Private tutors in state schools: opportunities and issues

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.