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Why We’re Still Playing DnD Despite TSR

Over the past week, the TTRPG community was initially delighted at the return of TSR, the original creators of Dungeons & Dragons (DnD), and was left reeling at their subsequent comments regarding inclusion within the game. This is neither the platform to share those comments, nor do I want them here. And yet, we will continue to play.

As a long term player, I was introduced to the game many years ago by inclusive DMs* (who happened to also be my fellow computer science students… yes, that long ago!) who held no quarter with any form of discrimination and regularly discussed boundaries within storylines with their players. This enabled us to explore relationships and adventures in an environment where we knew without a shadow of doubt that we would never need to feel uncomfortable. After all, it’s just a game.

But it’s a game where you develop a strong bond with your character, particularly after many hours of developing their backstory and bonding with other players (and sometimes long running non player characters). It’s very similar to the bond an author forms when writing a novel over many months.

Gaelle Dark Dice
Gaelle of Vogelberg from Dark Dice (voiced by Holly Billinghurst)

Having played since the 1990s and more recently voice acted in several DnD podcasts as a regular player character, I made the decision to combine my enjoyment of playing DnD with teaching and start a regular teen DnD club at our tuition centre. This is such a natural combination as the aspects of creative writing & maths are automatically built into every game and the sessions have become a regular social activity for a number of local teens.

So of course, when the comments from TSR came out this week my first reaction was to feel incredibly protective of the fantastic group that we’ve created and ensure that both parents and kids are aware that our table will continue to be fully inclusive. If you want to create a gender fluid tiefling that uses their appearance to increase their charisma, then roll for initiative! Because of all places, a game where a druid could become a fire breathing squirrel is no place to deny someone gender expression. **

A similar argument came about when wheelchair “battlechair” mounts were introduced to DnD in an attempt to make the game more inclusive to players with disabilities. The same response is just as appropriate now as it was then: making your table inclusive to others by allowing them representation doesn’t just benefit individuals.

So for now, our DnD table isn’t going anywhere because the players are what make our games amazing, not the creators who have been AWOL for decades.

If you’d like to join Holly at her weekly DnD group in West Sussex, or one of their online sessions you can book your space here.

*DM = Dungeon Master. The person guiding the story.

** within age & context appropriate boundaries

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

But you’re a teacher? A qualified one, yes. So why did I choose to home educate as a teacher having worked in the system for so long?

Before our youngest child asked us if we would consider home education, I had taught for a decade in schools as a secondary & sixth form teacher of Computer Science, already been tutoring full time for several years, and had recently opened our tuition centre in West Sussex. During the second school lockdown in the UK they approached me with a detailed list of pros and cons to argue why they should remain at home when everybody else returned to school despite being in the first year of their GCSEs. So no biggie really

Bean Home Education
Reading is enjoyable when you’re comfy

My youngest had always struggled with the rules and regulations in school and although they had never really been in trouble and worked incredibly hard, their anxiety had peaked on joining key stage 4 and unlike many children their mental health had actually improved during the first lockdown when they had the independence to study in a way that suited them. Without any distractions of whether their school uniform was perfect, or whether they were sitting in the right way and looking attentive, their grades sailed through the roof. We had a sensible looking child who went from averaging predicted grades of 3s and 4s to one with bright green hair but averaging actual grade 6s, 7s and 8s.

How do I argue with a child who has managed to independently improve their grades so much?

I had been reluctant to home educate as I had worked within the home education community for some time and the majority of parents talked about unschooling which was something that made me personally uncomfortable (although I am aware that this works very well for other families). My background as a teacher and our preference as a family for structured education seemed at odds with many of the things that other parents were saying. As we investigated the possibility of them staying at home to study, I discovered a full community of home educators like myself who follow a structured form for their children and access small online classes to support their own curriculums.

Prior to any of this conversation I had been running an IGCSE in computer science aimed specifically at home educated students for two years and whilst the numbers were low, those who completed the course had 100% pass rate. Gaining are better understanding of home education through being there myself personally, has allowed me to extend this to several groups including a full key stage three curriculum for computing which is something that I have taught for many years but have now adapted into a more flexible home education course.

