Sunday 20 October 2019

Are grinds a waste of time?

Colleges offering extra tuition deny claims that they make little difference

Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Private colleges have reacted with scepticism to new research claiming that grinds make little difference to Leaving Cert results. Almost half of all Irish pupils now use some form of extra tuition before the Leaving Cert in the belief that they can improve their grades.

Figures are even higher for pupils at fee-paying schools where six out of 10 pupils get grinds.

There are all sorts of reasons why students take grinds. Poor teaching, disruptive classrooms, illness, and a competitive hunger for points for third level colleges are all commonly cited as reasons for doing grinds. Students may feel that, for whatever reason, they have fallen behind.

The recently-published report on grinds, by Dr Emer Smyth of the ESRI, found that the number taking grinds had soared during the Celtic Tiger era.

In the mid-1990s, only one third of all pupils took grinds.

In her report published last week, Dr Smyth asked a pertinent question that will preoccupy many cash-strapped parents and their children: do grinds make any difference to Leaving Cert results?

She acknowledges that students who take grinds tend to do better in the Leaving. But she questions whether it is actually the grinds that improve exam performance.

"At first glance, those who take grinds achieve higher grades and are more likely to go on to college.''

But this is down to their own background and motivation, Dr Smyth suggests. Students who take grinds are more likely to be female, middle-class and more highly- motivated.

Dr Smyth says, "They are a group who are likely to do well anyway because they are from more privileged backgrounds and are more highly engaged in school.''

According to Dr Smyth, all things being equal, grinds make little difference to results.

The report has naturally been seized upon by the second level teachers union ASTI, which has described the findings as "devastating'' for the fast-expanding grinds industry.

Although many ASTI members give grinds in their spare time, the union's general secretary, John White, has said that the report showed that there was no magic formula for achieving good grades in the Leaving Cert.

John Brennan, a Maths teacher who runs the Ballinteer Institute and the website leavingcert.ie, questioned the ESRI report's findings.

"If students did not feel that they were getting something out of grinds they would not be doing them. Students and their parents are voting with their feet.

"It would be unfair to tar all teachers with the same brush and most teachers are competent. But it is clear that some of them do not cut the mustard."

John Brennan said there was a shortage of good Maths teachers at honours level.

"There are teachers who are teaching Maths at higher level in schools who are not qualified to do so.

"Students come to us for extra tuition, because they may feel that their entire course has not been properly covered in the classroom. That may not necessarily be down to poor teaching. Even the best teacher in the world can't produce good results if he or she has a classroom full of disruptive pupils.''

Micheal Landers, principal of Bruce College, which offers revision courses in Cork, says grinds may only make a small difference to the number of points, but even that small impact can have a big effect when students are trying to get enough points for a place in college.

"Taking grinds is never going to double someone's points, because the students are only with us for a short time.

"But it can bring a small increase in points which makes all the difference.

"We find that our revision courses are particularly popular in honours Maths, foreign languages and English.''

"Often the students coming to us say that their teachers in school have missed a lot of time during the year, and they have not completed the course.''

Dr Smyth's report is the first significant piece of research on grinds at Leaving Cert level.

Previous research by the University of Strathclyde into extra tuition at GCSE level (the British equivalent of Junior Cert) found that pupils who had grinds boosted their results. On average they were likely to achieve an extra pass at grades A-C.

Ireland's grinds industry has mushroomed over the past decade. Students either attend grinds schools on a regular part-time basis (evening or weekend) or on a block basis (intensive revision courses during school holidays).

According to the ESRI report, part-time courses in some of the grind schools cost around €895-a-year for one subject, while shorter block courses at Easter and Christmas charged €245 per subject.

As well as the grind school system, a number of students are given one-to-one tutoring, generally by teachers or university students. The cost of this type of private tuition is estimated at €30 per hour.

GRINDS HELPED ME AT THE LEAVING

Trinity College student Brian O Miochain believes taking grinds helped him to improve his Leaving cert results.

Brian went to the Institute of Education at weekends for an entire school year to receive tuition in three subjects -- Physics, German and Mathematics.

"In Physics at school I had a good teacher, but I felt that I needed certain terminology explained to me. The whole course was covered in a year in a very clear manner. I eventually got a B1.

"I think the German classes helped me, particularly in the orals.

"Languages are not my strongest point, and I got a lot done early on.

"I got a B1 in the subject, but I probably would have done a lot worse without going to the classes, because my German was not really up to scratch.

"The Maths class also helped. I had a very good teacher and I ended up getting a B1. Some of my friends who did not take grinds did not do as well.''

Brian now studies Radiation Therapy at Trinity.

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