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Stories from the frontline of education
A monthly series of articles that take an in-depth look at education in the UK and around the world. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and are not necessarily shared by Hampstead Village Tutors
Dealing with students who are applying to British schools from abroad requires a highly structured approach. My students usually did fifteen minutes of verbal and non-verbal reasoning every day, fifteen minutes of mental arithmetic, half an hour of solo-reading (to build vocabulary) and plenty of time methodically working through the relevant syllabi topic by topic. I was supporting the parents, too: they had no point of comparison for their daughters, and little idea of what to expect - I provided reading lists, resources, past papers and a healthy dose of reassurance.
In the last six weeks, I have seen how much this hard work can pay off. Children are very quick to learn when they feel inspired, and my two students - who had been intimidated by the idea of English exams, and often muddled by their bilingual education - made tremendous steps forward when offered structured support, praise and encouragement, rather than panic and uncertainty.
Some people feel that tutoring of any kind is excessive, elitist or unfair - but once again, I was struck by the fact that, in most cases, the demand stems from a real need. In London, many parents book tuition in response to a lack of confidence, a change in schools, a family upheaval, a learning difficulty or even just an unengaging teacher at school. My international students, though undoubtedly privileged, faced a battle I can hardly imagine, converting their childhood education into a different language and learning to follow a whole new set of rules and criteria. For them, and me, it was a hugely rewarding process.
The world is becoming ever-more global and interconnected. My own nephews are bilingual English/Mandarin and are currently in the American system; my best friend moved from India to study in London; one of my first ever 13+ tutees has just taken up a place at Stamford University in the US. Private tuition is one way to smooth the transitions from one system to another, and to allow those with peripatetic lives to benefit from a truly joined-up education.
Victoria Smith is Tuition Agent and Co-Founder of Hampstead Village Tutors
A Joined-Up Education
‘Nice work if you can get it’, my mother declared when I announced I would be dividing the Summer holidays between Switzerland, The Bahamas, Miami and France, tutoring two students for their 11+ and 13+ Common Entrance exams. Of course, there are perks to being an international tutor; I’ve explored new cities, swum with dolphins and obtained an unusually deep tan over the past few weeks. But it was hard work, too. Teaching one-to-one is a highly intensive activity and maintaining the motivation of youngsters for six hours per day - when they would rather be hitting the water-park - requires energy, imagination and a strong will.
Many presume that taking a tutor abroad is the preserve of the jet-set super-rich: just another luxury to go along with the chef, the nanny and the butler. It’s worth remembering, though, that more often than not international tutors are hired to oversee the challenging shift from one country’s education system to another’s. In this case, my students had previously undergone all their schooling in French - not easy, then, to pass entrance exams to schools such as Wycombe Abbey, Godolphin or LEH, which are demanding enough for well-prepped English pupils. A different client of mine is moving from Sri Lanka to London and aiming for competitive grammar schools. Her current international school is not as advanced as primary schools in the UK system, so there’s been a lot of catching up to do, particularly in Maths. Another HVT tutor has recently returned from Russia, where he’s been coaching students for the 16+ to schools such as Westminster and Sevenoaks - covering essay writing and analysis, but also helping his tutees to develop the necessary cultural understanding and interview skills.
Top schools give no special treatment to international applicants. They are required to hit high grades in English, Maths and Science at the very least, and to show an advanced aptitude for a range of other subjects. It’s crucially important to familiarise students from abroad with the style of questioning that they will face; for example, my students in Switzerland were scoring highly in Maths at their French school (which focused largely on algebra and geometry) but had never before been confronted with the wordy problems that permeate Common Entrance and Consortium papers. When you’re dealing with bi- or trilingual children, you also need to ensure a full understanding of terminology. Simple but vital words like ‘sum’, ‘product’ and ‘squared’ can be a real sticking point.
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