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In May 2013, the Centre for Market Reform of Education launched a consultation on its plans for a new national association for tutors, their aim is to develop industry standards and improve the consistency of the private tutoring market. This process concluded yesterday and we await its findings and conclusions with interest.

The Tutors Association

We are regular bloggers on the field of education and tutoring and to open up wider debate on the The Tutors Association (TTA) we recently wrote about our concerns on the form that it might take in ‘Who will really benefit from a new national association for private tutors’.

The more information and opinions that can be drawn together, the better. We were pleased to support Henry Fagg’s (of The Tutor Pages) initiative to get the feedback from independent tutors. 

The results of The Tutor Pages survey were made public today. This is what tutors had to say.

Should tutors be required to hold a university degree?

71% think requiring tutors to hold a degree might exclude quality tutors
69% believe requiring tutors of children over the age of 11 to have subject-specific degrees is too inflexible

I concur with this view. There are lots of really talented and effective tutors that would be excluded from entering the new professional body. Degree level entry standards are unnecessary, and should be relaxed.

Will tutors choose to join up?

94% think many excellent private tutors will decide not to join the association

The big question is why so few tutors would choose to join the TTA. Maybe it’s because of the degree level entry requirement, or maybe it’s because of the cost. Most people pursue tutoring on a part-time basis and do not earn the kind of money that would allow them to cough up a couple of hundred pounds for membership.

Things might change if members start to command higher hourly rates, in which case for tutors it would be an economic cost : benefit decision whether to sign up. Were the state education system to only choose from TTA tutors, then the prospect of regular work from schools may tempt larger numbers of tutors to join.

Is the tutoring industry broken?

67% say no parents have raised concerns about quality in the private tuition industry
56% think current regulation of the tuition industry is sufficient and no self-regulation is required

I have been involved in the tutoring industry for many years, and in all that time I have only received a few messages of concern about a tutor. Where things go wrong it’s almost always because the chemistry isn’t right between the tutor and student. Tutors are, on the whole, honest and trustworthy and tutor because they are knowledgeable about the subjects, and love teaching.

Very occasionally you may see tutors passing themselves off as better qualified or more experienced than they are, and claiming non existent DBS / CRB checks. But an upfront chat with them and asking to see a copy of their DBS / CRB check will quickly identify if there is anything adrift.

Does the industry need a new association?

56% do not think the new tutors’ association could be “an independent arbiter of the quality of private tuition”
56% do not think the association as currently proposed would ensure higher standards
62% of tutors think there is a need for an association to set and maintain industry standards

I think that there is a role for the TTA in establishing quality standards, codes of conduct and providing balanced information to the public about tutoring. Maintaining industry standards by running a complaints handling and disciplinary process seems a step too far, as quite apart from the cost it’s not apparent what teeth the Association would actually have.

Finally, I should mention that we have attended a Consultation session at the Centre for Market Reform of Education. It’s our opinion that there is no political agenda at play here, as suspected by some. It’s a well intentioned initiative that deserves to be supported. I believe that its focus needs to be altered somewhat, but think that once implemented it will result in better quality tutoring, which is ultimately what we all want to see.

I hope that this blog post sheds some more light on the topic. We will keep you updated on news as it happens.

In the meantime, if there is anything you would like to get off your chest, please feel free to comment on this blog post. You can find an ongoing discussion about TTA on LinkedIn.

