private tutors
© Iakov Filimonov |

David McCarthy, Director of Education, Sophia Technologies, highlights what regulations should be in place for private tutors and why they are so important

We want to see our children in ‘good schools’, mixing with the ‘right kids’ from the ‘safe’ neighbourhoods. Many of us are guilty of,  more or less, secretly ‘stalking’ their friends and their families (to make sure they hang out with the right bunch) and we have become slaves to monitoring and safeguarding their mobile phone use and social media activity. Safety first – I’m sure many parents and guardians would agree with me. And yet, when it comes to private tutors who are working within our own homes (!) and 1:1 with our children, we miss any sort of regulations. We are missing the Safer Recruitment Process used in schools. The sector lacks verifications that would ensure the person who spends time with your child is suitably qualified with verified professional references.  Enhanced DBS Checks and Insurance (Public Liability and Professional Indemnity), which should be in place for any self-employment, are lacking. How is this even possible? Who is responsible? What are the risks? Let’s work through some answers to these questions.

Child abuse and more

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children previously said: “Clearly the vast majority of private tutors are not child abusers, but the current legal loophole makes it an ideal scenario for any predatory adult seeking to harm children. It’s absurd that you need a basic criminal record check to issue a parking fine, calculate finances, or treat animals, but not if you’re a self-employed tutor working with children. We want all tutors teaching children to be required to undergo a criminal record check – just as anyone driving a car needs to have a driving licence.” Children have the right to be educated in safety and parents need to know that every care has been taken to ensure unsuitable people cannot practise as tutors.

The Office for National Statistics reveals that an estimated 3.1 million adults aged 18 to 74 years were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16 years; this includes abuse by both adult and child perpetrators. At the same time, around one in four children in England and Wales receive extra out-of-school tuition. But there is no legal requirement on the 1.5million self-employed private tutors in the UK to undergo criminal record checks which would reveal details of potential child sex offences.

Now, even if you take a leap of hope and forget that there are, unfortunately, people who might consciously want to cause harm to children, there are also other impacts far more complicated to measure. Imagine a teacher who has been banned from the profession, whether it was because of offences towards children or unbecoming behaviour. Would you want them to tutor your child? Probably not, I dare guess. But society’s failure to insist on compulsory checks means there is nothing to stop such former teachers from offering private tuition and therefore pose a danger to children.

The impact of a teacher, tutor, or any adult, essentially, on a child’s development, is undeniable. Like teachers, tutors shape the characters of pupils and make a significant contribution to their future. They influence their attitude towards education, motivation, discipline and overall moral behaviour and parents should be able to provide their children with tutors who have the qualification to work and shape their children.

Who should be held responsible?

There are no legal requirements for private tutors in the UK. The industry as a whole is pretty much free from official regulation. Coupled with a lack of information from the Home Office and Department for Education, it has become increasingly frustrating not knowing where to turn to for answers.

The only times when the Government gets involved is when rules are being broken or around protection of tutors themselves. In 2018, Schools Week reported that the Employment Agency Service (EAS) inspectorate, an arm of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), had written to 50 tutoring company directors, warning them that they risked breaking the law by the way they operated. The clampdown was part of a wider focus on the regulation of industries that use large numbers of self-employed workers, known as the “gig economy”. Some agencies have also been accused of failing to pay tutors.

Many have tried to raise the importance of regulations in private tuition but failed to get anywhere.

A few years ago, the independent education consultant and founder of a private tutoring firm, Tutors International, resigned as a member of The Tutors’ Association (TTA) after he had tried and raised his concerns about ensuring children get the highest standard of professional tutoring, while also protecting the needs of the tutor and the families into which they are being placed. “Unfortunately, it has become clear that TTA would rather attempt to quiet my concerns than to hold its members (including some on its Board) to its own claimed standards.’’

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has been also calling for a change in  the law:  “We’re urging the Government to close a loophole that could leave thousands of privately-taught children at risk of harm, by making criminal record checks compulsory for all private tutors.“ 

Over 40% of London kids might be in danger

We are not talking about some niche, irrelevant market here. Financial reports vary when it comes to the global private tuition market, but some predict it will reach more than US$200 billion by 2022. Current UK figures balance between £2 billion up to £6.5 billion. The Sutton Trust’s annual survey of secondary school students in England and Wales showed that 27% of 11 to 18-year-olds in England and Wales have received private tuition, a figure that rises to 41% in London.

This is in part down to supplementary tuition having become a social norm, and partly as a result of the fierce competition over places at top universities, seen as a straightforward route to a successful career path, which requires only the very best of A-Level grades. But without a compulsory criminal record check parents are left in the dark about the harm self-employed tutors may pose to their children.

Parents often see danger around every corner – social media, technology, the streets of the big city. But when it comes to education, they switch their radars off. Rightly so, they expect that everything is naturally ‘safe’, and it should be that way.  But the grey area of private tuition might become an unpleasant surprise for one. Whilst we can’t truly measure the impact of a safe, high-quality tutor on a child’s development and education, it’s for us, education professionals and decision-makers to guide parents, keep opening the conversation with the Government and raise the issue of lacking legal requirements. Better safe than sorry. Let’s talk about the need and drive regulations and ‘prevention’ before real, harmful cases start building new tragic statistics.


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