Part-time Work Fair at King’s College London

We attended the annual Part-time Work Fair at King’s College London on Tuesday 24 September.

This is the third year that Notebook Tutors has had a stand at the event, and it was certainly the busiest. During the 3 hour event, we spoke with almost 300 students!

We were impressed by the insightful questions that the students asked and their enthusiasm. We have always valued the tutors who have come to work for us from King’s.

Many students felt that part-time tutoring would be a great way to earn money. This is primarily because it can fit around their university timetable. It is also a fantastic way to build on a tutors’ communication skills. If you are interested in applying for a tutoring role, please see our Tutors Applications page for details about how to apply.

We hope to meet many more students when we are back at the fair next September!

Featured Tutor: Moneeb Mirza

Here is the latest post in our Featured Tutor series! As always, it showcases one of our many excellent tutors and demonstrates why he is so passionate about tutoring, and why we love him.

Moneeb studied a Master’s degree in Chemistry at UCL and achieved a 2:1; he also achieved highly in his GCSEs and A-levels. He has tutored students aged 7 to 13 in all subjects, but specialises in Science (particularly Chemistry) and Maths tutoring. Moneeb has helped several of our students accomplish more highly, most recently assisting a 10-year-old student to achieve ‘exceptionally high marks’ in Maths putting him in the top 2% of students nationwide.

1. Why do you like teaching?
Teaching allows me the opportunity to have a positive impact on the future of a student, it feels great seeing my students do well. Teaching is also an opportunity for myself to learn not just about the topic at hand but also more about myself.

2. What is your teaching style?
My style involves creating a relaxed environment where the student can feel comfortable, I try to be less a teacher and more a friend. I try to be creative and flexible in my explanations of new material to students, different students react differently to a certain way of learning, so it’s best to go with what the student likes most. I try to be positive and give praise especially when a student solves something difficult.

3. Tell us your best teaching moment.
I love it when students are able to build on knowledge I’ve taught them previously and use it to tackle a brand new problem that they haven’t seen before, it shows me and them that they understand the concept. Best moment so far is helping a student do extremely well in their end of year exams for Year 5 in maths.

4. What are your interests outside of teaching?
I’m an avid cyclist and love riding/working/buying new bits for my bike. I enjoy tech, food and travel videos online as well as learning new skills associated with data analysis/programming.

Changes to Grade Thresholds in New Exams

In January we wrote a blog about the new, tougher GCSEs and A-levels that are in the process of being rolled out over this year and the next couple of years. Recently articles have been published, notably by the Sunday Times, saying that the grade thresholds in these exams have been lowered in order to prevent a significant fall in grades achieved by students receiving results this summer. The mark required to achieve a good grade will be lower than previously expected.

This has been described as the principle of ‘comparable outcomes’, and the rationale behind the lowering of the boundaries is said to be to ensure that this year’s students will not be disadvantaged by sitting the new qualifications, as compared to previous years. Typically when new or significantly altered qualifications are sat for the first time, grades are relatively low as teachers are having to teach the area for the first time and they may not have enough materials and resources, including past papers, to help their students get the highest marks.

The effect of this change to grade thresholds will be to ensure that around the same percentage of students will achieve the top grades of A and A* (in A-level) this year as did the year before – around 25%.

We are sure that there will be those of you who disagree with this change in grade boundaries, perhaps on the basis that it seems to undermine the whole point of the exam reforms. Others will support the change for bringing much-needed security and reassurance for students nervous about taking untested qualifications. Either way, we will be keeping a close eye on the results this year and making sure that all of our A-level and GCSE tuition going forwards is rigorous enough to ensure each student reaches their full potential.

Summer Tuition

At Notebook Tutors we have recently been discussing the question of summer tuition. An article on BBC News last week features two parents who deliberately chose not to give their children any academic work over the summer holidays, in order to allow them to explore, play, and connect with the natural world.

We prefer to take a more balanced approach. We know that it’s essential to ‘let kids be kids’, and children certainly need time to relax, explore the world around them, and get away from the pressures of school and exams. However, as previously mentioned on our blog, summer learning loss is a serious and real problem. Children typically lose around two months of achievement in reading and literacy, and around two and a half months of achievement in maths, during the summer holidays. As Vivienne Stiles says in the article, ‘You can’t expect [children] to pick up in September where they left off’. This has a knock-on effect on the next academic year, as teachers have to spend the first few weeks of term going back over topics previously studied, rather than teaching children anything new. This is a waste of both teacher and student time, and it is something that we can ill afford given the significant pressure on children to achieve highly from an early age.

We think a ‘middle ground’ approach is best, with a bit of tuition throughout the summer to keep children academically engaged and not regressing; but with plenty of free time as well. Some of our parents use summer tuition for their children to learn something completely different and fun, such as a new language or computer programming, and we think this is a great idea; others use it to tidy up loose ends from the academic year and ensure their children are fully on top of everything learned in the last year, so they start the next year with no outstanding issues. We’re in favour of anything that keeps children learning and engaged.

