The reports on school mathematics drop bleakly one on top of the other. Each arrives at the same recommendation: a child needs a teacher to sit down with them and explain it in understandable terms; in other words, individualised learning. The drawback is the cost. Mathematics teachers are in demand elsewhere. The downsizing of the maths-savvy financial sector may have led to a temporary improvement in recruitment but a radical solution is required.
Many parents opt for private tuition, particularly for examination preparation. This is mainly provided by private tutors, often working within a franchise. Tuition centres, which, by aggregating students, could provide a more efficient service, are comparatively few. This is the direct result of government education policy which is biased against private education. Although about 7% of British children attend “private” schools, these are not actually private schools – they are charitable foundations. A private school seeks to make a profit which is frowned upon.
The financial obstacles to private educational providers are considerable. They have to charge parents VAT. They incur corporation tax as well as income tax. They do not qualify for relief on the local tax. By contrast, a charitable school avoids these fiscal burdens. Furthermore, a private tutor does not charge VAT, may not declare the income to the tax collector, and works without premises. Thus the UK has a fragmented private tuition sector. The outcome is confused and expensive access to individualised mathematics support.
The government has high expectations of the nation’s schools. Yet, it does not have the wherewithal to fund them to the extent required. It needs to encourage more investment in the education sector. There are numerous projects involving some sort of public-private partnership, but these have not transformed educational attainment. Dismantling the barriers to private schooling would unlock a swathe of private capital which would enhance the education sector.
There is a fear that private schooling may widen social divisions. However, society is not riven by mathematics nor, indeed, by differential knowledge of any particular subject. Improving the subject knowledge of children brings obvious personal and social benefits. We need to give children every opportunity to learn in the best way for themselves.
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