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Independent Schools, It's Time To Confront The Elephant In The Room

Written by: Danielle Baron, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Danielle Baron has been a previous teacher and assistant headteacher of 10+ years. She has been an expert tutor for many years, including while she was a teacher, and is also now a qualified and licensed therapist and coach for children. She also mentors and coaches other tutors.

A New Era

Independent schools, it’s time to confront the ELEPHANT in the room. I’m not talking about grammar schools. Grammar schools are very attuned to a child to being tutored for exams and Facebook is flooded with grammar school groups offering advice and tutor recommendations.

The elephant of course is an issue facing independent schools. Not all of them- I don’t like to tar all independent schools with the same brush- some of them are adapting well. It is something that the majority don’t like to admit with their already extortionate fees, which is that most children have some sort of tuition, be it for academic improvement, confidence and from my experience, entrance exams like 7 plus, 10 plus and 11 plus.

The website ‘Tutor Hunt’ comments that:

It has been commonly quoted that the tuition industry is worth more than £6 billion per year. After lengthy research into the market size of the UK tuition industry, the Sutton Trust concluded that: `The UK private tuition market is substantial. Its total worth may run into the billions.’

The Academic Gap

Going to a 20K a year school doesn’t mean your child is immune to an academic gap. The purpose of these schools is mainly for the smaller classes and jaw-dropping facilities. Regarding the topic of entrance exams, that I’m a specialist with, the parents of the children that don’t have tuition are usually the last to know and are mortified that it’s too late to prepare, albeit I try my best to help them. The times I have received phone calls from parents saying that all along the other parents in their child’s class had tutors and they were the last to know and now it is too late. I have also been kept a secret many times, like a secret club who only those ‘in the know’ can attend. I even had a situation a few years ago, when tutoring at my house: one mother rang me and said her son had just seen a classmate come into my house and refused to get out the car for fear of being identified. Let’s be honest here, it was the mother who refused to let him out of the car for fear of being discovered that, god forbid, her child is not a natural talent and has a tutor! But actually, what child IS a natural talent? Very few and far between. In the last couple of years though, I have seen this situation improve with parent to parent as reality has hit that it is the norm to have a tutor for exam preparation, but unfortunately, with some independent schools, I still see this divide between tutor and target independent school as if we are long-time sworn enemies never to step foot on each other’s territories. But it’s one sided – WE are THEIR perceived enemy. The independent schools’ reasons for this may be justified to some extent. Who would want to collaborate with any Tom, Dick or Harry that decides one day they want to be a tutor, with little knowledge or formal tuition qualifications? I can completely understand and agree. But for tutors like myself, who have been an established teacher, who are knowledgeable about all the methods schools use regarding mathematics etc, continue to develop professionally and are excellent at their trade and receive amazing feedback, there is definitely room for schools to accept us and collaborate. It is very easy to tell a low-quality tutor from a high-quality tutor. Usually, this will be reflected in their price (unless a tutor is completely undervaluing themselves) because as the old adage goes: ‘You pay peanuts, you get monkeys’.

An Unregulated Industry

Tuition is still an unregulated industry, but thanks to organisations like ‘The Tutors’ Association’, it is becoming more regulated, and we are headed in the right direction, so hopefully this will also help more independent schools appreciate tutors. The day when paying a high fee and ensuring your child gets the best preparation for the next school is long gone with the ever-increasing competitive climate and proven with the amount of children that come to me from highly regarded private schools. Some independent prep schools say that they prepare a child for 10 plus and 11 plus exams, but very rarely is this the case from my experience, and especially if their school goes up to age thirteen, because of course, why would they want their students to leave their school for the 11 plus to go to another school? The children at these ‘reassuring’ schools may practise a bit of verbal and non-verbal reasoning in addition to the compulsory English and maths lessons, but they are still coming to me because there is a gap. It’s about time independent schools see the value of tuition when it is done well and learn to trust the tuition industry and parents’ choice of tutor. Perhaps there is a little bit of resentment here because it is clear to see that the teaching profession is largely underpaid, which I am disappointed about and was also extremely deflated about as a teacher. I was living hand to mouth. Now, I make three times the salary I did as an assistant headteacher, so perhaps there’s some annoyance in that. But that is because I’m good at what I do and the value I provide from helping all these children is priceless. I reinvest my profit into myself and my business to become even better and it is a very productive cycle.

Hello Einstein!

But what of the children that pass exams and haven’t had a tutor? The naturally bright? Some do exist. But, REALLY, how many mini Einsteins are walking around? Sometimes I’ll meet these children at the last hurdle of their school entrance stage, the interview stage, where they have got through the academic round but need prepping for the interview stage. From my experience, their academic success is largely down to having power couple parents or one powerhouse parent that has done their research and has bought all the established resources and have amazing tuition contacts. Most parents have taken time off work, or one parent doesn’t work so they can dedicate their time to their child’s upcoming exams, meaning therefore, that they have still been prepared. What’s the difference between a parent who dedicates years to their child’s exams and drills their child and one that gets a tutor? I would say that the difference, when having a tutor, is preserving parents’ (and children’s) sanity.

