A Professional Body for Tutors: a lot of Hot Air?

Recently,the idea of a professional body or association for tutors has come up again, this time in The  Tutor Pages discussion group on LinkedIn (see above).

One of the major issues is the diversity of the industry which is by its nature unregulated. Tutors range from accountants coaching adults to pass ACCA exams to musicians giving fun workshops to the under-5s. It would be nigh on impossible to specify standards for joining across such a range of disciplines. Would an academic qualification be enough, or should a teaching qualification also be a pre-requisite? Those with teaching qualifications already have professional bodies, and most other subject disciplines already have bodies to represent them (such as the Musicians Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians for music teachers). Some teaching unions which traditionally represent classroom teachers also allow private tutors to join.

Also, qualified teachers will be reminded of the difficulties faced by the General Teaching Council (GTC), England’s statutory body for teachers. This organisation has been generally unloved by the teaching profession, and will officially close in March 2012. Gerard Kelly, editor of the TES, wrote last year “Its remit was never clear: was it supposed to advocate or regulate, to police or champion?”. Even though membership to the GTC was compulsory for all teachers in the maintained sector, and despite huge funding and political will, it lumbered from crisis to crisis and failed to find a worthwhile agenda. The GTC’s ill-fated code of practice was a case in point (see, for example, http://jimsweetman.com/the-end-of-the-gtc).

A professional body of tutors would likely draw up a similar code of practice, but to what end exactly? There’s a danger of hollow rhetoric, since how is an industry of several hundreds of thousands of diverse individuals to be professionalized? One professional body I belong to insists on CPD (continuing professional development) to help maintain standards – but, considering the diversity I’ve mentioned, what could be the private tuition equivalent, since any meaningful CPD needs to be subject-specific?

I’m inclined to think there’s an argument for helping parents to assess the individual tutor themselves, based on the tutor’s qualifications, their track record and their references. Parents have assessed tutors in this way for decades or even centuries. For those who would like an extra level of service, there are tuition agencies which are required by law to perform CRB checks on tutors (if they are going to work with children or vulnerable adults) and also check their qualifications. But of course the cost of a parent getting an agency to perform these services is high, considering the levels of commission agencies charge. Then there is the issue of whether the agency itself is a good one: there’s no guarantee. Do qualifications and a CRB check alone turn someone into a good tutor? As a parent, perhaps you come a full circle and simply end up wishing you’d assessed the tutor yourself.

I’m not saying that a professional body of tutors wouldn’t work under any circumstances, but at the moment I am not convinced of the potential payoff, considering the amount of bureaucracy needed to set anything up that actually has teeth.

From the tutor’s point of view, there is indeed kudos (but perhaps little else) attached to belonging to an organisation, and I can therefore see why some would welcome it. It would certainly help with marketing, for example. However, as a parent looking to employ a potential tutor, I would be more likely to put faith in my own judgement of individuals over and above whether someone belongs to a particular organisation.