In becoming a home educator myself, I have begun to understand some of the struggles that a number of parents go through in understanding a complex curriculum, made even harder by a lack of information and clarity from local authorities who simply walk away aside from an annual letter. I remain in a privileged position that I understand far more about the exam system as I work regularly with exam boards, and I have begun to use this to assist other parents with understanding the expectations from colleges and universities who often have very little understanding of home education.

Isn’t Home Education Expensive?

Bean Photography
Creative courses are both easier and harder to access in Home Education

One of my major considerations when we opted to home educate was the cost. Although on a daily basis there is certainly a lower cost as there is no uniform, no leather school shoes that raise a shine, no suitable hairstyles… this is subsequently outweighed by taking on full responsibility for all resources and exam fees which start at around £150 for each exam.

We added to this financial load by identifying practical groups for photography and several subjects where they would see a tutor on a regular basis to support the work that we were undertaking at home. This was in part to assure me that we were following the correct path and making sufficient progress, but also because of the boost in confidence that these weekly lessons give them. It’s certainly not the most cost efficient option, but I am booking their “gold service” of individual time and the results are quite evident. At school, education wasn’t free (I distinctly remember being paid to teach!) – and tutors are paid an equivalent rate; it’s just directly.

So why did we opt to home educate if we are going to follow a structured form of education anyway?

We are raising an independent child who has taken responsibility for their own learning and has removed the ceiling placed on them by standardised tests and progress tracking. This is not to say that the standard school system is not perfectly appropriate for the vast majority of students, but in experiencing an alternative to the norm, my long-held belief that education should be individualised to support the person and not the institution, has grown much stronger. I’ve taken Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem & proved his point. Whoops?

Should Teachers & Tutors Wear Masks?

Should Teachers & Tutors Wear Masks?

And with that one question I opened up Pandora’s can of worms! However, asking “should teachers & tutors wear masks” is an important question that many education professionals are asking themselves, and often the question is based around whether they are putting the health before a child’s accessibility in the classroom which is a difficult question to answer sometimes. Whilst I cannot claim to have the definitive answer for everybody, I can certainly talk about the types of things that I have done vast offering in person education.

Although our tuition was 100% online for a great deal of the past 18 months, having been mandated to close longer than schools, as we begin to open up more,I see more students in our tuition centre my thoughts have been turning to how we can wear masks in our classes more effectively whilst making communication effective.

In Person Tutor

Cloth masks have always been my preference from an environmental perspective, and I spent a large amount of time last summer with the sewing machine attempting to make a set for both myself and my children. I ended up quite good at it but they never managed to be quite as comfortable as the ones we bought. My attempts at making see through masks were a disaster!

Although we are reaching the potential point of masks no longer being mandatory, I’m not sure that I will banish them entirely from our teaching rooms – if only because this is the first year where I have not had a winter cold or flu which has been rather marvellous! I love my students, but during the winter they really are germ bags (although don’t tell them I said that).

Cradle Masks

As we move towards another academic year and in our case summer school with more relaxed social distancing, I have been investigating a number of different options for cloth masks, one of which being the Cradle Self Sterilising Face Mask which appeals to me as it looks like any other cloth mask but has the added benefit of a higher filtration rate and is antiviral for up to two hours of continuous wear. when teaching us all day, this requires 3 to 4 mask changes each day and unlike the additional protection of knowing that what I have been breathing into for the past two hours is not sitting in my wash bag duplicating viruses (although these do go directly into the washing machine when we get home).

smart facemask

As a Computer Science tutor (and honestly, a bit of a nerd) I’ve also been rather taken with some of the smart masks that are finding their way onto the market like the Airpop Active+ masks. I love that these come with the addition of an app to indicate when to change them, but the price tag was a bit of an eye opener! After looking into these in a bit more depth, they reminded me of why we bought a laser printer – the initial cost was higher, but they worked out cheaper long term (yes, I always get a bit of computing in every post!). As you only need to change the filters which can last up to 40 hours you can wear these for the whole day rather than needing multiple masks.

What will we be wearing next term? We don’t know yet, we’re looking forward to what happens with smart masks next!



Tools For Online Teaching & Tutoring (Webinar)

Tools For Online Teaching & Tutoring (Webinar)

Thank you so much to everyone who joined me for the live webinar on using tools to run classes and 1-2-1 tuition online. It’s so great to see people working together to make things work in a difficult situation.

I have uploaded the recording of the webinar here which is free and open to watch – if you have any questions, or would like me to add anything else into upcoming sessions please do comment below.

