A new voice for the UK’s private tuition industry – The Tutors’ Association (TTA) – was launched last week at a lively event just off Parliament Square.
But what does this mean for independent, private tutors?
“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”
There is a strong libertarian streak among private tutors, and long may this continue. However, to ignore or boycott TTA is a strategy which could backfire. As the founder of a website which advertises the services of over 2000 independent tutors, I would instead encourage signing up to TTA in order to shape this organisation from within.
Optimistic tutors will immediately see the advantages: the social and networking opportunities will be attractive to those who recognise that their work can sometimes be lonely or isolating. There will also be increased status (useful for marketing), as well as the usual ‘package of benefits': access to legal advice, DBS certificates, discounted insurance, learning materials, workshops and conferences. I have spoken to a number of tutors who have already signed up, and they are enthusiastic about these aspects.
Pessimistic tutors also have good reason to join: it is the best way to prevent TTA (and government, for that matter) from pursuing agendas harmful to their interests. For example, if TTA becomes dominated by private tuition agencies and starts speaking on their behalf, this could cause real problems for independents in the future.
A window of opportunity
The Tutors’ Association is at an extremely early stage of development, and it is therefore now the right moment to get involved. Here is the website with details of how to join:
Through our survey of private tutors reported in the Independent, we demonstrated that the voice of independent private tutors is a force to be reckoned with. TTA changed its approach in response to the criticisms made in our survey, and with a critical mass of independent tutors signing up, it will continue to respond. For example, TTA has now constituted a panel of independent tutors and will have one of them appointed to the board next year.
The bugbear of regulation
TTA has moved beyond its headline-grabbing agenda of ‘cracking down’ on bad tutors, which was a very sore point among its critics. TTA’s reformed, apolitical, nuanced and frankly much more realistic approach is in no small part thanks to the efforts of TTA’s new Chair, Tom Maher, who raised the issue of over-regulation in his launch address:
My own personal experience of being tutored back in Ireland was when I was 9 years old by Ms Hughes the local librarian. Ms Hughes was in many ways a typical tutor. She was a quiet self-effacing bookish woman. To regulate the Ms Hughes of this world out of tutoring children would be preposterous. It would also be damaging to children and deeply unpopular with families. Equally an industry body (no matter how well-intentioned) needs to be careful to not introduce clumsy criteria that would marginalise the Ms Hughes of this world. So just as the tutoring industry listens to pupils and their families, the Tutors’ Association too needs to be a listening organisation especially in the first couple of years.
TTA’s emphasis is now on best practice, representation, championing and providing a focus for this massive, sprawling industry of at least a million individuals. The mechanisms arrived at by TTA – miminum (but flexible) membership criteria, a code of ethics, child protection policy and complaints procedure – are hardly controversial. What may be controversial, however, is the proposal to introduce formal accreditation for private tutors. This will be discussed with the membership in 2014, and is another reason for independent tutors to join now to express their views on this topic.
TTA is currently in listening mode, and is sympathetic to the views of independent private tutors. I would therefore urge tutors to capitalise on this good will, since the balance could well shift in the future. The launch, which I attended, was lively and encouraging, with The Good Schools Guide representatives tweeting afterwards that it was ‘Not the protectionist clique we feared but a genuine educational initiative. Promising.’
Finally, if any libertarian tutors doubt that they have allies on TTA’s board, I suggest they read the following extract from a letter sent to The Sunday Times by Alexander Nikitich, Founder of Carfax Education Group, and founding board member of TTA:
The efficacy of private tutoring chiefly derives from a free and unhindered operation of supply and demand and the lack of any regulation. Many tutors do not go into teaching precisely because they cannot stand the overregulation that encourages mediocrity and blocks excellence in schools. Industry regulation is not the purpose of our association and I hope that no minister is planning to introduce it by stealth under our cover (Letters, The Sunday Times, September 8, 2013).
List of current member organisations of The Tutors’ Association
Founders: British Home Tutors, Carfax Private Tutors, Enjoy Education, Fleet Tutors, Harrison Allen, Knowledge Seekers
Associates: Tutorhub, The Tutor Pages
Corporate Members: The Education Centre, Gabbitas Educational Consultants, Keystone Tutors, Lotus Tutors, Maths Doctor, Osborne Cawkwell Educational Consultants, Quintessential Tutors, Tutor Doctor, Tutorfair, The Tutors Group, Tutors International, YoungEducation