Founder of Tutors International, Adam Caller, condemns the news that private tutors on the Government’s National Tutoring Programme (NTP) are only being paid a fraction of what their agencies are receiving. Mr Caller proposes that an officialised tutoring qualification or Charter is the key to a fair, high-quality catch-up programme for students.
Short-Changing Private Tutors
In an effort to help students affected by coronavirus-related school disruptions, the Government set a £350 million budget to develop the National Tutoring Programme (NTP). This is part of a broader £1.7 billion catch-up programme, which has been criticised by the Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, for not being enough. So far, the NTP has only reached 125,000 of the 1.4 million children needing it.
Founding the NTP involved the Government hiring private tutoring companies to carry out a catch-up programme. In late February 2021, it was reported that tutors were being significantly short-changed by those private tutoring companies. Agencies and private companies were charging an hourly rate of up to £84 and only £15 of that was making its way to the tutors themselves.
“It’s an appalling case of undervaluing tutors. They are the ones carrying out this vital work. For them to receive only about 20% of what the tutoring companies are charging is disgraceful. How are there no rules in place to stop this?”
Problems with the NTP
The obvious issues are that tutors are being underpaid, and that the private companies engaged by the NTP have not disclosed where the mark-up is going. Adam Caller explains the secondary issues that will be faced as a result of these primary ones:
“Tutors willing to work for £15 an hour fall into two categories. The first is the socially conscious tutor, who will tolerate being underpaid for the sake of helping their students. The second, is a graduate or inexperienced individual, using tutoring as pocket money or a filler on their CV. Do we really want to be attracting the least qualified people to carry out the biggest educational catch-up job in history? Significantly short-changing the tutors on this programme makes the quality of tuition something of a lottery.
“It also raises questions about where that substantial mark-up is going. Realistically, it’s one of two options: either it’s simply profit for the tutoring companies, or the administrative task of carrying out the NTP is so huge that they have had to compensate for it financially. Whichever is the case, it’s inefficient and unethical. Regardless of where that money is going, crucially, it’s not going to the tutors, and by extension, it’s not reaching the children.
“This is a symptom of rushing out a programme that had not been fully considered. The Government hired 33 companies because they each had thousands of tutors to offer. This was part of the quick-fix approach. It didn’t matter to them that the quality and experience of those tutors were unknown. The Government would have been better off hiring far more tutoring companies (rather than a handful of mass employers), and writing a qualification programme for each of those companies to distribute to their tutors.”
Mr Caller has been sceptical of the NTP’s processes of assembly and execution:
“When the Government announced that they would be using ‘qualified tutors’ to operate the NTP, I was doubtful, but above all, curious. I wanted to know where the Government was going to get ‘qualified’ tutors when there is currently no agreed-upon authoritative qualification to be a tutor. There was mention of a training course but never any details. The use of ‘qualified’ and ‘professional’ as modifiers for tutors are notoriously vague and unsubstantiated in the world of tuition. It’s too often self-proclaimed, subjective and ambiguous. If the act of simply doing tutoring makes you a professional, qualified tutor, does the act of me drawing up the plans for an imagined house make me a professional architect?
“Seeing as there is not currently a Charter or any sole official board for becoming a ‘qualified tutor’, we tend to look at other ways of measuring qualification, such as having a teaching degree. That said, it’s important to acknowledge that there is a distinction between tutoring and teaching. Whilst each requires a skillset that aids the other, they are different practices, and so there should be different qualifications reflecting that.
“A teacher with no experience tutoring could, in theory, call themselves a professional tutor if they so wished, and they could be terrible. On the other hand, several leading private schools do not require a teaching degree to teach at them. In that case, you could have a teacher who has taught at Eton for years without a teaching degree, and they could be an exemplary tutor. There is so much nuance and variation that the only hope we have of establishing some consistency and quality-assurance, is by founding an official qualification.”
The Time is Now
Despite the founding of the NTP being the perfect opportunity to establish an authoritative board or Charter, The Government circumvented this by hiring various private tutoring companies. The result has been inconsistency, a lack of transparency, and unreliable quality checks.
The Sutton Trust surmise that home tuition doubled to 300,000 from 2008 to 2019. The ubiquity of home tuition as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought tutoring to the forefront of discussion like never before. The increased demand for tutors to bring stability during the disruptions will likely stay to some degree. Families will have seen the benefits of home tuition and retain an element of it even as schools resume. Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that tutoring would have a long-term role in closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates (Education Journal No. 444). This means that problems with unqualified tutors are not going away, therefore, the need for a professional Charter is not going away.
“What is really alarming is that any individual can seemingly set themselves up to be a private tutor, [whilst] not necessarily having the correct qualifications that are needed.”
His central concern echoes that of Adam Caller’s, as well as many other industry professionals and client families alike. Nevertheless, What Mr Halfon doesn’t address is that there is no unified position on what the ‘correct qualifications’ are.
Establishing a Qualification
Adam Caller solicits a call to action: there must be a qualification of authority. He is particularly encouraged by the current direction of The Tutors Association (TTA). There are two teachers in senior positions, placing education and teaching experience at the forefront of its running. Despite a period of non-membership, Adam feels that he could help the current TTA president, John Nichols, who has extensive teaching experience, push for an officialised tutoring qualification.
Adam Caller himself, who has extensive experience in selecting full-time residential private tutors, has publicly stated that he would be willing to offer his expertise to help the Government found the Charter:
“I wasn’t consulted by any Government representatives when they were forming the NTP, nor were any of my industry peers that I have spoken to. This does beg the question, who did they consult? If some of the leading industry experts weren’t consulted, that’s a huge missed opportunity. I would be very happy to offer my expertise as part of a consulting panel if the Government wish to push forward with a Charter. I honestly believe that a working party of experts could take less than a week to agree on the content of a course. If the Government are serious about this, why aren’t they doing something?”
A Potential Solution
Whilst we wait for a proper qualification to be founded, we are still faced with the inefficiency of the current NTP. Adam Caller details his thoughts about a short-term approach to how he believes the programme could be better delivered:
“The Government should be approaching qualified teachers and tutoring industry experts to first establish what the qualification should look like; that is, the course’s content and format. They could then devise some form of online programme for the private tutors to complete. This could be tiered units to progress through, or webinars, or assignments, or some combination of all of those. I would be perfectly happy to provide some of this material myself. The course should be free or incur a nominal fee that covers the costs of checks. To deliver this product, you need high-quality tuition firms that have audited accounts and an established reputation. This way you can deliver the programme through a large number of smaller, better firms, rather than a sample number of mass employers. The Government simply haven’t used the resources already available to them.
“With this approach, overheads are lessened and most of the money invested in it actually reaches the children, rather than being squandered on admin costs or private profits. The costs of tutoring making its way to the children, and having them benefit directly should always be the priority. That’s why when I founded Tutors International, we formulated the model that we did. Our fees are for bespoke global searches for every client, and then we can hire a full-time residential private tutor who we know is of unparalleled quality and can charge their worth, and the student is the key benefiter.
“At the heart of all this are children in need of quality education, and that should remain the priority and driving force of the operation.”