Radio 4 Woman's Hour was getting all steamed up this morning about the social rights and wrongs of tutoring children during the school holidays. "Socially divisive", "giving the posh kids an extra leg up they don't need", "impossible demands placed on young shoulders", etc etc.
According to some amongst us, children turn into vegetables during those precious few weeks of summer, and need to be kept nose to grindstone lest they forget how to spell, punctuate, do times tables and stand still in the lunch queue.
I've been tutoring children and young people from 11 to 18 years old for the past few years, and it's completely changed my views on what tutoring actually is.
In the summer holidays, most of my tutees stop, unless they are preparing for a selective entrance exam that's going to come up early in the next academic year. These poor souls have to keep going, yes.
I find it next to impossible to force my own poor children to do any official work in the summer. Quite rightly, they run a mile. They really are tired of school after a whole academic year of it, and need the down time.
However the local library is running its usual Reading Challenge, which has exposed the fact that my son actually likes reading (it can't last) and will sit and do it all by himself now. One element of the Challenge involved writing a 'spine-tingling poem'. So he did, and then added a picture of a bloody severed hand for good measure. I looked on, incredulous. He never did that during the school year.
Today the children demanded to go to Beanotown, because they'd spotted this event at the South Bank in some issue of the comic. It turned out to include a room full of comfy seats and beanbags, floor to ceiling rows of books, comics and annuals, and a huge table covered in more annuals, paper and pens for drawing. They had to be dragged away.
Both Reading Challenge and Beanotown were absolutely free. I struggle to think of better ways to get children reading, writing and drawing.
In the tutoring I do, I have come to realize that all kinds of families and children would like extra support. For some, the curriculum is dull, and they are able, but losing motivation. Others have started to struggle in secondary school, perhaps because of gaps from primary school learning, and are losing confidence. I've tutored some of the most able students I've ever encountered — and told them repeatedly that they do not need a tutor. These brilliant young people come from the state and the private sector. They want to be stretched further than A level demands.
Most of what I do in actually teaching involves building a strong relationship with the students, trying to understand what motivates them as individuals, what their academic strengths are, and then relating language-learning or English to those strengths. This involves more listening than talking, and we work pretty slowly. They say they like it. I like to think they make progress. Their families seem happy with my somewhat unorthodox approach, which I make no secret about.
One of the unexpected benefits and pleasures of tutoring is getting to know the students' families, and there is no predominant pattern in which socio-economic group is seeking tutoring. Some are well off, other families are making a considerable outlay.
As far as I'm concerned everyone would benefit from one to one tutoring — after all, isn't that why supervisions and tutorials are still held up as being the best teaching system in the world at Oxford and Cambridge?
As for tutoring through the summer? Put up a hammock or a tent, take a book outside, keep a scrapbook, take photos, find some free local events to go to. Make your kids do the cooking, and count the change from shopping. That should keep them ticking over.