Private tuition is booming in the UK during COVID-19. We spoke to leading tutors about why online learning is here to stay.

Victoria Ademosu, founder of The Tutoress.Victoria Ademosu
  • UK schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic, and parents turned to private, online tutors to help educate their children.
  • Sign-ups to become tutors have rocketed during the COVID-19 crisis, and parents are using online tutors to plug the gaps in home teaching.
  • Business Insider spoke to tutors to find out what it's been like to teach children online — and to discuss whether online tuition will last after lockdown.

Leon Hady's 6-foot-5 frame intimidates some of his students. The former headteacher tries to make himself "smaller" to put them at ease — but in the age of coronavirus, he doesn't have to.

"Not being physically present in homes makes people calmer," he says about tutoring children online. "When we're both on screen, I'm the same size [as them]." The worries of face-to-face teaching are "now somewhat gone."

Since leaving his head-teaching job in 2016, Hady has spearheaded Guide Education, an online portal valued at £15 million ($19.3 million) that teaches 380,000 children around the world. During the pandemic, he has seen an uptake of people retired, furloughed, or made redundant retraining as tutors, especially since schools closed. The pandemic, he says, is "flattening out the tuition market." Advertisement

The Tutors' Association, a professional membership group, estimates there were 250,000 private tutors in the UK before the pandemic, and lockdown has opened new doors for people without teaching experience to join the crowd. Children and parents are getting used to online tutoring, and sessions have filled gaps in home-schooling. But will it last when the pandemic ends and classrooms fill up once more?

Jessica Ramos, founder of SPEL languages and a full-time foreign languages tutor, fell into tutoring after failing to find work after her graduation from university last year. With opportunities shrinking, Ramos began teaching Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

"You can get so many benefits from virtual learning ... If anything, remote tuition makes you work harder as a tutor because you want to show how much you care," she says.
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Jessica Ramos, Founder of SPEL in South London.Jessica Ramos

From her south London home, Ramos created a virtual language club for Latin American mothers, with the aim of combating loneliness and isolation. She says their access to crucial services can sometimes be hampered by poor English skills. Most are mothers, overwhelmed with work and small children, who would never have been able to travel to an English course. The course is free, and Ramos runs it when she's not teaching paying clients. "The fact they can just turn on their camera and see me speaking fluent Spanish to them … it's amazing. It's much more than just learning a language," she says.Advertisement

It's not just teachers joining the private tuition boom

For self-employed people, private tuition has been a life-saver during Britain's devastating economic plunge.

Lockdown stopped Ryan Bissett's work performing music at weddings and tutoring "has become a lifeline" to pay his bills, he says. For Kamilah Hale, Director of Kin Learning in South London, tutoring has been a boon.

Her profits are up 40% on last summer despite having fewer tutors on her books. She has also had interest from India and Saudi Arabia for virtual English language lessons.Advertisement

"More people are looking for education online," Hale says, adding that lockdown has "forced a change in attitudes" from parents. Some have asked to continue with lessons online as lockdown has lifted, despite living near her.

More... How to become a highly successful online tutor and make 6 figures as virtual learning becomes the norm (PRIME)

Hady calls the last few months a "boom period" for tuition, and says that "respect for teachers has gone up the roof."Advertisement

Victoria Ademosu founded The Tutoress, a private tutoring business, during the 2008 global financial crisis when she noticed parents "investing more" in extra teaching for their children. "In difficult economic times, tuition is a field that could do better than most industries. I have a feeling that could happen again," she says.

Mass cancellations triggered a downturn, but now an opportunity

But private tuition has had setbacks in lockdown. Schools closing in March meant sweeping cancellations as looming GCSE and A-Level exams were scrapped. Jade Gill, a qualified teacher and tutor spearheading ExpertEase Tuition in Luton, a town about 30 miles north of London, wasn't prepared for this initial shock.

"The first two weeks of the pandemic were a nightmare," she says. "We had all of our Year 11 and Year 13 students cancel. That had a big impact."Advertisement

Subjects such as English, maths and science tend to fare well online. Humanities and the arts, such as music, less so. Bissett, the musician, who saw his work stop overnight during lockdown, finds it "impossible" to play his guitar in sync with his new music students because of slow internet speeds.

For larger companies, problems mounted up. "We're much more exposed to a downturn since we've got a group of tutors who we pay pensions to," says Will Orr-Ewing, co-founder of Keystone Tutors based in Kensington, West London. Advertisement

More... I'm a private online tutor for wealthy families. My students often take lessons in the car between golf practice and piano lessons — here's how I keep them engaged and make learning fun. (PRIME)

But private tution recovered as parents struggled to direct their children's learning at home. Gail Hugman, a tutor specialising in motivating underachieving children, says homeschool is a "lifestyle choice" that can't be "thrust on you." She continues: "Parents didn't feel equipped in lockdown so that's why so many have turned to tutors for supplementing the curriculum".

Reflecting on his time in schools, Hady, the former headteacher, realised parents tried to copy the school day at home — a "terrible idea", he says — and grew exhausted. They then sought private tutors once more. "Parents found themselves unable to be teachers because they have a set relationship with their child," he says. Advertisement

Is online learning here to stay?

All the tutors Business Insider spoke with will continue to offer online tuition alongside face-to-face learning as lockdown eases. Could Britain's kids follow the trajectory of China, where six-year-olds have early morning online private tuition before a school day?

One challenge is making tuition accessible to all — currently, it reflects growing education inequalities. Lockdown widened the gap between those with and without technology, which Orr-Ewing, of Keystone Tutors, calls a "chasm opening up." Gill says that "if you've got two to three children, and they all need one computer for homework or a parent needs it for work, students might not be able to access tutoring."

It's one reason why Hady believes private tutoring cannot replace schooling altogether Advertisement

"There's a huge issue of tens of thousands of kids and we don't know what's happened to them," he adds. "It shows how important school is as a contact point."

The tutors were adamant private tuition would become more accessible for all demographics, particularly for poorer families and students. Ademosu noticed that, before lockdown, private tutors were for "parents who could afford it."

"But now with job losses, there will be more demand for lower-priced services such as YouTube classes," she adds.Advertisement

The UK government announced £350 million ($450 million) for a National Tutoring Programme in response to school closures, giving schools subsidised tutoring.

That will help to bring down barriers as online learning becomes "demystified" in lockdown, Orr-Ewing says. "You might even see the use of online tutoring in a much more radical way over the next ten years."
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