10 Comments

10 Responses to “The Tutors Association – what private tutors think”

  1. Gregory Klyve

    ‘once implemented it will result in better quality tutoring’
    Nothing I have heard in this debate so far gives any indication as to how the existence of an association will result in better quality tutoring. The implication of this remark is that there is room to improve tutoring as it is now. Despite the long consultation process and the lengthy discussions about this issue on tutoring blogs, there has been no evidence produced to support the assumption that tutoring needs to be improved, nor any indication as to how it might be improved by an association. The market regulates itself very well at present because poor tutors (where they exist) can be dropped immediately by clients who are not satisfied with them, whereas good tutors thrive because they deliver the goods. I have over 25 years experience as a teacher and tutor, two degrees and an excellent track record of teaching my subjects (Latin & Greek) to pupils, many of whom have gone on to read classical subjects at university. How precisely will coughing up a fee to join an association make me any better at my job? The Tutoring Association should change its name to The Tutoring Agencies Association because it is the brainchild and creature of tutoring agencies who are not themselves tutors. What does TTA know about establishing and maintaining quality industry standards, or codes of conduct which individual, independent tutors do not themselves know already? TTA has yet to make a convincing case both for its existence and for its potential efficacy. Even more worrying is the possibility of an attempt to bully independent tutors into joining the association by implying (falsely) that anyone who is not a member must therefore not be good enough to be a tutor. These points have been reiterated many times during the online discussions of this topic and yet not one single satisfactory reply to these concerns has been produced, either by CMRE, TTA or anyone else. I am still waiting to have these questions addressed precisely and until they are I shall remain unconvinced that TTA is anything more than a money-making exercise.

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  2. Matthew Barnes

    I echo Gregory’s sentiments completely. I fail to see that a case has been made in the slightest that the proposed TTA will result in ‘better quality tutoring’. What it WILL do is enable agencies to say “come to us as our tutors are kitemarked – unlike all of those lesser tutors who elect not to be swept up in our all-encompassing maw”. It is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from there to getting the government on board and creating a monopoly on the ‘certification’ of private tutors.

    The single most valuable improvement that could be made to British education (as opposed to the profits of private education) would be to make school teachers as instantly responsive to the needs of their market as private tutors are, ie if the pupils find them useless then teachers can be sacked instantly (like tutors) with no appeal (like tutors) and no compensation (like tutors). This would cut my own throat as well as that of the agencies as I’ve made a lot of money out of useless school biology teachers over the past quarter-of-a-century. However, it would be solving one problem as opposed to seeking to drag down private tutors to the level of the existing state provision by setting minimum standards and adhering to them.

    The CMRE are billed as a ‘right-of-centre think tank’ and so I am baffled as to why they are seeking a ‘solution’ that is a return to a soviet-style command economy rather than just letting Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ do its infallible work. But then the command economy is just another manifestation of a ‘closed shop and totally rigged market, is it not?

    From what I have seen of you, Jon, you strike me as an immensely thoughtful and reasonable man. But is it not ingenuous, surely, to say that there is ‘no political agenda’ here? I am sure that all of Tony Blair’s numerous ‘initiatives’ were very well-meaning – but look at the mess that they have left UK Plc in! This particular can of worms is one of the few examples of a truly functioning ‘free market’ and it seems an awful shame to wreck it just because ‘it seemed like a good idea’ don’t you think?

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    • Jon Ellis

      Thanks for your comments Matthew. I guess that it boils down to whether you think that there is a problem with the industry and if so how best to address it. The view that the industry has a big problem with poor tutors does not align with my experience.

      If all that happens is that the large agencies just add a kitemark to their websites and sales literature, in a bid to justify their charges by saying that they only employ ‘the best’ tutors, then it will be a failure, and I for one (and many others) will be very unhappy that I have spent time trying to influence the direction of the TTA.

      Frankly, if the TTA fails to sign up lots of independent tutors I cannot see how it will sustain itself financially, as you can be sure there will be no Government funding. I cannot see the big agencies funding it alone.

      I think that full regulation would be a heavy-handed and inappropriate response to a market, which is seemingly working effectively at the moment. However, I think that there is a role for a light-touch body to represent the industry and set codes of conduct. Think of a trade body rather than a professional institute.

      In terms of any political agenda, all changes in education can be seen in the context of political change. I can understand why people might think that there is such an agenda, indeed that was my first reaction. All that I can say is that the people at the CMRE are genuine and trying to do the right thing.

      I expect to see some major revisions in the way the TTA works, once the CMRE make the consultation findings public….. fingers crossed.

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  3. Gregory Klyve

    I am sorry not to be able to agree with you Jon, but I don’t even see the need for ‘a light-touch body to represent the industry and set codes of conduct’.

    Firstly, any individual tutors who do not adhere to a code of conduct when it comes to teaching their pupils would immediately be dismissed. What new codes of conduct could be envisaged for tutors, and it what way would these codes of conduct differ from any code of conduct currently in place, either officially or unofficially, for tutors working for agencies or independently?