Important Update (26th March 2020): Since recording this webinar Bitpaper have announced that they will be charging for the use of their platform from 1st April.

You can sign up for future webinars here.

Using Online Whiteboards

Following the webinar above, lots of you have been asking me about which online whiteboard to use for tuition, especially when you want to collaborate with your students live. As a quick introduction and to answer some of these questions, I’ve recorded a quick comparison of the tools I’m looking at right now.

Have you found these webinars useful? If you’d like me to run online training for your company for up to 75 participants, please get in touch.

Computer Science Classes Vs. Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Computer Science Classes Vs. Coronavirus (COVID-19)

To date, we’ve been very British about the whole thing and avoided mentioning the c-word, but in all likelihood, we may face interruption of education on a global scale. As such, we’ve taken an ethical approach to ensure that we can offer as much as we possibly can during this difficult time for students & teachers.

For our current students, please rest assured that as all lessons are currently held online, unless a member of the team is unwell we will be continuing with lessons as usual. We are aware that the increased use of the Zoom platform (and pressure on ISPs in general) during this time may cause a slight reduction in the quality of calls, however we are not expecting a significant impact at this time.

If your school has been affected by closures due to COVID-19, please do get in touch. We are offering the following to support teachers & students:

I would dearly love to open up the whole site during this time. However, in doing so we would run a very real risk of not being able to provide the current services. Instead, as a company, we are happy to donate what time and resources we can to assist our colleagues in education at this time.

We will continue to update this page following official advice.

You’ve gotta love ’em

I’ve worked in education in one guise or another for more years than I care to mention, but over the course of my career I have always held firm that learning happens best when our students feel that we are invested in not only their learning, but their development as a person.

Because this is now so ingrained in how I work, it seemed like an obvious thing to be writing about when I published my first book. If I hadn’t included a chapter entitled “You’ve gotta love ’em”, I don’t think I would have been including the fundamental aspect of how I teach & tutor. It was this expectation that all other educators would naturally work in the same way that caused me to be completely sideswiped when working with a young man on literacy this month (not my specialism, but I was there to help!).

He arrived with a set of spellings and got every single one wrong when we tested what he already knew. I was shocked at the tears & panic that this created, but after working out what worked for him, and some “resilience cake” we retested what he knew & he’d nailed several of them already. We celebrated & he went off to do his best the next day at school.

My heart broke when he returned having been set a punishment for “only” getting 50% of them correct.

My point here? Celebrate your student’s hard work & progress and they will fly far further than you ever thought they could.

A shout out to the teachers & tutors in the majority who reward effort.

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

Late July / early August usually gives teachers and tutors a few moments to take a breath in and take stock of what just happened. It’s a good time for us to look at the data that we have so far before the panic of September crashes on us. Attempting to juggle evaluative data and prepare for new classes in those first few days of September, I often feel like one of those squishy things in the rock pools on our local beach – I’ve spent a lovely summer in the shallows on my rock & now a whole ocean has just arrived and is being dramatic overhead.

This year, is very different for me as it’s my first September tutoring full time (with writing on the side) instead of dividing my time between teaching, tutoring, and writing. That’s not to say that it’s not a tad overwhelming, but it does mean that my boss has given me some very clear targets to work on.. because I’m the boss.

The genetics of teaching are very strong in this one and it is impossible for me not to use the standard teaching appraisal template on myself. However, the difference this year is that I’m making it public for the world to see and have openly invited both teachers from the wider sphere, other tutors, and my own students to evaluate me and help form my targets for this year. Because my personal appraisal and that of TeachAllAboutIt as a business is intrinsically linked, being entirely transparent can really only be a good thing.

So, without further waffling, let’s get this apprisal underway.

My first task is to look at the feedback, as ultimately as a tutor feedback from students, parents, and the colleagues that we work with is right up there as one of the most important factors in how successful we are. I’ve previously blogged about balancing being a perfectionist with resillience, and it was professionally scary to open myself up to comments from all. Between us, this appraisal took me a while to write as I had to take a deep breath after part 1!

