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 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 schools (despite only 5% of UK pupils attending 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 suggested by Tom were that the family have moved to the UK and they need to adjust to the system; a child missed classes through illness and needs to catch up; the child is weak at a certain subjects and need extra support; or, they have mild dyslexia and are struggling with confidence.
As Tom has 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’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.