    Secondly, how would The Tutoring [Agencies] Association represent the industry? To whom would it be making representations and in what context? If it is envisaged as a trade body representing its workers (tutors), then it presumably would be representing them in disputes with their employers (tutoring agencies). What chance is there that a body set up by tutoring agencies will be able adequately to represent tutors in disputes with tutoring agencies?

    The industry does not need representing. The market, as you observe yourself, is working very well and there is no need for individual tutors to feel that they lack a sense of professional identity just because they haven’t paid a fee to an association; their professionalism lies in what they do and the way they do it. Moreover, tutoring agencies cannot claim the role of representing the tutoring industry because the vast majority of the industry is independent of these agencies. All they can claim to represent is other tutoring agencies which is why I urge them to change their name to The Tutoring Agencies Association. That at least would be less misleading than their current title which falsely implies that they represent tutors. It would be interesting to hear what they have to say about The Student Support Centre which has been roundly traduced on Mumsnet.

    It does not surprise me that 94% of people surveyed though that ‘many excellent private tutors will decide not to join the association’. What would they have to gain from it? This is the most significant statistic to come out of the survey and both CMRE and The Tutoring [Agencies] Association would do well to pay attention to it.

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  4. Matthew Barnes

    Extremely interesting! My instinct as a total free-marketeer (and one whose instincts in this matter have been reinforced by years of pointless regulatory initiatives that have merely seen the UK hammered into the ground) is that regulation of any description would be regressive. I am totally with Gregory on this issue and can add little or nothing to what he says.

    I am also, oddly enough, in accord with all that you say, Jon, EXCEPT that I do not see the need even for a ‘light touch’ body and am somewhat nonplussed as to the distinction between a ‘Trade Body’ and a ‘Professional Institute’…

    I do accept totally that the three people from the ‘Inner Wheel’ of the proposed TTA who have chosen to speak in public thus far are utterly genuine and I am not generally given to conspiracy theories. However, I am wondering what is in the mind of those who have not yet elected to speak out in public. Motives could range from the genuinely benign (some deluded people still do seem to think of ‘regulation’ as an answer to everything – we seem to have 650 MPs who are of this odd mindset); to the fearful (“Ohmigod, if we aren’t seen to regulate this somehow then the damned government will step in); to the frankly, if even unconsciously, venal (“Let’s keep CMRE in business so I get my salary and pension” or even “this will act as the thin end of the wedge to enable us to monopolise putting ‘approved’ tutors into schools).

    Even if the ‘silent’ members of CMRE are acting with good motives, which I have to assume to be the case (Tony Blair did not deliberately set out to trash this country, it just worked out that way!) you have to admit that the way that this has been handled has been a PR disaster. My suspicion would be that you are well aware of this, Jon, and are seeking to alleviate the situation. My thanks to you!

    You say that unless TTA can attract independent tutors then it will fail. Given that 94% of private tutors (including myself) wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole this seems to be somewhat of a QED. I’ve always felt that the whole thing was doomed to failure which is why I have not exercised myself over it unduly except to throw in the odd pointed comment via the web.

    Nobody could possibly object if the various agencies got together in the same way that CIFE and similar organisations have done in the private college sector to establish a united front in the face of, for example, government hostility and the need for some sort of benchmark of quality. Gregory is quite right, however, that the name The TUTORS Association has been what has got most tutors’ backs up and this needs a rethink. The fact of the matter is that if you form a private club and try to get people to join it is usually a failure. On the other hand if you form a private club and then make it highly attractive to people who will WANT to join, that is another matter.

    It is becoming very apparent that the fundamental problem is that the individual members of TTA do not really know in which direction they want to go. As a result they are finding it difficult to co-ordinate the release of a coherent policy. Indeed ‘tutoring’ is such a massively broad church that I suspect they may never be able to do so! As a result it all looks very sinister and secretive to those whom it is attempting to ‘win-over’. The recent release of the response of a teaching union to CMRE’s ‘consultation document’ put its finger right on it when it said (in paraphrase) that you are attempting to do too much and too fast. As Gregory suggests, I would imagine that a renaming of the TTA would b e a good first step, followed by cutting its objectives down solely to acting as a ‘Trade Body’ for tutorial agencies. The real bottom line here is that 94%, which is a fairly conclusive figure….