The two areas I wanted to focus on was specific student feedback on my tuition and feedback from CS teachers on areas where tuition could help progress. To this end, I posted a public poll on a well used social media page with the following question:

What are your students up to over the summer? Looking for private tutors apparently! I’ve been really surprised at how many requests have come in over what is usually a super quiet time of year.
This year, one of my personal targets as a tutor is to identify how I can work more cohesively & positively with teachers (after all, we’re both working towards the same goal!).
So, to that end, what can tutors do to make your lives as teachers easier and help support your students better?

I’ve added a few ideas, but feel free to add your own

It is abundantly clear that the vast majority felt that reviewing the summative tests with students is a valuable use of tuition time, and I will be using this as a focused target this coming academic year.

An unexpected result of the poll was a number of hostile responses towards the use of tuition as a whole. Whilst I have left the 13% of ‘other’ responses in here (having chosen not to include the wording of the added responses), I felt that it was important not to skew the data by removing them. Instead, I have used this as a learning and evaluation opportunity around resillience and how we talk to others online in our professional capacity. There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback?

The Teaching standards is something that I hold right up there with being a decent human being. Even though tutors aren’t neccesarily required to provide evidence of these, I can’t imagine why a tutor wouldn’t feel confident in applying these to their everyday practice. Rather than present my student feedback as a set of questions with data with little context, this is why I asked them the questions that I did (student feedback was anonymous unless they wished to add their name at the end).

Teaching & Learning

1. A teacher (tutor) must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

There are a number of ways that we could evidence this within TeachAllAboutIt, from the production of the open topic introductions that support students across the UK and beyond, to the private individual feedback pages provided for every student where we link help and show progress. Asking students whether they felt challenged to be independent of my support felt like an appropriate area to focus on here.

I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills
66.7% Strongly Agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills

Clearly, I would have like to see 100% strongly agreeing. I am after all a perfectionist! However this is encouraging that despite intensive 1-2-1 support, my students feel that they can work independently.

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

On an individual basis, this is fundamental to where we are as a company, and also on a personal level. It would be easy for me to talk about what I do to encourage student confidence in lessons, but far more powerful to provide evidence in the form of student feedback. Whilst there have certainly been more eloquent reviews left for me, receiving this feedback from this particular student warms my heart, not solely from the perspective of the improvement in grades, but more so from the increased confidence and responsibility.

I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons 
66.7% - strongly agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons

Whether all of my students see this challenge as a positive thing, I’m not sure. However, this has cemented my firm belief that by setting a baseline and refusing to acknowledge the ceiling helps my students feel confident to make personal progress.

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

This year as been full on in terms of curriculum knowledge. The website has grown to over 100 pages of Computer Science topic introductions that are used by students on a daily basis. Last summer saw me being involved with BBC bitesize as the author of the GCSE AQA Computer Science pages, and throughout this year I have had continued involvement with the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), helping to develop their training programs for teachers of Computing.

Having completed my NCCE facilitator training this summer (shiny enamel badge on its way), the next step in the new academic year is leading the in person training along the south coast in the UK for teachers.

I feel well supported in my learning
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel well supported in my learning

It would be all too easy to sit back and say that this one is ticked off, in the bag, sorted. However, none of us are ever truly done with education and my own journey will continue this year through embarking on obtaining further Masters credits through the Open University as a means to pushing my Computer Science knowledge further.

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

This one is really difficult as a tutor. Lessons are individual to students and often take tangents when a misconception is discovered. Tutoring and teaching in this part are entirely different beasts. Taken from a different perspective, the planning and preparation of lessons via TeachAllAboutIt could also look at the longer term planing of topic revision (or individual teaching for home educated students), with the digital resources for each lesson being uploaded to the student’s feedback area.

The resources made available to the students (every tuition student is given a site subscription for the duration of tuition), and the provision of the online learning platform is also a fundamental part of planning for a tuition lesson. Despite many tuition sessions being student-led, a wide range of ‘pick up and go’ activities must be planned and available in response to student needs.

Resources and support are good
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
Resources and support are good

This coming year, I plan to continue improving this through the completion of the summer website upgrade, publication of three new printed revision guides, and development of further resources that can be used both in tuition and on the website.

This year will also see a collaboration with Tutor In A Box, where I will be developing resources for their monthly learning boxes for KS3 and KS4 Computer Science.

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

During my transition from classroom teaching to private tutoring, one thing that I noticed about tuition is the intensity is far greater than a classroom. Juggling a classroom of mixed ability students requires a completely different skillset to adapting to the changing needs of one individual child.

