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Securing standards - the launch of The Tutors Association Consultation

The Centre for Market Reform of Education is launching a consultation on plans for a new national association for tutors to develop industry standards and improve the consistency of private tutoring practice. The Tutors Association Consultation will be seeking industry input on the rationale for this initiative, and its proposals for the constitution of the association, its remit, membership requirements, codes of professional conduct and proposed member benefits. The private tuition industry has burgeoned in the UK in recent years.  Private tutors are utilised extensively by parents to supplement what is on offer through regular schooling and raise young people’s attainment and confidence. The affordability of tutoring makes it an accessible and highly valued component of many young people's education, but the paucity of guidance for parents and the absence of recognised industry standards means that the market continues to accommodate poor quality provision. Leading tutoring providers have invested significantly in vetting and quality control, but the industry as a whole has been slow to recognise and address this problem. Against proxy measures of qualification to tutor, a great many agencies appear not to require degree level subject knowledge or teaching qualifications of their tutors (57% and 78% respectively, according to a 2009 Institute of Education (IoE)/ National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) study); while much less is known about the 90% of tutors identified and hired by parents through word of mouth or other means. There is certainly much anecdotal evidence of positive educational outcomes, however analyses of test score data in efforts to quantify the tutoring effect (albeit often weakened by significant methodological challenges) have thus far reached less striking conclusions – which some have taken to suggest variable tutoring input. One factor that is likely to depress any overall effect that may be discernible in statistical analysis is the sheer diversity of needs provided for in the private tutoring space – many of which are not expressly geared towards raising exam achievement. Many parents hire tutors to allay their own anxieties more than to meet real educational need, and for a variety of other non-academic motives, including using tutors as child-minders, homework supervisors, and as peacekeepers, as when homework has become a locus of tension in the home. The lack of definition around the tutor’s role and remit leaves parents and other users with a real challenge when it comes to recognising professional standards. To date, market studies have tended to construe the variability in the quality of private tuition as a problem relating to the lack of market organisation and government regulation of the sector. This interpretation is implicit in the work of Professor Judith Ireson and Dr Katie Rushforth of the Institute of Education (IoE), University of London, whose mapping work (2005 and the aforementioned 2009 study, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families) has supplied analysts and policy-makers with much of the data that has informed the development of regulatory policy on this issue. Ireson and Rushforth identified the complexity of the market, the variety of organisational forms used and the volume of business done independently, through word of mouth referrals, as key challenges for information provision and thus improving quality (DCSF 2009: 15). A subsequent government initiative to standardise provision in connection with the development of its One-to-One tutoring programme in schools (the ‘Quality Mark’, launched in April 2010 and now administered by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation) required conformity to the employment agency model, and in addition that tutors hold QTS (which was regarded as the best available proxy for qualification to tutor). It also imposed a significant compliance burden on organisations who might wish to apply. Unsurprisingly therefore, subscription to the Quality Mark criteria has been confined to those organisations either set-up for the purpose of serving, or already strongly oriented to, the public sector market. The initiative has attracted little support from the wider tutoring industry (whose business models are generally distinct from those of supply teaching agencies and recruitment companies), and thus has had little impact on wider industry standards. The Tutors Association (TTA) is being formed for the purpose of developing professional standards and a formal accreditation process for individual tutors, and ensuring that those standards are properly upheld and maintained. Its aim is to promote best practice in tutoring for the benefit of its members, pupils, those procuring the services of tutors on their behalf, by the aforementioned means and through the provision of information and guidance. In the view of the industry working group behind this consultation, the variability in the quality of private tuition is best addressed through a voluntary initiative, led by professionally minded practitioners, rather than by government. This is because the responsibility for setting industry standards for the protection of the public is first and foremost a responsibility of the service provider to its customers, who are themselves best-positioned to articulate what those standards should be. Press coverage 'New plan to crack down on poorly-qualified private tutors' - The Telegraph "... the Centre for Market Reform of Education, a think-tank, is planning to establish the first national association for tutors – with backing from a number of major tutoring companies – to develop industry standards and improve the consistency of teaching..." 'CMRE consults on new professional association for private tutors' - EducationInvestor "...An education think tank is consulting on plans to launch a new professional association for the private tutoring sector. The 'Tutors Association Consultation’ is a Centre for Market Reform of Education (CMRE) initiative, with support from consultants and tutoring companies..." 'Finally – a framework for professional regulation of private tutors?' - Tutorhub "... To the sound of cheers from industry professionals, parents and teachers the Centre for Market Reform of Education (CMRE) is launching a consultation on plans for a new national association for tutors in an effort to push forward with plans to develop industry standards and improve the consistency of the private tutoring market..." The proposals of and rationale for The Tutors Association are being discussed in numerous online platforms, including  Linkedin page. If you are a member of the press, please direct your enquiries to .

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About the author
James Croft is Director of the Centre for Market Reform of Education and the co-author of the CMRE discussion paper 'When Qualifications Fail: Reforming 14-19 assessment' (2012) and previously of 'Profit-making free schools' (2011).