed an increase in S4 student enquiries recently, especially in maths. Parents are saying they are wobbly and uncertain after parents' evenings.

"In September 2012, enrolments of S3 students, who are now the current cohort, rose by 50 per cent, which is phenomenal."

Bill Stott, a retired technical teacher who works as a private maths and science tutor in Coatbridge near Glasgow, said the demand for help with the Nationals was "very lucrative" and would probably remain high until about 2017.

"I'm working more hours now than I did when I was in the classroom - full-time on Saturdays and almost full-time on Sundays," he added. "There seems to be disparity, with some schools more prepared than others. The feedback I'm getting is that some parents are being informed at school meetings that their schools don't really know what they are doing, so consequently pupils don't either.

"There certainly is concern about it among a lot of parents.and I don't think it will be a blip either. I think this [uncertainty and demand for extra help] will continue for a few years."

Parents' initial concerns over Nationals focused on the suggestion that many students would take fewer subjects than under the old qualifications. Earlier this year, however, data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority indicated that there would be only a marginal decrease in the average number of subjects taken across Scotland in 2013-14, even when discounting National courses taken over two years.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, warned last week that teachers and students were having to go into schools over Easter to complete coursework because the key aim of reducing the burden of assessment had not been realised.

"I'm not aware of tutors experiencing a boom but it would not surprise me because there is such a level of anxiety," he said. "I think teachers would say in private that they are not happy that they have pupils up to speed as much as they would like. But there's a fine line between being negative and damaging pupils' confidence this close to the exams and reassuring them to give them confidence.

"We would say pupils are ready but only because of the level of hard work by themselves and teachers, which is unsustainable in the longer term. Pastoral teachers have said they have never seen so many pupils stressed out as they have this year."

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "The level of concern we have had from members is unprecedented. It's much more than you would expect over a normal curriculum change."

A spokesman said the Scottish government had worked with national agencies to provide "unprecedented" levels of resources for teachers, students and parents, including new books to help staff deliver the qualifications.

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