From my experience, there has never been a child that has passed an exam who hasn’t prepped in some way or to some extent. What worldly-wise adult would go to a job interview without some preparation? Preparation is not cheating or saying you are undeserving of a place. It is WISE. In fact, the format of a test alone needs preparation, otherwise a child may complete it incorrectly.

Most independent schools shudder at the thought of students having a tutor and I certainly know that to one of my previous employers of a highly regarded independent school, the idea of tuition to her is like pollution tarnishing a pure lake. During the pandemic, many independent schools changed the format of exams to cater for the lagging-behind education. However, word on the grapevine is that this specific employer is not reverting to the original assessment format because it will mean the ‘naturally gifted’ children will shine through more now. She couldn’t be more wrong. I tutor for this school every year. Did the change of format of the exam stop children from being tutored? Definitely not! They still preparing for the elements that she kept. During my time specialising in mainly 7 plus and 11 plus exams, I have seen the number of children that have tuition for all the local independent schools in the area. Since the pandemic hit and I adapted my business and moved online, as well as again resuming face-to-face lessons, I have seen the lengths people go to have their children tutored, including international students in Russia and Singapore preparing for local schools where I live. There is nothing wrong with tuition when done properly and pastorally. In fact, it is priceless and enhances a child in so many ways, including their learning. Yet, still many independent schools advise against tutoring, not all of them, but there is still an underlying taboo and misconception about having your child tutored for exams.

Having been a previous teacher, my style of tuition has always been an eclectic mix of learning the age-appropriate curriculum and collaborating with the current school topics as well as prepping for the exams. For each child, I have a destination for where we need to get to by exam season, but how we get there, or what journey we take is completely personalised for each child and I help them with confidence and self -esteem along the way. My passion for this is why last year, I trained with world renowned therapist, Marisa Peer to become a therapist myself and I also trained with a wonderful trainer, called Nina Madden, to become an NLP Master Practitioner and coach to enhance my tuition. Teaching is no longer just about the academic side anymore- it is evolving. It has to evolve, based on what has happened Covid-wise in the last two years, there is such a need for children to be given some reassurance, guidance and direction in life that the overwhelming lifestyle we have means parents alone can’t always cope with providing this. I am always being praised by parent clients for boosting their childs’ confidence and being told that they enjoyed the whole exam experience and I have set them up for life. I wholeheartedly see the value of tuition, so I hope independent schools read this and see that there is such a valuable place for tutors like me.

The Part That Makes Me Grimace

“Have you had tuition?” Or a slyer question: “How did you prepare for the test?”. Why are these questions even asked during entrance exam interviews? Some independent schools have become wise not to ask, but they are still lurking. Unfortunately, and admittedly, I have to prep my students to answer ‘no’ to having had a tutor, when clearly most of the children there have had tuition. It’s a vicious cycle; we prep children to take exams but tell them to say they haven’t had tutoring - so it’s feeding into an unhealthy ethos. But who is going to be the first to back down?

With or without tests, we are not going to go away.

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Danielle Baron, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Danielle catalyses children and adults to rise like a phoenix from the flames 🔥 and to reach their optimum potential. She is an entrepreneur, inspiring 11+ and 7+ entrance exams tutor, rapid transformational therapist®️, business coach for overachievers, a life coach for all, an NLP Master practitioner and she is also certified by the ILM.

One of Danielle’s much loved abilities is being an overachiever because she thrives on the excitement and follows her passion, which is to help people live fulfilling lives.

Over the last five years of her tuition business, Danielle has become extremely popular and respected in the tuition industry and is a mentor and coach to other tutors, to help them increase revenue in their businesses, but ultimately to be the best tutors they can be. Her own tuition service incorporates coaching for parents and children throughout the exam process and NLP classes for children to help them with lack of confidence, bullying, anxiety and to help them focus on the imminent goal of exams and to visualise and believe in their success.

Danielle’s second business, coaching and therapy, has been a long time coming and her personal interest in people and psychology led her to investing in the most high-quality courses to be the best for her clients. For her rapid transformational therapy ®️, she had the privilege of personally being mentored by Marisa Peer, world renowned therapist. Rapid transformational therapy is a combination of NLP, CBT, psychotherapy and hypnosis.

It has been Danielle’s personal experiences which have led her to where she is today. At age four, her father died of suicide, which installed in her a determination to help prevent people ever becoming despaired again. Her best friend passed away at fifteen, which solidified Danielle’s determination of living life to the full. Growing up with a single parent, they struggled with money but Danielle was very inspired by her mother’s work ethic, which had a huge impact on her.

As a teacher in some schools, the politics and bullying amongst staff was toxic and she suffered from depression, stress and burnout and was treated badly at her most vulnerable time of being pregnant and having a newborn and that’s why she’s passionate about helping teachers. She wishes that she had someone to help her at the time.

She has been through the journey of setting up successful businesses on her own, while undertaking childcare as a single parent of two, after she divorced, and strongly believes anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to with grit, focus and passion.


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