I absolutely eat my words after the conversation I had last year with a highly respected tutor who told me that being a great teacher doesn’t always make you a great tutor (and vice versa). They were right, and I am so glad that I took their advice to constantly reflect on the needs of child in front of me instead of having an educational theory focus.

I have a choice about how to learn new things
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I have a choice about how to learn new things

That’s not to say that I ignore educational theory whatsoever, however I am more inclined to trust my educator instincts and run with what I know will work for that particular child. On harsh reflection, stepping away from a school-centric focus and having the space to work intensively with learners and really see what works for individuals has made me a much better educator. As someone who believes passionately in education, this is an evaluation that saddens me.

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

Assessment in tuition is often discreet and observed. There is a continuous stream of verbal feedback (my students would certainly agree to that!), and through the use of technology that allows us to collaborate over documents and online whiteboards, written feedback becomes the norm of a lesson.

With that said, within my student voice survey this is the one area that has been highlighted for me to clearly focus on. Whilst a few had commented that they felt neutral as they had no exam to sit (which is fair), I want all of my students to feel confident even if I set them a test out of the blue right now.

I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework
Strongly Agree - 50%
Agree - 16.7%
Neutral - 33.3%
I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework

Based on this, throughout the next academic year I will be placing a focus on improving confidence in my learners around their exams through the introduction of exam planners and examiner feedback pages where they can attempt practice questions and understand what the exam board are look for in particular areas.

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

Behaviour management for online tuition is a world away from classroom management. After a decade of strategies for engaging a room of students and ensuring good behaviour, I’ve moved to working with students across the country via webcam. Behaviour is rarely an issue with tuition, and when it is my strategies are more akin to parenting than teaching (sending a child out of the room when on internet chat isn’t going to work! Nor is there a member of SLT to refer to).

In tuition, behaviour management has much more focus on setting initial ground rules, which in my case are a written contract between me and the student, and talking to them directly when behaviour is not appropriate. This is a real example where 1-2-1 has an enourmously positive impact on students who struggle to feel heard in a group setting.

I feel respected and encouraged in lessons
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I feel respected and encouraged in lessons

It will always be a target for 100% of students to strongly agree with this statement, and I will continue to ensure that students are involved in the set up process of their tuition accounts and understand their rights and responsibilities with regards to their personal data, and right to be treated fairly and equally.

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

As a classroom teacher, wider professional responsibilities included running of clubs, revision sessions, leading CPD etc. Whilst this is a little different now I am tutoring, I have continued to engage with the wider community in terms of developing CPD as part of a team with the National Center for Computing Education (TeachComputing.org). This year, I presented the plenary at the 2019 Exabytes Conference which pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone!

However, one of the wider professional areas that I have focused on this year as been the pastoral aspects of tutoring. Not only focusing on academic progress, but increasing confidence in students whether they are struggling academically or stressed out by pushing for top grades.

I enjoy my lessons and found the work interesting
Strongly Agree - 100%
I enjoy my lessons and find the work interesting

Enjoyment of learning has gone in and out of fashion within observations in education (I’m looking at you Ofsted). However, it is my strongly held belief that when we are enjoying something we learn more and retain more. That’s not to say that lessons shouldn’t be challenging, or tackle tough topics, but there is simply no reason to assume that because something is gruelling it’s more worthwhile than the lesson where you laugh. This is the point where I step down from my soapbox.

Personal & Professional Conduct

As with the teaching and learning areas above, I can’t see why I would want to shy away from the areas below as a tutor. After all, this applies just as much to us as professionals and possibly moreso as there is no overarching professional body to ensure that we meet them.

Teachers (tutors) uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:

  • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
  • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
  • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
  • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways, which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

Within lessons, this is a simple case of following my own policies of respect and high standards. I would hope that students feel comfortable in my lessons and any instances of discrimination are dealt with professionally.

I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly

We have clear safeguarding policies in place including the introduction of staff badges with a lite version of our safeguarding policy & numbers printed on the reverse, and whilst the probability of there being any issues when tutoring online, we have adopted a policy of never say never. This year, we contacted Ofsted to request voluntary registration as a tuition centre. Unfortunately, as we are purely online our request to register was declined. In response to this, we have implemented the required Ofsetd policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment anyway.

