By Lauran Hampshire-Dell
Why do we have so many teachers turning to tutoring, and why don’t we talk about it?
Given that tutors have been used since the Roman era, it seems bizarre to me that it’s taken a 21st century global pandemic to make it front-page news. Almost every teacher I know has taken on some form of private tutoring during their career, and plenty more – myself included – have moved away altogether from the pressures of mainstream education into full-time tuition.
In 2019 The Tutors’ Association estimated that there as many as 100,000 private tutors working in the UK. This number is phenomenal, and brings with it an avalanche of questions: why are so many teachers taking on private tuition alongside their already hectic schedules? Why don’t they talk about it? And why aren’t we working harder to bridge the gap between teacher/tutor relationships? Let’s take a look.
HEY… IT MUST BE THE MONEY?
Undeniably, money is a significant factor.
Despite working through hugely unpredictable circumstances over the last two academic years, teachers found out in the summer that the Government would be not be rewarding the sector with a pay increase this year, a choice described as ‘an absolute insult’ by Geoff Barton, and widely criticised across unions and leaders. With the cost of living rising ever higher, it’s completely unsurprising that teachers are looking elsewhere to top up their salaries in a relatively low effort, convenient and flexible way.
Pay freezes also affect everything from starting salaries, to budgets and TLR payments. A recent survey by the NAHT showed that a massive 26% of school leaders are anticipating their school budget being in deficit this academic year, and with staffing being the biggest expense, it’s easy to understand why the cuts would be made there first.
This is most likely to mean that departments and roles are restructured to make ends meet, but sometimes it’s those same TLRs keeping a family warm and fed. I spoke to a London teacher who has recently faced a similar situation: ‘of course I understand that having an in-department TLR was a luxury – my role is important but not a necessity. But once I started to figure out how much that would impact my wages, I had two choices: try to move schools for a higher salary, which I’m not guaranteed to find at the moment, or get on Facebook and advertise my tuition services. It means I see my family even less, but it means they’ve got a cupboard full of food’.
Alongside general living, unavoidable costs such as childcare (which can leave even highly paid middle and senior leaders with little to spare at the end of the month) have seen some teachers leave the classroom altogether. The money saved on childcare and topped up with tuition money can mean that, if anything, teachers end up with the same money for significantly less stress and significantly more time with their families.
These topics are uncomfortable to talk about, and are hardly morning coffee conversation starters. We work in such an important industry, one seen as well paid and ‘recession proof’, and it can be embarrassing to admit that you don’t have enough cash left over to go out at the weekend. Then, as if all of these financial concerns aren’t enough, teachers tempted to turn to tuition may face the judgement of their colleagues too.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?
A quick social media search hints at some of the reasons that we don’t talk about private tutors much in the staff room: clearly, the two factions are divided, and both sides feel attacked.
Teachers report feeling undermined; some interpret the need for a tutor as a sign that their teaching is perhaps seen as not being ‘good enough’; others feel as if they are in conflict with the approaches and feedback being given to students leading to unexpected outcomes in the classroom. Similarly, tutors report being treated with disdain: common complaints include students being told that their tutor is wrong or untrustworthy because they aren’t a ‘proper’ teacher. Tutors have reported being called ‘lazy’ or told they ‘can’t hack the classroom’ alongside hearing or seeing other derogatory comments being made about them, instigating a passive tug-of-war sense of ownership over a student, in which every party is left feeling hurt.
Rather than forming a spectrum though, these concerns become cyclical: clearly, neither side feels trusted by the other in order to produce the best results for students, thus leading to a sense of competition and encouraging criticism.
A teacher’s frustration is understandable here; however, with class sizes ever-growing, absence rates high and unpredictable, and the severity of gaps in student knowledge and ability as a consequence of the pandemic as yet unknown, teachers can’t possibly be expected to do and fix all, and tuition that is bonded tightly to in-school lessons offers a powerful opportunity to support both classroom teachers and students.
A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER?
Although there aren’t many silver linings to the impact of COVID-19 on education, it has blown the door wide open on discussions about tutoring, how effective it really is, and how it can be best used.
The recent study by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests that regular structured 1:1 tuition sessions run over 10 weeks, led by a teacher, and closely linked to classroom teaching can add up to +6 months’ progress with primary school students, and +4 months in secondary school students.
Small group tuition too is impactful, particularly when led by a good teacher, which could serve as a positive reminder that rather than being ‘has beens’, former-teachers-turned-tutors are still some of the most skilled professionals out there. Effective and cohesively planned tuition is potentially incredible in terms of student impact and outcomes and provides a perfect opportunity for teachers and tutors to start to work together.
Schemes such as the National Tutoring Programme also offer the chance for bridges to be built, particularly in cases where the school strongly leads, communicates and collaborates with the tutors delivering the additional lessons. Plenty of schools have reported a positive experience with NTP partners, and it could be that this is the very seed that needs to be planted in order for tutors to be welcomed back into a school environment.
FIXING A HOLE
Rather than teachers hiding what is clearly a widespread side-hustle, or wondering if the use of a tutor suggests their classroom practice is not good enough, I think there’s an opportunity here to see tutors as the Polyfilla of education: hopefully, the foundations are strong, and it won’t be needed, but if some repairs do need to take place, there’s a reliable resource the exhausted builder can rely upon to be there and get the job done when needed.
The problems around tutoring shouldn’t be focused upon from within the education system: they are indicative of all of those making choices about it from the outside. It says so much about us as a collective that, even after seeing potentially hundreds of students all day, teachers don’t stop. They go out and do it all again once the school gate is closed.
It also shows that often teachers who leave the classroom don’t leave education; thousands still have that spark that made them enter in the first place, and they still care about making a difference to student’s lives… and ultimately, isn’t that what it’s all about, regardless of whether you’re in your classroom or their kitchen?