An email that I received earlier this year asked, "Earn £800 a week tutoring in Kazakhstan." Another asked if I would be interested in spending three months in the Bahamas. Opportunities to spend summers in St Tropez, Hong Kong, and Tuscany were also available. While some may mistake these emails as spam, they are actually job offers from Bright Young Things, a British agency that specializes in private tutoring. In Kazakhstan, the selected applicant would receive accommodation just 10 minutes away from the family home. On a placement in Hong Kong, the tutor would live in the (spectacular) family home but would need to commit to at least four hours of work a day – teaching English or preparing children as young as five for entrance exams at British private schools.
Private tutoring has become a thriving industry in the UK, both at home and abroad. Some agencies, such as Holland Park Tuition and Education Consultants, have even expanded overseas, opening a Dubai office. Online education platforms such as EdPlace have estimated that British parents alone spend up to £6bn annually on private lessons for their children. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori for the Sutton Trust found that 24% of young people in the UK have received private tuition at some point, with the number rising to 40% in London.
Amidst this boom in the tutoring industry, agencies have flourished across the country, especially in London. Tutoring has become a legitimate career, with many young people working in the arts taking it up as a second career to supplement their creative pursuits. As a freelance journalist, I count myself amongst these ranks. At a recent training day, I met postgraduate students, former teachers, recent graduates, writers, actors, and journalists – few of whom held formal teaching qualifications but all of whomattended elite universities. With a rate of pay between £25 and £40 an hour (and even more for high-end agencies), tutoring has become an appealing option in a time when many face unemployment, hiring freezes, and unpaid internships. The job provides a more dependable source of income than writing, leaving plenty of free time and offering intellectual stimulation.
For young adults in the creative industries, tutoring has become a long-term way to support their artistic pursuits. Comedian Edward Kiely, who has been tutoring for almost two years, says that almost all of his friends working in the arts tutor as well. Tutoring between 17 and 19 hours a week, Kiely is able to support his writing and performances with his earnings. Private tutoring has become an inadvertent private subsidy for the arts. Those with good degrees (typically a 2.1 or higher) from Russell Group universities are presented with a higher-paying, less time-consuming option. They can then use their savings to put on a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This trend harkens back to earlier centuries when Christopher Marlowe, James Joyce, and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes made their incomes as private tutors. Victorian-era educated women who could not be supported by their families worked as governesses, teaching the children of wealthy families. Perhaps this was what Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow had in mind when they were said to be advertising for someone to teach their children French, Spanish, Ancient Greek, and Latin for £60,000 a year.
For the extremely wealthy, hiring multiple tutors to teach different subjects and age groups is an alternative to a full-time tutor. Rachel Goss, an actor, recounted a situation where one mother had three tutors present, and wanted them every Saturday, regardless of time. She paid thousands of pounds a week for this tutoring. Womack was once one of the thirteen tutors working for a wealthy Russian family, and all of them were given an iPad around the same time, for no apparent reason. One former tutor, Josh Brown, received a VIP ticket worth thousands of pounds, as a token of appreciation, for tutoring.
However, hiring tutors and paying them large sums does not ensure the cooperation of either parents or children. One of Kiely’s clients had high expectations for the tutor but had no expectations for her children. The tutee’s behaviour deteriorated, and he started singing Gangnam Style incessantly or hitting the ground near the tutor with a wooden sword. When the tutor informed the agency, his client, the mother, fired him. Goss reports that she frequently meets "disrespectful" people: "They have this attitude that they own you when paying X amount for an hour of your time."
This experience is no different from what an individual may encounter as an employee in any company. However, as academics and social skills are more critical for tutoring, an influx of clients who want to educate their children has contributed to the boom in tutoring. In the United Kingdom, over half of Keystone Tutors’ students have at least one parent who was born outside the United Kingdom. Clients often desire someone who has attended the University of Oxford or Cambridge since they almost embody a ‘British cultural authority. ‘
Apart from the hourly tutoring rates, students’ independence and flexibility are essential. Although agencies are responsible for finding clients and handling payments, tutors are self-employed. Jackson Gordon, a songwriter, sees his career as an entrepreneur: "you are your own boss." Working in a traditional office job with that "is such a weird clash of values." Tutoring allows for flexible hours. After building a relationship, "families are typically willing to tutor on a week-to-week basis," says Henry Eliot, a writer who runs a magazine about London. With such flexibility, it is simple for musicians and actors to keep two professions going, even if they have to travel or attend an audition.
Some have raised concerns about whether the flexibility that such tutoring offers is in the best interests of the students. Several tutors may desert their clients if creative roles become available. Actors and directors are among them, according to Daniel Armstrong, an actor and director. Keystone Tutors no longer hires actors or directors for this reason. Nonetheless, Simon Davis, a theatre director, has been able to locate clients who are accommodating and understand that during rehearsal periods, he may be unable to tutor. They appreciate the fact that he is a theatre director and has been financial supporters or donors of his work.
For some, having a tutor with creative credentials is appealing. "These parents do not want their children to be philistines," Armstrong claims. "They’re the kind of people who go to the opera themselves or admire the Royal Shakespeare Company and want to pass this love down to their children." Armstrong proposed to take his students on theatre trips outside of normal hours. He even plans to invite one of his 10-year-old students to see a production he’s working on.
Tutoring experiences have inspired art in unique ways. For instance, songwriter Gordon received inspiration for a song when he misheard a student. This phenomenon is not always noticeable, but it has proved to be critical in some cases. A great example is Lost Boys – Miller’s first published novel in 2008, in which wealthy London adolescents go missing from a public school. While tutoring, Miller observed his tutees’ frustration since they had privileged lives, which were intensely managed; hence there was a need for rebellion in them.
The pressure’s level that some tutors’ primary school students feel due to their parents and schoolmates makes this job concerning. Although some tutees go to state schools, many tutors have reservations about tutoring already well-off people. As Kiely puts it, tutoring further empowers those who are privileged since tutoring brings down the already massive divide between state and private schools. However, not-for-profit organizations like Tutor Trust offer free tutoring to students from poorer backgrounds. The organization trains tutors who offer a free hour for every six paid hours and connect them to disadvantaged schools in Manchester.
Although some tutors have reservations, most of them are grateful for the opportunities tutoring has given them. For instance, Davis appreciates the tutor work since his alternatives would have been bar work and ushering, which would have been damaging to his career. On the other hand, tutoring can be a career for some US counterparts where Keystone Tutors has begun hiring full-time tutors who sign a contract and must give at least a month’s notice. These full-time tutors work 17 hours per week teaching students in Hong Kong online and students in London in the afternoon. They earn £35,000 per year, with no occasional fallow periods like other tutors.
Although some tutors may want to give up tutoring, they continue because of financial constraints. As a freelance journalist starting out, an extra source of income is essential. Many tutors can manage both careers simultaneously, but Kiely cautions them to keep them separate. Some parents might see this job as shoring up their children’s future and not appreciate anything else.
In conclusion, tutoring is a job that inspires art, but the levels of pressure that primary school students experience and the class divide between students from wealthy backgrounds and those from poorer backgrounds make the job concerning for some tutors. Nonetheless, not-for-profit organizations like Tutor Trust offer a solution by providing free tutoring to students from poorer backgrounds.