‘Cease and desist’:The top Sydney school taking on private coaching colleges

The principal at James Ruse Agricultural High is pushing for a crackdown on private coaching colleges,accusing them of taking top public schools’ assessments and exam papers without authorisation for use in tutoring centres.

In an email sent to 500 school principals,James Ruse’s Rachel Powell said she is working with the NSW Education Department to draft cease-and-desist letters to tutoring centres over concerns they are using the selective school’s resources,assessment tasks and trial exams.

The principal at James Ruse Agricultural High is pushing for coaching colleges to stop using public schools’ exams,assessments and materials in their centres.

The principal at James Ruse Agricultural High is pushing for coaching colleges to stop using public schools’ exams,assessments and materials in their centres.Jessica Hromas

Education officials say they are investigating the issue,and legal action may be considered if tutoring operators are using Education Department copyrighted materials,without permission,to promote their businesses.

The multimillion-dollar tutoring industry has grown significantly in the past 20 years,with some colleges claiming to have tutored hundreds of the state’s top-performing HSC students last year.

The former head of English at Sydney Boys High,Cassandra Pride,said it was common for public school teachers to see their own testing,assessment and content materials being handed out by coaching colleges.

“Teachers spend years developing the skills,knowledge and expertise to create these resources and produce resources specifically designed for their students. Tutoring centres have used writing stimuli,exam questions and assessment prompts that have been carefully and expertly created by selective schools,” Pride said.

Students often pass on school materials to the colleges,she said,while many top-performing HSC students go on to coach in the tutoring centres after they graduate.

“I find it concerning that families are paying for what the public system is producing. Teaching is more than handing out a resource,it is knowing your students and how learning happens.”

In the letter sent to NSW school principals this week,Powell said she is working with the department to have cease-and-desist letters written to “a number of coaching centres because they are using our tasks,trial exam papers,and sometimes just putting their watermark on our clearly named and logoed resources.”

“If you have any evidence of this happening with your school resources,please let me know … because we can add you to the letters. I already have some evidence from Killara[High],North Sydney Boys and Girls and Sydney Boys and Girls,” Powell wrote.

Hundreds of private tutoring businesses operate in NSW,many specialising in HSC coaching in higher-level maths,physics and chemistry.

Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall said private coaching colleges often ask their students to see the assessments being done in schools “on pretext of helping them do well”.

“An issue is that these school assessment tasks and tests can become an opportunity for commercial gain for private colleges. This could be done by tutors taking those resources and distributing them to their students enrolled in their coaching centres,or if they are used in marketing materials,” Dhall said.

“To me that is a breach of statutory licensing rules. If you’ve got the logo of a private or public school on a task then there is implied authorisation by that institution. The schools are basically being used by profit-making business.

The letter sent by James Ruse principal Rachel Powell.

The letter sent by James Ruse principal Rachel Powell.Supplied

“Tutors in private enterprises who badge themselves as being top performers should be confident to create the resources themselves.”

Dhall said another issue raised by the sharing of assessment tasks is how much the private coaching colleges and tutors are then assisting students to complete tasks.

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Petersen said teachers spend hours creating materials,assessments and tests for their students. “It is simply unethical for others to use them without permission,especially if they are using the material for profit”.

“It also has the potential to undermine the school’s educational program as students become increasingly focused on preparing narrow responses to the test[rather] than engaging with the variety of activities and content,” he said.

TheHerald asked to speak to Powell. The NSW Education Department declined.

The department said it would be a potential breach of copyright if coaching colleges were using exams,assessments and work prepared by individual public schools as part of the work they set students in their centres and programs.

“The department takes these matters seriously and legal action is considered if tutoring operators use Education Department copyright to promote their business,” they said,adding that they do not have regulatory oversight of the tutoring industry sector.

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Lucy Carroll is education editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a health reporter.

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