Maintaining an online professional presence has been an area that has required a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and self-promotion (not something that comes easy to me!). Since moving to owning my own business, my personal and professional lives have merged significantly and I am far more aware of how my individual actions as Holly will impact on my professional persona as TeachAllAboutIt. I have been extremely lucky to have assistance this year in the form of Catherine who keeps our admin and social media accounts afloat.

Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality

As a tutor, maintaining high standards, attendance, and punctuality is vital to the continuation of what we do as professionals. Of course, there are instances where I have been ill or the technology has failed – we are human after all. However, the teacher work ethic has really come into play here, and in fact has prompted reflection on my available timetable for this coming year.

The quality of tutoring is good
Strongly Agree - 100%
The quality of tutoring is good

I am delighted that my students have wholeheartedly told me that they found the quality of my tutoring was good, but I want it to be great! In order for this to happen, what I am going to focus on this year is creating a balance. In 2018/19 a full time teacher with a full timetable will be in the classroom for 27 hours per week – this allows for planning, and marking etc. Towards the end of this academic year, I was teaching upwards of 35 lessons per week whilst also writing and developing the website. Next year, I have allocated a maximum of 27 hours per week until Easter to allow me time to breathe. In order to accomodate this, I have set a target of taking on an additional Computer Science tutor to work with us this year.

Targets

Goodness! That was quite the essay. But nevertheless, a useful reflective task for me personally, for us as a business, and hopefully gives you a transparent insight into where we are right now and how we intend to improve next year.

So, in summary our targets for the coming academic year are:

  • Complete the summer website upgrade
  • Publish the revision guides for GCSE Computer Science (September)
  • Set up physical revision resources through Tutor In A Box
  • Develop exam-based learning resources to improve student confidence
  • Holly to commence Masters unit of study
  • Continue work with NCCE (TeachComputing) to offer in person teacher CPD
  • Expansion to allow a second Computer Science Tutor to work with us

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

How Much Does Tutoring Cost in The UK?

How Much Does Tutoring Cost in The UK?

The difference between tuition and teaching is vast, and nothing brings this home more than conversations about the cost of private tuition. So, what better topic to celebrate the 1st birthday of the TeachAllAboutIt website than a discussion about the cost of education?

It’s a brave move discussing the cost of tuition openly, especially on social media. As a society, we have become incredibly polarized in our view of access to education and discussing the payment in exchange of tuition or resources has become a taboo subject. I’d like to dispel some of the myths in this post and explain why tutors charge what they do.

According to prospects.ac.uk, the average hourly rate for a private tutor in 2019 is between £30 – £60 dependent on experience, location, and sucess rate. That’s not to say that some tutors don’t charge outside of this range, but from experience upwards of £35 per hour for GCSE is pretty standard. So why do tutors charge so much per hour?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that private tutors are outside of the mainstream education system, and as such are businesses in their own right. Unlike independent schools, they do not have charitable status and have a delicate balance to create in making their lessons as accessible as possible, whilst also earning enough to cover what they would otherwise earn in a classroom (remember that a school will purchase resources, books, and office space on behalf of a teacher, whereas a tutor is responsible for purchasing everything from the fees that they charge).

In so many business networking groups, the phrase “you get what you pay for” crops up again and again, more often than not when someone talks about being burnt by a too good to be true deal. This is often switftly followed by the sharing of a form of the diagram above which is a visual representation of the standard IT phrase, “you can have fast & cheap, cheap & good, or fast & good, but not all three”.

But how does this apply to private tutors?

Well, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” applies just as much here as any other industry, albeit with an extra dimension of the free to access learning.

Fast may apply in a number of ways. In the case of private tutors, fast can mean a number of aspects – this could apply to availability. Expecting a prime space to be available immediately is a tall ask for popular tutors. In fact, most will offer a waiting list of up to 6 months or more. Seeking a tutor during the quieter summer months is highly recommended as tutors are often fully booked within the first few weeks of the autumn term. Alternatively fast could apply to the length between starting tuition and the exam. Spaces are not only limited towards exam season, but the nature of tuition becomes more intensive and often means additional independent work or longer sessions.

