My reason for leaving the school classroom and starting my own tutoring business was simple – I knew that some students were falling behind or need to be challenged in order to remain engaged in learning, and the school system was struggling to handle the personal needs of each student. So, almost twenty years ago, I began Maths Words not Squiggles with the intention of providing individualised learning to support the school system in educating our children.

What is Maths Words not Squiggles?

As a professional educator, the most fundamental question for operating a tutoring business is, what is the return on investment (ROI) for parents that enrol their children into Maths Words not Squiggles? As a mother of three daughters, the most fundamental question is, would I be happy to send my children there? With a myriad of tutoring places dominating the suburbs, it is important that we do not lose sight of the value of prioritising the learning and wellbeing of our children. This student-centred focus is at the heart of Maths Words Not Squiggles, as our centres focus on creating a bright and welcoming environment where every student is encouraged and enabled to perform to the best of their abilities. While a child’s future is priceless, it is vital that parents are able to see a clear return on their investment in tutoring, particularly due to the amount of time and money it requires. So, after 20 years of parenting and teaching, is tutoring really worth it?

Well, as the principal and founder of a tutoring business that has operated across Sydney for the past 20 years, I still find it fascinating to see what people are looking for from tuition. Some parents are looking for that competitive edge, others to compensate for a teacher that hasn’t been necessarily effective for their child, or for the most valuable thing a student needs in the learning process – confidence. Our personalised service satisfies all three expectations and the return on investment is supported by research.

ROI for Parents Looking for that Competitive Edge

The first parent, the one with extremely high expectations of their children, should familiarise themselves with a 2017 interview from Melbourne Child Psychology with Dr Annemarie Christie. Dr Christie identified the value of tutors to “pick up on gaps … that might be missed in the classroom”, showing how closer scrutiny from a tutor enables gaps in knowledge to be identified and rectified quickly. It is no surprise then, that many nations in Europe and Asia, who outperform us in academic testing, have a greater rate of tuition. According to the 2015 HSBC report into Value for Education, 92% of parents in China and 82% of parents in Singapore got private tuition for their child, compared to only 21% in Australia. Correspondingly, the 2018 OECD PISA assessments found that China and Singapore were the top-performing countries for Maths, Science and Reading, with Australian students 1.5 years lower in reading, 3.5 years lower in mathematics, and 3 years lower in scientific literacy. As such, it is vital that we look to our neighbouring countries to see how their education systems are thriving, and what we can do to implement similar changes.

ROI when Compensating for an Ineffective Classroom Teacher

In an ideal world, every student would relate to and enjoy the teaching styles of every teacher. However, we all know this is slightly idealistic and unrealistic. The impact of an ineffective classroom teacher can result in lower engagement in class/school work, a decrease in results and some fundamental gaps that jeopardise a student’s entire learning journey. This is not to say that some teachers are “bad teachers”, but instead helps us realise that teachers have the challenging task of adapting their teaching style to satisfy the needs of a class of thirty students – a near-impossible task. Therefore, parents can support their child through these times by carefully selecting a tutor that tailors their teaching style to the individual student, and works with them to address their personal weaknesses while boosting their strengths. Evidence for Learning, a research company that focuses on helping educators improve learning in Australia, has suggested that personalised and immediate feedback from teachers combined with a decrease in distractions as a result of working one-on-one or in a small group, can increase and sustain student engagement and improve overall performance. At Maths Words not Squiggles, our individual lessons and micro-groups (maximum of 3 students), ensure our teachers can provide both positive and constructive feedback multiple times through a lesson. By supporting and working with our students on a regular basis, we hope that we can compensate for the lack of relationship a student may have with a teacher and ensure they do not fall behind or lose their interest in learning.

ROI for Parents Wanting to Build Confidence in their Child

While our personalised service satisfies all three expectations of parents, we focus primarily on the third – building confidence. At Maths Words not Squiggles, we concentrate on the student and their reality, this includes their current results, feelings towards learning, and eagerness to improve. While the impact of effective tutoring can seem intangible, it is important that parents keep in mind the starting point of their child, rather than focusing on the end result they desire from our services. The student, not their results, should be the focus of tutoring investments. There is no research or statistic that quantifies the benefit of a child who has grown in confidence; however, from my perspective as a mother and an educator, to see a child believe in themselves has the highest return on investment we could ask for.

My Opinion

I have met many families walking through the doors of the Maths Words Not Squiggles centres, and I have enjoyed my time in the classroom with a range of different learners. I continue to be proud of my students who have made themselves and their parents proud, those who have overcome poor results to achieve their best and those who have left our centres each week more confident to walk into school and tackle the challenges both inside and outside the classroom. I have to admit that my favourite parents are the ones who are looking for the confident learner, the learner that isn’t always coming first or studying every spare minute. This is the learner that is prepared to ask questions, be wrong on occasion and, most importantly, try new things. The parents of this child will get the best return on their investment in tutoring because the life skills we help their child foster will form habits. It is through developing the habits of resiliency, curiosity and a dedication to learning that students will be empowered to face a changing world with the right attitude.

So, is tutoring worth the investment?

This is a question neither you nor I can answer.

This is a question that only our children know the answer to.


Our Principal and Founder, Sia Goutzas, established Maths not Squiggles in January 2003 and Words not Squiggles in June 2009. In 2017, Sia decided to simplify our name and combine the two companies to Maths Words not Squiggles (MWNS). Some, however, like to call us Squiggles, which also works. Sia has a Bachelor of Education with a Double Major in Mathematics, which was completed at The University of Sydney in 1997. Sia has been tutoring since 1994 and has taught at various schools in the eastern suburbs. Sia’s passion for teaching, together with her dedication for her students, sets the principles we have at Maths Words not Squiggles, that is, to produce the very best education for every one of our students.

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Research Sources:

Education Matters. (2018). Australia drops in PISA rankings: Should we be worried? Retrieved from Education Matters:,maths%20and%2017th%20in%20science

Evidence for Learning. (n.d.). Small Group Tuition. Retrieved from Evidence for Learning:

HSBC. (2015). The Value of Education – Learning for Life. Retrieved from HSBC:

Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services, Port Melbourne. (n.d.). Why Australian Students May Be Falling Behind, and Private Tutoring is Booming. Retrieved from Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services:

Programme for International Students Assessment. (2018). PISA 2018 results. Retrieved from OECD: