I was delighted to speak at The National Tutoring Conference today. I had been asked to comment on where the demand in UK for private tutoring had come from in the past 10 years, and started by pointing out that the market is now so broad and fragmented that my own observations were bound to be limited and were not necessarily representative of the UK tutoring market as a whole. Nonetheless, I did think it noteworthy that the overwhelming majority of the bigger London tutoring brands had been set up fewer than ten years ago. Likewise, when I asked how many of the audience had been tutoring for more than ten years, only two or three people raised their hand, suggesting that there really had been an acceleration in UK tutoring in the past decade. Why?
Firstly, I was eager to argue that the rising popularity of tutoring cannot be explained by either poor school teaching or paranoid parenting. Most tutoring companies have undoubtedly come across instances of both of these factors but, in Keystone’s experience, they are not a fair reflection of why parents seek tutorial support.
Instead, I offered three possible explanations for the increased demand for tutoring:
- Changes to independent school admissions in and around London. This change was precipitated, in my opinion, by Eton, who in the early 2000s, simultaneously stopped giving precedence to children registered at birth whilst introducing a pre-assessment. This approach, which was copied by almost every other independent school in the years that followed, at once opened the school up to a broader range of applicants and crucially changed the entrance criteria: you no longer had to be ‘good enough’ to enter Eton and its ilk but ‘better than’ other applicants. Parents began to enter their children for numerous schools, taking the message that successful independent school admissions had become a question of for how long and how hard their children prepared for admissions tests. This understanding has prompted many parents to seek the support of private tutors.
- London has become a more competitive place. Linked to the changes in admissions policies, many independent schools around London have consequently become much more competitive. London itself has become a more competitive place since the 1990s, with the financial sector in particular attracting many ambitious, academically-successful parents to the city. Many of these parents not only favour co-educational, day schools but also come from cultures in which tutoring is commonplace. The result is that London’s day schools have been overrun by applications, with even middling schools attracting ten applicants for every place. Given the fine margins between a successful and unsuccessful application, often just one or two percent, tutoring is a natural choice for parents looking to give their child every chance.
- The increasing importance of educational achievement in our culture. Whether it was Tony Blair’s insistence that 50% of the country should go to university, or the skewing of a career’s prestige towards those that are more academically demanding, it seems undoubted that our culture esteems grades and academic success more than it ever has done. Families who are ambitious for their children have understandably reacted to this trend by placing more emphasis on academic exam preparation through the help of private tutoring.
As above, these trends are not the result of either poor teaching or paranoid parenting. Parents are seeking good, rigorous private tutoring as a rational response to the UK’s changing educational landscape. Tutors have a wonderful opportunity to help parents navigate this landscape, easing the anxiety of their clients and profoundly influencing the lives of their students.
Extracts of Will's speech were featured in The Times. Click here to read the article.