Cheap is a subjective term for tuition. Parents have questioned the cost of £5 for a group lesson, only to be followed by a parent who questions why I only charge £41 for an A Level lesson. Comparing tutors to each other requires a certain understanding that not all tutors have the same baseline of education and training that teachers do, and indeed not all tutors are solely working as tutors (this may or may not be a positive for you). All of these are factors to consider when comparing on price – An A Level or undergraduate student will generally charge far less than a qualified teacher. Lower cost lessons are absolutely available with highly qualified tutors with high success rates, but expect these to be in groups or with larger volumes of independent study. My advice to all parents considering tuition is to ask for qualifications of the tutor (DBS goes without saying) – having a teaching qualification will give your child’s tutor insight into the psychology of learning. There’s a reason why all teachers must hold this post-graduate qualification, and it’s not to show off!

Good lessons are an expectation from any tutor. I cannot contemplate offering a student or parent lessons that wouldn’t help them progress, after all what is the point of tuition if not to help the student make progress and build confidence? However, high quality tuition requires preparation, time, and effort. In turn, good tuition requires either a longer time within groups or using independent resources, or the cost of the more intensive 1-2-1 lessons. Ultimately, if I don’t feel that I can provide you or your child with the highest quality of tuition, it’s likely that I will offer you a place on my waiting list or refer you to a colleague. I know very few tutors who wouldn’t do similar.

Free lessons are one of the most searched for term for private tuition. As a private tutor, I work with a huge array of families. No two family situations will be the same, just as no two students will be the same, and financial situations are no different. The Venn diagram highlights this well – most full-time tutors will be engaged with a certain amount of pro-bono work either through their own company, or by working with organisations like The Tutors Network. Either way, the free tuition that you are able to access will be paid for through balancing the fees of other students to allow for lower cost access for those that need it.

Whatever you are looking for in terms of tuition, take the time to talk through your needs as a family as well as the educational needs of your child with your tutor. You never know what solution they may be able to come up with!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

The Impact of Tutoring On Teen Mental Health

If there is one thing that I’ve become more passionate about the longer I’ve been involved in education, it’s the impact that our system has on the mental health of our young people. Each week there seems to be a new hashtag or thread out there to support people who feel like it’s just them. One that’s done the rounds for a long time is #ItsOkToNotBeOk and it remains something that I often look through and offer an ear on.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about implementing a digital detox for a few hours each weekend as a part of improving our own mental health. Perhaps what I missed out on there was the impact that the education system was having on the mental health of almost every member of our family. Our KS3 kids were overwhelmed by the pressure of GCSE options and increasing homework loads; as parents we were stressed out by the pressure to be “good parents” that ensured all school work was done, keep a nice house, and spent quality time with increasingly large people who declared how lame we are; and with exams looming and my tuition timetable overflowing, my anxiety levels were through the roof (which meant everything was being cleaned & organised to within an inch of its life). It’s not really the insta-worthy picture is it?

Photo credit Chalk and Salt

After 7 weeks of our weekly digital detox for just a few hours each weekend, I can report back that everyone is feeling much better without exception. Clearly, we’ve done more than just put our phones away for a few hours, but it’s been the catalyst to consider whether all work and no play is a healthy state of being (spoiler: it isn’t).

However, it dawned on me that I am in a unique position to do something about lessening the impact on those around me as an independent tutor. The views on employing a tutor are polarised, possibly because it often costs a tidy sum to bring an individual into your home to work one-to-one with your child. Because of the price tag attached, it’s seen as only accessible to the elite and another way to create unequal access to education. But talk to many private tutors and you’ll find that the students that come to them from a variety of backgrounds, and more often than not a percentage of their tuition is through scholarship or pro-bono. Talking to tutors will also highlight the variety of reasons that students access their services.

Anxiety is the top reason why parents seek individual tuition for their child from me. Whether this is exam anxiety where I can prepare them better by familiarising them with the exam style and answering their questions until they feel safer (and safer is absolutely the right word to use with anxiety), or an overall fear of what is perceived to be a difficult subject, almost without exception the students seeking tuition are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be ok.

Part of my toolkit for reducing educational anxiety is to use a form of gentle stoacism. We look at the toughest questions together and I mark harshly.

So, if I marked this trace table as a 2 out of 5, but you answered these correctly what is the worst grade you’re going to get?

Ok, so if you get that grade, what’s the worst outcome?

