Private tuition is a global phenomenon, and all the signs are that it is an increasing trend worldwide. Tom Maher’s excellent summary gives us some insights into the drivers behind this vast industry where ‘[i]n some cases, spending on private tutoring approaches the level of spending on the formal public system’.
In this blog post I want to highlight how the provision of private tuition is changing in the UK, and in some ways rather rapidly. Three inter-related aspects of this change are illustrated below:
Research, discourse and debate about freelance work provide a rare opportunity to contextualize the private tuition industry in the UK. This is because tutoring in the UK has always been mainly freelance, with a report from 2009 indicating that around 84% of private tutors in England were self-employed.
Freelance working practices have in general proliferated sharply over the last 10 years, with 2014 seeing self-employment in the UK hit 4.5 million for the first time in history. Simon McVicker, from the freelancers’ organisation PCG, has recently commented that ‘[w]e are now in the midst of a revolution in how we approach the concept of work in this country’, and has hence called on government to introduce measures to support this vast army of independent workers.
Attitudes are changing fast, with freelancing no longer being seen as the poor cousin of employee status. Almost three quarters of people now prefer this kind of work to being an employee and according to PCG, the vast majority of freelancers are happy with their choice to go it alone, with the amount they are paid, and with the control they have over their work/ life balance.
As the private tuition industry continues to expand, it is therefore safe to say that more people than ever before are deciding that freelance private tutoring is a good part-time or full-time career option for them.
Disintermediation means the elimination of intermediaries – or ‘middle-men’ – in a supply chain, resulting in lower prices for consumers. The rise of the internet has resulted in a high degree of disintermediation, for example in the travel industry where consumers can now purchase flights directly from airlines rather than using a travel agent. The basic mantra for disintermediation is ‘if you don’t add value to a process, then you’re only adding cost.’ And if you’re only adding cost, you’ll quickly be disintermediated.
It is interesting to juxtapose the concepts of disintermediation and freelancing, because as any personal branding coach will tell you, freelancers are in the business of promoting their unique expertise and attributes directly to clients. Transposed to the world of private tuition, it is now easier than ever before to develop one’s own ‘brand’ as a private tutor through (for example) setting up a website, advertising online, creating high quality promotional videos or posting verified personal endorsements on Linkedin.
As the notion of the ‘credible freelancer’ matures, traditional tuition agencies are therefore going to be under increasing pressure to add value to what they offer to avoid being disintermediated by a simple Google search.
The final driver of change I want to highlight is the rise in online tuition, as discussed in a recent article in the Telegraph.
In a sense, a tutor’s physical location can be seen as another barrier which the internet is beginning to disintermediate. I say ‘beginning to’ because up until even 12 months ago, my impression has been of a deep skepticism among many parents and tutors over the value or appropriateness of online tuition. But might this skepticism now be waning? I believe so.
Firstly, the available technology for conducting classes and taking payments online is improving rapidly, with current options including WizIQ, Skype, Scribblar, join.me and Paypal. Secondly, anecdotally at least, concerns about the artificiality or unnaturalness of the medium are either starting to fall away, or simply being outweighed by the benefits. It is hard to imagine online tuition ever trumping face-to-face tuition in certain contexts such as music education. However, we’ve had several fascinating debates (for example at http://lnkd.in/dJ4b8Yg and http://lnkd.in/dnrHt4k), with tutors such as Matthew explaining that for biology A-level tuition:
my personal feeling is that online tuition is far superior to face-to-face as the student is relaxed and in their home environment (and so am I!) and they are not flustered by travelling. The delivery is identical – we can talk to one-another and they can see my notes in real time.
With online tuition, a tutor’s prospective client base suddenly multiplies a thousand-fold, and this arguably boosts the potential for both freelance and disintermediated ways of working. With the advent of commission-based online tuition platforms, cyber- or re-intermediation has already taken place in the online tuition sphere, and yet as our Linkedin discussions have made clear, many tutors, students and parents are already circumventing these innovations in the same way that the use of Skype circumvents traditional telephony.
This has been a short review of three highly interconnected trends towards freelance, disintermediated and online tuition from a UK perspective. However, it is abundantly clear that, because of native proficiency in English and the high standing of British qualifications worldwide, UK private tutors are extremely well positioned to exploit such employment trends to the full.