Featured Tutor: James O’Donoghue

Here is our latest post in our Featured Tutor series! As always, it showcases one of our many excellent tutors and demonstrates why he is so passionate about tutoring, and why we love him.

James is currently studying for a BSc in Anthropology at UCL. He is a highly experienced tutor in his fourth year of tutoring, having taught students at all ages from Year 2 through to A-level. At A-level he specialises in teaching Biology and Chemistry; he teaches Maths and Physics to GCSE; and all subjects including Maths and English up to 11+. James achieved stellar academic results at school in Kent, including A* in A-level Biology and Chemistry and 6 A* and 4 A at GCSE. Comments we have received about James include that he is always positive, he builds up great relationships with his students, he is thorough, and he is good at showing different ways to approach tricky concepts.


1) Why do you like teaching?

I enjoy teaching because it is highly rewarding, especially when the results come back for a tutee and you realise you’ve helped them achieve their full potential. I know from my own experiences that sometimes schools don’t have time for individual pupils, and cannot adapt to their individual needs in terms of learning, so being able to help a student with their work and to feel confident about what they’re doing in class is an amazing feeling.

2) What is your teaching style?

For me, one of the most important — if not the most important — role of being a tutor is to build a strong and good relationship with the tutee; to ensure lessons are not a chore, but are instead enjoyable and pressure-free. I also try to build confidence in students to tackle the questions they once struggled with, and to work through questions rather than setting them work for the lessons with no interaction.

3) Tell us your best teaching moment.

My most resonant memory was in my third week of tutoring when a Year 9 girl who was struggling with her fractions came to us, after trying out other tutors with little success. We both worked through an hour of fractions and by the end, she had made such great progress, she ran out to her mum shouting “I can do fractions!”. Her mother was very proud and seeing the girl so happy made me realise the benefits of tutoring and why I had started the job in the first place.

4) What are your interests outside of teaching?

I enjoy travelling around and taking photos, music and playing my guitars.

Maths Tutoring

We were interested to hear about the plans to translate Chinese maths textbooks into English to allow British schoolchildren to use them, as described in this article.

The article confirms that while Chinese students score very highly in world rankings for maths, British students are far behind, on a level with Portugal and the Czech Republic. This is particularly problematic as our economy moves further towards a reliance on Technology and professional services, which require a high level of mathematical and scientific proficiency. If Britain’s maths teaching does not improve, we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future, potentially leading to difficulties in competing in high tech industries which are so crucial to our future success.

At Notebook Tutors, maths is our most popular subject for tuition and we get the most enquiries about it by some distance. Many students have difficulties in grasping the concepts and techniques as taught in class, while others simply need much more practice before they are fully comfortable in tackling tricky questions by themselves. Frequently the lack of one-to-one attention in classes leads to some students being left behind, and their teacher not having the time or resources to assist them individually. It is clear to us that considerable progress must be made in the way we approach maths teaching in schools, before our students will be able to compete on the world stage.

The article linked above raises some interesting points about the compatibility of the approach advocated in Chinese textbooks with the culture and education system in Britain, and notes in particular the differences in teacher training between the two countries – for example, in Britain most primary school teachers will teach all subjects, while in China primary teachers are specialised for particular subjects – and the amount of time a Chinese student will be expected to spend on learning – mentioning additional teaching and weekend school, which are not typical features of the education system here in Britain. At this stage it is not clear how these differences will affect the efficacy of the Chinese textbooks when tried in British schools.

Whether or not this initiative works, we will continue to provide high-quality one-to-one tutoring for our students. We think it is likely that no in-class approach to maths is likely to be as effective as individual private tuition with an experienced tutor, where a student’s individual strengths and weaknesses can be assessed and their weaknesses specifically targeted. If you are interested in maths tutoring, please see our maths subject page.

Cuts to School Budgets

At Notebook Tutors we were concerned to read about a recent report on school budgets from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has been widely reported in the press. The report can be found by clicking here. It notes that spending on education increased significantly from the 1990s to 2010-11, before falling by 14% in real terms between 2011 and 2015-16. However, most of that fall in funding was not experienced by primary and secondary schools directly, instead impacting other areas such as non-compulsory higher education and education from ages 16 to 18.

This is now set to change. The report states that ‘spending per pupil is expected to fall by 6.5% in real terms between 2015-16 and 2019-20’. This is specifically in relation to primary and secondary schools (up to 16), rather than any other stage of education.
There have already been reports in the press of schools struggling with their budgets, and headteachers feeling forced to cut a wide variety of non-mandatory subjects or enrichment opportunities. Here at Notebook Tutors we expect that this further real-terms cut in school funding will hit schools even harder, and the consequences may be significant.