That may sound harsh, but as we progress and the worst grade becomes a 5,6,7, or even 8 or 9. What’s the worst that could happen is that they get their chosen place in college even though it wasn’t a 9. Stoacism is a form of CBT that I use myself (Good rule of thumb: I wouldn’t try anything that I wouldn’t put myself through).

Once students are feeling more confident to try questions, I throw in a few from the next level up (AS questions at GCSE, or A Level for AS) without telling them. Once they’ve answered and gained marks I confess that it was actually far more than they needed. Ater a few weeks, my students know I’m sneaky and expect some kind of evil but fun activity.

Anxiety isn’t the only issue that teenagers are suffering from, but it is the pastoral area where tutors are most likely to be supporting the work that teachers are already putting in. By working one-to-one with a student, we have a unique ability to address that child’s individual fears and help them feel heard. And this is not a dig at teachers – with 30 kids in a classroom for an hour lesson, that’s two minutes per student if you did nothing else but talk to them. This also isn’t a millenial snowflake* situation, but a real issue that impacts on not only grades, but will follow a child into their adult lives.

If a tutor can help a child feel less anxious and give them the tools to learn independently, then we’ve done a huge service to the child, their parents, and their teacher. Strategies like digital detoxing are part of a whole toolkit for mental health – your tutor is another.

*These are quotes words, I shudder using them

Holly

Exam Revision Health Check – Are You Studying Too Much?

Study Revision Blocks

With exam season about to get into full swing it seems a strange question to ask, but are you studying too much? Just how much is too much? And how much should you study during the holidays leading up to exams?

Exams are not just about the ability to simply recall key words, but being able to apply then in context; and this is where long term memory techniques are needed! Comitting information to your long term memory requires a combination of repetation of similar topics in small chunks, and a low stress environment.

According to Barnaby Lennon, ICS (Independent School Council) Chairman and former Headmaster of Harrow, students should be revising for 7 hours each day for most of the Easter Holidays. This applies to both gcse and a level students. whilst I don’t entirely disagree with him open brackets and certainly don’t disagree with his methods close brackets, my own approach uses the 10-minute approach that can be applied to any year group.

The 10 minute method is usually applied to the amount of time for homework during a usual term time. But can be easily adapted to plan revision during the holidays full stop new line the system suggests 10 minutes of study for each year of education per day. For example, in year 11 in the UK, you’ve been in formal education for 12 years:

12 x 10 minutes = 120 minutes or 2 hours per night

This means that over 5 days you’ll be studying 2 hours per night or 10 hours per week when also attending school with usual lessons.

Revision Takes Time
Revision takes time. But how long?

Using Barnaby Lennon’s theory, if you continue your 2 hours of homework time throughout the holidays and add the time you would usually be in class (5 hours) then 7 hours makes perfect sense. However, class time also includes group discussion, admin (register, answering questions, other disruptions) so working individually may not actually require quite so long. Instead, try this equation for working out your easter revision schedule:

10 Minute Rule (TMR)  = (Year Group + 1) x 10 minutes

TMR x 5

Add (2 x Number of Subjects)

Using this, the average Year 11 with eight GCSE subjects could calculate their time in the following way:

TMR = (11 + 1) x 10 = 120 minutes per day (2 hours)

(TMR x 5) + (Subjects x 2)

(2 x 5) + (8 x 2)

10 + 16

= 26 Hours per week during the holidays

  OR

  5.2 hours each day

But how do I spend that much time studying?!

Breaking down your revision into manageable chunks will help. using the calculation above, you could cover all 8 subjects each day with 40 minutes per subject.

Study for 80 minutes, then build in a 20-minute break. The example below shows how you could divide your eight subjects into smaller, more manageable daily chunks. This is a technique called “time chunking’ that many bloggers and vloggers use to maximise their time:

9.00English
9.40Maths
10.20BREAK
10.40History
11.20German
11.40LUNCH
12.40Computer Science
1.20Science 1
1.40BREAK
2.20Music
2.40Science 2
3.20FREEDOM!


For the days you want to go out with friends, or just have a little downtime, split the study in two or get started little earlier. Don’t be tempted to remove the breaks though! It’s important to give your brain some time to digest the information – just like you wouldn’t go for a run straight after a meal.


If you’re struggling to set out your study plan, you can always use a timetable templates like my Painlessly Planned Revision planner to help get organised. Just remember to spend more time revising then planning!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school