As budgets are cut and belts tightened across the United Kingdom, not even our most

primary of needs, education, has escaped the wrath. With no guarantee of when things

are likely to improve, schools are faced with making difficult choices about to how best

to manage shrinking budgets, while still meeting an increasing number of targets and

obligations. The imposition of statutory duties upon schools to provide impartial careers

advice is an example where head teachers will have to source these services from the

private sector, as public services such as Connexions, a service that used to lie within

schools and high streets across the nation, are dismantled.


Another equally large grey area of private expenditure in education, within both schools

and households, is that of private tuition – including tutors for homework clubs, special

educational needs and exam revision. In 2009, under the former Labour government, the

Department for Children, Schools and Families sanctioned a research brief on private

tuition in England, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute

of Education. The report outlined the scale of private tuition in England, and how the

sector operates, describing the industry as largely ‘hidden’, despite the finding that there

are over 500 private tuition agencies operating regionally and nationally. The study

created a national database of commercial tuition agencies and three specimen local

databases of independent tutors, in order to help schools find and recruit private tutors.

The former government’s bold pledge for private Maths and English tuition to reach

300,000 pupils in aided schools by 2011 was soon to be dampened by the coalition’s

Department for Education.


Since the recent announcement by Education Secretary Michael Gove that funding will

no longer be ring fenced for one-to-one tuition schemes in state schools, the role of

private tuition in supporting disadvantaged pupils looks uncertain. The pilot schemes

introduced under the Labour government saw many state schools and academies using

private tutoring agencies to offer blocks of ten one-to-one sessions to pupils who were

struggling in Maths or English. While the coalition government has still pledged to reach

the 300,000 pupils who are falling behind in Maths and English each year, there has been

some debate over whether the coalition’s “pupil premium” for children from the poorest

families actually amounts to extra funding, or whether it is simply a redistribution of the

existing education budget. One thing, however, is clear: schools and academies must now

decide for themselves what role one-to-one tuition will play in reaching those pupils who

are falling behind.


our HQ (left lower small photo)


At present, parents who can afford it are already making good use of private tutors:

a 2009 Ipsos MORI survey of state school pupils found that the proportion receiving

private tuition had increased in five years from 18% to 22% nationally, and in London

that scale is significantly higher, with an increase from 36% to a staggering 43%. These

figures highlight the problems of addressing the widening social and educational gap,

when private tuition is simply not affordable to many of the families who would benefit

from it most.


Few would dispute the benefits of pupils receiving one-to-one attention, especially at

critical stages such as the transition from Primary to Secondary, and in the run-up to

GCSEs. Individual tuition can offer personalised learning that responds to pupils’ needs,

as well as helping to clarify key concepts and develop study skills. Less discussed are

the particular advantages of using tutors outside of the school environment, and the

possibilities of creating strong relationships between the state system and the private

tutoring sector. Overstretched teachers are not always in the best position to reach those

pupils who may have become disillusioned with the learning process. On the other hand,

most private tutors work part-time and do not have to deal with the discipline issues of

teaching large classes; the one-to-one relationship allows more room for tutors to act as

mentors and academic role models. Furthermore, most one-to-one tutoring takes place

in the home of the pupil, and this in itself can encourage improved parental engagement

with the child’s learning.


None of this is to say that private tutors are somehow ‘better’ teachers than those working

in the classroom. The role of extra one-to-one tuition from the private sector should

always be to support the existing teaching in state schools, and as such stronger links

between schools and tutoring agencies are key. However, the largely fragmented and

unregulated nature of the tutoring industry could be seen to hamper the development of

mutually beneficial arrangements between the public and private sectors. Now that the

onus is on individual schools and academies to sign up for or continue with one-to-one

tuition schemes, the need for a more cohesive approach has never been greater. Indeed,

there have been calls from those working within the private sector for a progression

towards regulation, so that the relationship with state education can become more open

and accountable, benefiting both individual pupils and the reputation of tutoring agencies.



Ruby Radburn & Hamid Hashemi – Academic Consultant

As featured in Government & Public Sector Journal

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