Well, things have really taken off: from just starting to advertise over the Christmas holidays, I've now got nine regular tutees signed up and another four or five possibles in the pipeline. I never thought I'd be deactivating my ads before the end of January, but that's what I've just done. On top of that I've joined a musical theatre society (going to be in a production of The Pirates of Penzance at the end of March, just as a chorus member) and spent most of the last two weeks doing full-time cover work at my old college, so it's been a busy time!
My nine students, who are studying at eight different schools/colleges, range from struggling Year 10s to Year 13 students aiming for a high grade at A2 level, with a roughly even split between GCSE and A-level, and I've also been in discussions about taking on a couple of adult learners who are studying for Level 2 Maths qualifications. Some tutees are doing term-time only; others also want to continue through the school holidays. All so far have been looking for 1-to-1 tuition, which of course means they get a much more personalised approach than they'll get at a tuition centre.
Of course, this is the busiest time of year for tuition enquiries - when students in Years 11, 12, and 13 have just got their mock results back and a family decision has been made that they could benefit from a bit of extra support to help boost their grades in the exams in May and June. Once those exams are over, I expect demand to slow down significantly, which will free up time for my exam marking and other activities. But at the same time, I hope, word of mouth will bring in a few enquiries for next academic year.
When I am approached by a new student who is working towards their GCSE in Maths, the first thing I ask them to do is to try a “skills check” sheet of questions. The purpose of this exercise is for me to establish how good a grasp they have of the basic skills that they should have covered before the end of Key Stage 3, so that I know what level we are starting from and can plan accordingly.
I don’t want them to see it as a test and feel under pressure. Calculators aren’t allowed, but I don’t mind if they need to look a few things up to remind themselves of how to do them; I’m more interested in their understanding of the underlying concepts, and the way they apply this understanding. Maths should make sense; not only is it a lot more enjoyable if you understand it, but if the basics don’t make sense to the learner then what hope do they have of getting to grips with the harder material needed for the exam?
Skills that I ask them to demonstrate are:
Some may question when they would ever use these skills in the real world, and sometimes that’s hard to answer. However, every one of these skills is still examined at GCSE, and some of the techniques – such as arithmetic with fractions – will be needed if the student goes on to study Maths at a higher level. It always surprises me how many students starting A-level Maths can’t remember how to divide by a fraction!
At the student’s initial consultation we’ll run through the exercise – which ideally they’ll already have worked through beforehand – and identify the gaps in their knowledge, addressing some of them there and then. The rest – as well as revisiting those newly addressed – can be worked into the first few lessons.
We’ll also discuss any areas of the GCSE course that they feel need special attention; perhaps they have struggled with the material in a particular topic or maybe they have missed out on teaching due to illness or a change of teaching set. We will of course aim to cover all the topics in the relevant exam specification (provided that there is enough time left before the exams), but this initial discussion allows me to plan for that particular student’s immediate needs.