Private tutoring is a booming British industry. The online education resource EdPlace estimates, not entirely convincingly, that British parents spend as much as £6bn a year on private lessons for their children. A recent Ipsos Mori poll for the Sutton Trust found that 24% of all young people in the UK have received private tuition at some point; in London, the figure rises to 40%.
Across the country, and especially in the capital, agencies and individuals have sprouted in the hope of benefiting from this boom. It is not hard to see the appeal of a job paying between £25 and £40 an hour (and even more at some high-end agencies).
The concept of tutoring is not new. Christopher Marlowe and James Joyce were both private tutors, while it has been claimed that the philosopher Thomas Hobbes conceived his masterpiece Leviathan while tutoring the future Charles II. In Victorian Britain, educated women whose families were unable to support them – like Jane Eyre, or Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair – worked as governesses, teaching the children of wealthy families. Perhaps that was what Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow had in mind some years ago when they were said to be advertising for someone to teach their children French, Spanish, Ancient Greek and Latin for £60,000 a year.
The Sutton Trust poll estimates that 31% of students from better-off families have had some private tuition, compared to 15% from less well-off families. Not-for-profit organisations such as the Manchester-based Tutor Trust offer free tuition to students from poorer backgrounds. The Trust trains its tutors, who work a free hour for every six they are paid, and connects them with disadvantaged schools around Manchester.
I speak to many parents who make considerable sacrifices to pay for private tutoring for their children to people whose credentials and qualifications they have never seen. They do this because they feel they are investing in their children’s future. They go on trust and, I fear, a number of them are not getting value for money. Too many tutors lack up to date subject knowledge, an understanding of new qualifications or a true desire to help young people. For them it is a business and money is the goal.
If you truly feel that you must get a tutor for your child, go about employing such a person with the same zeal I would when recruiting a teacher. Ask to see qualifications, references and clear evidence of impact. If all you get is words…. keep on looking.