Why teachers may be turning to private tuition

September 1st, 2015, 1 Comment

There’s been renewed interest in the demand side of private tuition: why do more parents seem to be employing private tutors in the UK? Recently, the education journalist Nick Morrison has written about how he believes the popularity of private tuition is not down to school failure.  This would certainly chime with the fact that pupils attending independent schools are actually more likely to receive additional private tuition than those attending state schools.

Instead, Morrison suggests that the rise in private tuition is caused by parental anxiety, that is, parents who are ‘desperate for their child to gain a competitive edge’.

Whilst this might be true in some cases, it is perhaps simplistic. Employing a private tutor can also be seen as part of a narrative of increased personal choice, flexibility and empowerment, no doubt in part brought about by the digital age. This is a view explained eloquently by Tom Maher, former president of TTA.

Then there are all the other more standard reasons for employing a tutor: to support a child who has missed school due to illness, to help a child from overseas cope with school work, to boost confidence, to help with special needs, to teach a subject not covered in school, to supplement homeschooling…

As for the supply-side of private tuition, Daniel Boffey, writing in The Observer, has this to offer. As the economy improves (so the argument goes), teacher shortages are the result of fewer graduates being interested in the safe option of becoming a classroom teacher. He suggests that the relatively poor financial rewards and conditions currently on offer in the state sector has meant that those interested in this line of work are increasingly turning to the better-paid and more flexible career path which private tuition can provide.

One Response to “Why teachers may be turning to private tuition”

Leave a Reply

The Future of The Tutors’ Association (TTA)

July 24th, 2015, 3 Comments


Despite an inauspicious start back in 2013, The Tutors’ Association seems to be evolving in a positive direction. Below are some of its priorities, gleaned from the AGM speech on 13th July 2015 by outgoing Chair Tom Maher.

A focus on independent tutors

Following the elections last month, 5 of the 9 board members are individual tutors, including the new President Louisa Gamon and Vice-presidents Clare Daykin and Louise Ravencroft. This is an extraordinary turnaround, given the fact that TTA’s first board consisted of tuition company owners or representatives. The new aim of TTA is to create an open and democratic organisation, and one which is not ‘captured’ by commercial operators. As Tom Maher mentioned,

our focus over the next twelve months will turn increasingly to the recruitment of individual tutors, so that the make-up of our membership continues to develop in line with the make-up of the profession at large.

The AGM also marked the start of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) seminars for tutors, with talks on Special Educational Needs (SEN) and how to bridge the gap between study methods at A-levels and university.

Addressing media distortions of private tuition

The media likes a good story, and when it comes to private tuition the same themes tend to get recycled: super-tutors teaching the elite, the caricature of the ‘pushy parent’, tutoring for grammar school entry (despite only 5% of UK pupils attend such schools), the ‘theft’ of childhood by over-tutoring, and hostile reactions to private tuition from a small minority of headteachers.

Tom Maher has been at the forefront of addressing misconceptions, and outlined TTA’s approach:

Our policy when dealing with such stories is three-stranded:  first, we write to the newspaper addressing any factual inaccuracies that need correcting; secondly, we offer to meet the journalists themselves to try and ensure fair-comment in future; and thirdly we try to meet the actual protagonists, be they school heads, union officials or whoever so that we can engage in debate around the issues they raise or the perceptions that they have.

The fact is that the overlap and co-operation between private tutors and schools is already considerable, not least because of the way the pupil premium is being spent by schools on tutors. A mature dialogue between the tutoring profession and schools is what is required.

Giving voice to the real reasons parents employ private tutors

In his speech, Tom was quite clear that dissatisfaction with mainstream schooling was rarely a reason why parents were seeking private tuition for their child. The argument can be turned on its head:

It is hard to prevent “Quality education” from being perceived as what economists describe as a “positional good” i.e. its desirability is enhanced by its exclusiveness.  There is no greater driving force for this exclusiveness than the cachet associated with Ivy League universities, Oxbridge, Russell Group Universities, the Eton Group of Schools etc. Indeed, it is often the reverence that parents have for schools and mainstream institutions and the shortage of places that drives demand for tutoring and supplementary education not a recoil from mainstream education as such.

The cachet of attending certain institutions is by no means the only driving force for private tuition. Other more down-to-earth reasons for children taking private tuition suggested by Tom were: recently having arrived in the UK and needing to adjust to the system; having missed classes due to illness; being weak at certain subjects and needing extra support; having special needs such as dyslexia; and, finally, needing a boost in confidence.

As has been suggested before, private tuition in the UK really needs to be set in the international context, where it is part of a worldwide trend. Tom Maher’s own take on this is interesting:

The growth of tutoring should also be seen in the context of wider lifestyle changes: people are more geared towards self-help and engaging in supplementary provision in all sort of ways wherever they can.  People supplement their diet, they cross-check their GP’s advice on the internet and increasingly look for individually tailored treatment.  A population where half of adults have university degrees and access to the internet will not be deferential to expertise whether it be from medics, lawyers, dentists or mainstream educators.

According to this view, employing a private tutor can be seen as part of a narrative of increased personal choice, flexibility and empowerment, no doubt in part brought about by the digital age.


3 Responses to “The Future of The Tutors’ Association (TTA)”

Leave a Reply

Adult Learners’ Week 2015

June 16th, 2015, 2 Comments


This week (13-19th June) is Adult Learners’ Week. Now in its 24th year, it is a celebration of lifelong learning in England.

‘Have a go’ learning taster events are planned, there are national and regional awards, as well as a ‘Festival of Learning’. Visit www.alw.org.uk for further details.

So, what do adults love to learn? In their recent survey, NIACE discovered that the top 10 skills that adults in the UK would love to learn included Cooking and baking (39%), Playing a musical instrument (such as the guitar, piano or sax) (23%), Learning a language or languages (21%), Singing (17%) and Photography (15%).

On The Tutor Pages, there are tutors in all of those fields – and you can contact them for free. Just click on the subject links above for further information.


2 Responses to “Adult Learners’ Week 2015”

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    Adult Learners’ Week is when our thoughts turn to learning skills – whether for work or just for the fun of it. The movement promoting Esperanto has now made a new way of learning the planned tongue available free on Duolingo.

    Esperanto is considerably easier to learn than national languages, since its design is far simpler and more regular. Also, unlike national languages, Esperanto allows communication on an equal footing between people, with neither having the usual cultural advantage favouring a native speaker.

Leave a Reply