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  5. Matthew Barnes

    I don’t know how many people read this blog apart from myself, Gregory Klyve and you, Jon, but I am hoping that there are a few ‘lurkers’ out there as there are some issues here that need re-igniting before a substantial audience if at all possible…

    I was kindly invited to a meeting in London last week by some of the movers of TTA, largely as a result of my extensive criticism of the existing set-up. It was a great pleasure to meet you all and, as I intimated above, I could see in person that you are all men of immense goodwill with no sinister agenda – much as the quite exceptionally poor PR to date might suggest otherwise!

    I expressed my opinion that there were three possible outcomes to the attempts to set up TTA, to whit:

    1) It would collapse (much my preferred option – see comments in previous posts).
    2) It would develop in a benign fashion (no regulation; no politics) as a single-voice ‘trade association’ to represent the views of independent tutors in the face of almost universal press hostility and to ‘fill a vacuum’ that could otherwise be occupied by agencies with a self-serving agenda.
    3) It would develop as the servant of the above-mentioned agencies with a self-serving agenda (a position that I hope I made clear would develop over my dead body!)

    I think that further discussion showed that outcome (1) was no longer a realistic alternative – SOME bugger is going to set up a trade association for tutors and I’d rather it were the benign bunch doing it at present. So to avoid option (3) I am reluctantly forced to ‘support’ option (2).

    It was with some relief that I found that all the existing members were of the same opinion – nobody wanted to be there and just wanted to set this damned thing up and get on with their lives. That’s a good position from which to set up anything with a basis in goodwill and no ‘nasty’ agenda I do feel!

    I was extremely happy to see that, by a process of convergent evolution, TTA has moved to a position of zero ‘regulation’ and is actually a deeply apolitical organisation. It is exceedingly unfortunate that your alliance with CMRE has led to press releases that suggest the exact opposite! I now know that you are working to correct this, and frankly the sooner this is done the better. The chances of getting independent tutors (a pretty liberal and unregulatable bunch) onside without this are less than zero, as you all realise.

    Along with a couple of other ‘independents’ and their representatives I was invited to represent the ‘views of independent tutors’, which I rather presumptuously did! To my considerable surprise and pleasure not only was the need to depoliticise and de-regulate freely acknowledged, but it is clear that the views of the 90%+ of tutors who are ‘independents’ were very actively sought in an effort to shape TTA in the image that THEY want. This is all good news.

    I have (rather reluctantly) accepted the kind offer of TTA to sit on a ‘committee of independent tutors’ whose representative will sit on the Board of Directors with full voting rights. But, as a fan of Swiss-style plebiscite democracy I would be a lot happier about this is I were in contact with large numbers of ‘independents’ whose majority view I would represent rather than just my own. In the age of the web this is quite possible, and I hope that TTA is working towards that ‘single web presence’ I kept banging on about to facilitate this communication and to start to get the message out that TTA is not some sort of an ogre!

    I also mentioned that to get independent tutors to join you would need to offer a quite substantial ‘package’ of benefits together (help with insurance, DBS, taxation, accounts, marketing and so forth) in return for their modest subscription. I gather that the Board are working on putting such a package together along with a new constitution that makes no reference to ‘regulation’. This is all yet more good news, but no need to tell you that unless this message goes out en masse to independent tutors it is meaningless.

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  6. Jon Ellis

    Thanks for the feedback Matthew. Our blog posts on TTA have received over 250 visits to date, so hopefully your message will receive the wider audience you are looking for. Once an announcement has been made on TTA we will follow up with a new blog post, welcoming the birth.

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    • Matthew Barnes

      Thanks, Jon. Nice to know that I am not ‘preaching to the choir’. The TTA have also launched a ‘Linked In’ group which can be found under (oddly enough) The Tutor’s Association and should act as a further vehicle for getting out the improved message to a wider audience…

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  7. Luke McCabe

    I’m hoping in long term it’ll be truly of great help for all of us……

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