The Tutors’ Association (TTA): time to get involved!

October 17th, 2013, 19 Comments

TTA

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:

http://thetutorsassociation.org.uk/

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.

Cautiously optimistic

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

Private tutors in state schools: opportunities and issues

September 12th, 2013, 7 Comments

More and more private tutors without Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) are finding work opportunities in the state schools of England and Wales. But what is the background to this trend, and what are the potential benefits and pitfalls?

A legislative door opens

For anyone unfamiliar with our education system, it may come as a surprise to learn that state schools have for years been employing unqualified teachers. Firstly, regulations used to permit an unqualified ‘instructor’ to be employed on a temporary basis if a school was having trouble recruiting qualified staff. Secondly, thousands of unqualified teachers were (and still are) employed on permanent contracts while undergoing employment-based training towards getting their QTS. Thirdly, it has long been cause for concern that schools have for years let unqualified Teaching Assistants (TAs) stray into teaching roles as a way of cutting costs.

In the last couple of years, however, there have been some major legislative changes which now have the potential to change the teaching landscape entirely. These changes effectively allow all schools in England or Wales to employ unqualified teachers on permanent contracts. Independent schools have always been allowed to do so, and when the Coalition government introduced Free Schools in 2010, they had this option too. But the major change occurred last summer when, under two separate pieces of legislation, both maintained schools and academies were also given the green light to employ unqualified teaching staff.

Although the government has insisted that these deregulatory measures will increase flexibility in recruitment, many teachers and their union representatives have reacted angrily, seeing the changes as denigrating the profession and encouraging schools to cut costs by employing unqualified staff.

Government endorsement of private tuition

Alongside this loosening of the legislative framework, the Department of Education has recognized the educational gains that can be made through one-to-one tuition,  and so is encouraging schools to employ private tutors. And thanks to the legislation mentioned above, tutors may or may not have QTS or even a degree – it is up to the school to decide. The suggested funding for this initiative is the so-called pupil premium, a huge pot of extra money available to schools for every disadvantaged child they teach. For the 2013-14 school year, the funds set aside amount to a massive £1.9 billion, or £900 for every eligible child.

Who provides the tutors?

It was the Labour government under Gordon Brown which first got a large scale one-to-one tuition programme for schools off the ground in 2009. Under this scheme, all tutors had to have QTS, Local Authorities were in charge of recruitment, and the remuneration for tutors was set at £25-£30 per hour.

In 2013, however, the situation is rather different. As a recent article in Education Investor (Jul/ Aug 2013) makes clear, schools these days usually recruit tutors through private tuition agencies. Tuition companies apparently operate within many different delivery and pricing structures, including online provision. Fleet Tutors – which claims to be the largest tutoring service provider for state schools in the UK – provides face-to-face tuition at the rate of £39 per hour. Its managing director, Mylene Curtis, has also made it clear that the schools which employ tutors through Fleet Tutors ‘aren’t so concerned about QTS tutors, and often prefer to employ those who are experts on their subject’, which tends to mean just having a relevant degree.

Concerns over cost and quality

Although some commentators have seen the use of the pupil premium for tutors as encouraging a new egalitarianism in what has traditionally been seen as an elitist form of education, there are plenty who do not welcome this new dawn of private tuition in schools. Martin Freedman from the Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL), has described it as an ‘unethical use of public money’, and a Guardian article earlier this year questioned the thousands of pounds paid by state schools to private tuition firms. In this connection, the disastrous situation in the United States should be noted, where allegedly crooked private tuition companies with powerful lobbying arms secured millions of dollars in profits from school districts. In Florida, for example, the federal government passed legislation to force every single school to employ private firms.

And since QTS is no longer a requirement for teaching in schools, the quality of provision is also under scrutiny. Labour’s position on this is clear. Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg has warned unqualified teachers that, under Labour, they would either have to train for QTS, or face the sack.

The future of private tuition in schools

Most people acknowledge the immense benefits of one-to-one tuition. However, the provision of tutors in schools by private sector firms is a nascent industry, and it is impossible to judge success at this stage. Although questions of cost and accountability will inevitably be raised, growth in this sector looks set to continue – particularly if the current government wins the next election.

Plan to regulate tutors causing ‘deep divisions’

July 18th, 2013, 0 Comments

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The Independent newspaper today reports the results of our survey regarding new plans to self-regulate the tuition industry through a proposed Tutors Association. The results of the poll make interesting reading, with individual tutors expressing concern over a number of areas such as:

  • the need for regulation in the first place, and whether regulation promotes or hampers learning;
  • the tangible benefits to parents and pupils, i.e. whether the proposed association could impact the quality of provision in any meaningful way;
  • the lack of evidence for ‘public concern’ over the quality of private tuition, one of the main rationales for setting up the association;
  • the political motives of those behind the scheme;
  • the commercial interests of the tuition companies involved, and whether independent tutors would be squeezed out of the market;
  • the complete lack of representation of independent tutors in the association’s working group;
  • the time and money costs involved for tutors and parents, including added paperwork and CPD training requirements for tutors;
  • the inflexibility of the proposed criteria for membership, in an industry where provision is almost by definition tailor-made.

The Independent article can be viewed in full here, along with our press release here.

Many of the issues have been debated at length on Linkedin and in an earlier blog post.