The curriculum at Melbourne High School has been carefully designed to provide a foundation of the skills and knowledge required for further study; to provide an intellectual challenge; to inspire a love of learning and to teach study habits invaluable for a life of scholarship.
Families have justifiably high expectations of the academic demands placed on a student at Melbourne High School. Classes do move quickly, and it is likely that more content will be taught in an average term at Melbourne High than at the student’s previous school. This does not mean, however, any son will be expected to become expert immediately, or else run the risk of falling behind.
Some parents mistakenly believe that their son will not be supported in his learning if he has difficulty in a subject. Any student who does not understand what is taught in class will be assisted by their class teacher; there is no expectation that the student should hire a private tutor in order to catch-up.
It is the school’s intention to help families develop young men who are well-rounded, have a wide-range of interests and are fully-equipped for a professional and personal life after their school years. It is concerning that some of our students receive so much tutoring out of school hours that they do not have the time to pursue other interests, or to develop important relationships.
Reliance on tutors also tends to undermine the school’s efforts to help students become an independent learner. In order to acquire the habits of mind typical of a sophisticated thinker, students need to learn to solve problems through deep thinking; having a tutor provide ‘the answers’ could be detrimental to his intellectual growth and entrench his reliance on the advice of others, rather than trusting his own ability to apply the lessons learned in class.
Where any parent is concerned about their son’s progress they should contact his Student Learning Coordinator. The coordinator will meet with the student to ascertain his needs and to implement any additional or alternative aspects to his study program.
What role should tutors play?
[From the Principal’s Report, published in OURS, Friday 10 June 2011. Volume 24, Number 16]
Many MHS families employ private tutors to support their son’s learning. A recent survey of Year 11 students revealed that approximately a quarter of students currently employ tutors with some students using multiple tutors.
Given that these students are the most academically able in the state, it is worth asking whether tutors are really necessary and what role they can or should play. Our students report that their first use of a tutor was often to prepare them to sit the entrance exam. Our own analysis indicates that coaching for the exam is unlikely to have much impact as the majority of the test assesses natural ability rather than prior learning. It may be the case, however, that the use of a tutor leads some families to believe that their son only gained a place on the basis of a tutor’s assistance and therefore a tutor will be necessary to maintain them at MHS.
When we ask our students themselves, many report using tutors to give them an edge over their peers and from a perception that those students gaining the best results do so with the help of tutors. In fact our own analysis indicates that our most able students rarely use tutors.
There are certainly instances when it would be quite appropriate for MHS students to utilise tutors; however, this is not reflected in the current pattern of use amongst our students. There are equally a range of problems that can result from the use of tutors and it is worth considering these carefully.
The majority of tutors are current or past teachers; however, some have no teaching qualification and their bone fides are questionable. If they are not currently teaching the subject they are providing tutorial support in to the relevant year level, it is often the case that they are unfamiliar with the requirements of the course. They will certainly be unfamiliar with the MHS course requirements. It has given rise to situations when the tutor provides ill-informed and misleading advice. A possible solution would be if the tutor was a current MHS staff member; however, it is not permitted by their conditions of employment.
There have sometimes been issues when a tutor has given undue assistance to a student. In some cases this has led to authentication concerns and the teacher is not convinced that the work is entirely that of the student. In such circumstances, the teacher has little option other than to reject or fail the work submitted and report a breach of rules. In other instances it can lead to a self-defeating dependency. Where students have leaned too heavily on a tutor and therefore have not developed their own understanding of a topic, they will be brought undone when undertaking a test or exam when they have to stand on their feet.
Some tutors set students additional homework above that already set by the teacher. This can result in an exaggerated and unnecessary workload for the student. As tutors cost money there is also an equity issue stemming from who can afford a tutor regardless of whether they do or do not need support. Class teachers will provide some individual assistance to students and the School offers additional after class assistance in English and mathematics.
Finally, there have been instances when tutors have convinced students and their families that their good marks are largely attributable to the tutor’s assistance. They clearly have a pecuniary interest in doing so to convince the family to continue to pay them. Unfortunately, this can result in students having an undeserved lack of confidence in their own ability.
The School Council is currently investigating the use of tutors at MHS. We recognise that in certain circumstances tutor support is necessary and justified; however, the current pattern of use does not match this need. The widespread use of tutors also comes with its problems as identified above.
One response being considered by Council is the establishment of a MHS authorized tutor service. This would be manned by tutors endorsed by the School and referral to the service would be based on perceived need. The cost of the service could also take into account the financial circumstances of the family. Another advantage of such a service would be for the class teacher and the tutor to work in collaboration rather than in isolation, as is the case at present.