A potential outcome from this cut may be an increase in interest in tuition. If parents find that their child’s school cannot provide extra support for a child who is struggling, or conversely if an academically gifted child is not given sufficiently challenging material, those parents may turn to tuition to meet their child’s academic needs. There was a boom in tuition from 2010 onwards, as the pressure of funding began to bite on educational budgets; and we consider that the likelihood is that this will only increase.

We believe that education is every family’s best investment, and hope that these changes do not negatively affect the academic outcomes of our students.

Robot Tutors?

Here at Notebook Tutors, we recently spotted this intriguing BBC article about the possible uses of robots and artificial intelligence in tuition. In the article the BBC describes an experiment using a robotic tutor, ‘Jill Watson’, at Georgia Tech university over the summer. The students who interacted with ‘Jill’ on an online forum were not informed that ‘she’ was in fact an artificially intelligent robot; over the course of the summer, they apparently did not at any point realise that ‘she’ was not a human, but only commented that she responded more quickly than the other, human teaching assistants. Meanwhile Pearson, the education company, is experimenting with a robotic tutor integrated into an online course, which interacts with students by asking them questions and assisting their learning.

For many people, it is short-sighted to discount the potential of technology to enhance education. The entire rest of our lives – from the way we shop, to the way we work, to the way we communicate with each other – has been revolutionised by technology; yet education is in some ways almost untouched. Teachers may have interactive whiteboards nowadays, instead of blackboards; but that is far from a wholesale revolution. Much of teaching still looks exactly as it did fifty or one hundred years ago. It seems unlikely that technology has no further insight to provide or improvement to make in relation to teaching and tuition, so we advocate an exploration of the possibilities of technology in education.

Having said that, however, it is nonetheless clear to us that the value of a good teacher, interacting in person with a class – preferably a small class, and ideally one-on-one – cannot be overlooked or overstated. They can connect with the students, build rapport, manage behaviour, introduce humour where appropriate, build knowledge and skills in the most important areas, challenge the strongest students and support the weakest – and the best teachers can do this all simultaneously. That is the reason that we spend so much time on picking the best possible tutors. Their experience, personal engagement, and combination of subject knowledge with soft skills is something that cannot be replicated by a robot – at least not yet!

Looking Ahead to 2017: Changes to GCSEs and A-levels

At Notebook Tutors, we are looking ahead to the changes in the educational and tuition landscape taking place during 2017. In particular, we are closely watching the new English Literature and Language and Maths GCSE examinations, in which students will be given a grade from 9 to 1 rather than the previous A to G system. These GCSEs were introduced for first teaching in September 2015, and so they will be examined for the first time this summer on a ‘guinea pig’ cohort of students. The new curriculum and grade structure will be rolled out to all subjects by September 2017.

An essential requirement for all of our tutors is familiarity with the curriculum they are teaching, and this can be tricky when there has been a considerable change such as the current overhaul of GCSEs. However, our tutors have rallied to the challenge, thoroughly got to grips with the new curricula, and they and we are looking forward to seeing the results achieved by our students this summer. As the new grade system draws a clearer distinction between the students achieving the very highest grades, with what was previously an A* now divided between grade 8 and grade 9, there is greater opportunity for our students to show their strengths, and we are optimistic that they will achieve an impressive crop of grade 9s!

A less dramatic change has also taken place in AS- and A-levels, with students getting their first results in the new A-levels this summer (the first results in the new AS-levels came out in summer 2016). These new qualifications are still graded in the same way, unlike the ‘9 to 1’ GCSEs; but they are more exam-focused than previous qualifications, with much less coursework; and there is no longer the possibility of taking module exams in January. Our students achieved some extremely impressive results in the new AS-levels last summer, and we anticipate further success in the full A-level exams this year.

Classical Civilisation, Art History and Archaeology A-levels to be Scrapped

This week’s biggest education news has been the report that three humanities A-levels are to be scrapped: Art History, Classical Civilisation, and Archaeology.

The exam board AQA, which was the last board offering these A-level choices, has announced that the subjects will be dropped from 2018, which means that the students who are currently studying for the A-level (having started this September) will be the last group to have that option.

While it is certainly the case that each was a niche subject, with fewer than 1000 A-level students studying each of the three; and while they can hardly be said to be essential in the same way as English and Maths, we agree with those who have criticised this decision by AQA.

Notebook Tutors believes that it is essential for every child to have a strong grounding in the core subjects of the curriculum: primarily English, Maths, and the Sciences. However, an education that focuses on only those subjects, without allowing exploration of other areas, is limited and short-sighted. Our students should have the opportunity to learn about a whole range of different subjects, particularly those which can broaden their horizons and teach them about things that they may never have considered before. Some of our most memorable educational experiences have been in subjects that are now being scrapped – from learning about ancient Greek philosophy to ancient cave art, we have been enriched by these off-the-beaten-track subjects. It is a great shame that future students will not have the same opportunities.

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