The role of a tutor has transformed throughout centuries of British education and beyond. However, in recent years the education system and tutoring have been separated and the question is, why? Perhaps it’s time for tutoring to return to the fold and the art of educating to expand and develop into something more flexible and accessible. Speaking to experts in the field, I’ll explore what the role of a tutor really is and how much more it can be in the future.
A brief history of tutoring
Tutoring officially originated in the 11th century as an institutionalised form of mentoring yet tutoring dates back to Ancient Greece. Centuries ago, tutoring was considered a form of mentorship, where great minds like Socrates moulded future philosophers such as Plato, who went on to create an academy, where Aristotle was educated, who then tutored Alexander the Great. You can see the pattern emerging.
Tutoring laid its foundations in British education in the 1700s within universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Tutors would guide the learning of 1 or 2 students in a class, ensuring they were ready for their exams and were even considered a parental figure.
When you analyse the original meaning of the word ‘tutor’ it can mean ‘guardian’ or ‘watcher’ from the Latin root ‘tueri’ which means ‘to watch over’. This suggests that the role of a tutor includes a level of protection, nurturing the minds of their students and ensuring they’re prepared for the real world. Guarding their academic achievements and watching over them progress and develop their individual thoughts and independent learning.
Once, this level of education was reserved only for the extremely wealthy or hallowed halls of top universities. However, the financial boom in the 1950s accelerated the tutoring industry and allowed private tuition to become accessible and affordable to others. Although paid tuition can still be regarded a privilege that not everyone can access, the developing digital age and progressive leaders in education may soon be paving the way for tutors to become an integral part of the education system as they once were, but this time for everyone.
Modern day tutoring
Tutoring has only become a modern practice in the past 20 years, but in that time the conversation around tutoring has dramatically changed. Speaking to Julia Silver, founder of Qualified Tutor, she describes a tutor as ‘an enabler, helping the student to learn and grow’ and she feels the role of a tutor will ‘shift with the needs of the student’.
An aspect of tutoring that hasn’t changed since the age of Socrates is mentorship, where tutors can model and instruct on how to learn and how to access the content being taught in school.
Modern day tutoring is a gateway to confidence and accessibility. As Julia said, enabling students to learn in their own way and develop their own understanding of the subjects being taught in the classroom. Tutoring enables a level of self-esteem from within the student where their mindset to learning changes and a positive relationship with education is forged.
The role of a tutor
From personal experience, I had several tutors throughout my education. From an hour a week in Maths and French during my GCSEs (taken in 2009) to English Literature and Classical Civilisation at A-levels (2011). I still remember each one of my tutors, particularly my A-level tutor: an incredible woman who inspired me to look at each subject in new ways that I could capture in my essays and share with the class.
Tutoring used to have a sinister shame attached to it, from both the student and teacher. The idea that an individual needed a tutor meant they weren’t performing well in school, or the teacher wasn’t doing their job properly. Which is entirely false. I wasn’t ashamed, I felt fortunate. I pleaded with my mum to find me a tutor, someone who could push me further so I could achieve higher grades. I achieved that, but it wasn’t just through tutoring. It was the combination of my teachers in the classroom, my tutor at home and my own sheer determination to succeed – the latter having been nurtured and inspired by the formers.
‘Tutoring contributes to the academic outcomes celebrated by schools across the country, but tutors’ contribution is barely recognised at all.’ – Julia Silver, founder of Qualified Tutor.
The term ‘shadow schooling’, coined by the Sutton Trust, has been used to describe the role of a tutor, but that’s just not the case. If anything, the negativity associated with this – tutors hiding in the shadows – is what breeds the idea of seeking additional support as shameful. It shouldn’t be. Tutors and teachers should be working in harmony. All educators seek the same goal – for students to succeed and enjoy education.
Julia mentioned that ‘25% of students had a tutor in 2019, a number which has grown steadily since it was first tracked in 2016.’ Based on these statistics, as well as the government looking to tutoring as a direct solution to student catch-up in a post-pandemic climate, it appears tutoring is stepping out of the shadows, and reclaiming its place as a pillar of the school system.
Additionally, tutoring isn’t just for the pupil, or the parent, but for the teacher. Not only does tutoring complement the traditional classroom teaching by providing better outcomes for children but it also relinquishes the heavy burden set upon teachers to achieve hundreds of results that excel expectations. Tutoring provides that additional support to assist learners who need extra help, eliminating the competitive nature of 30 students demanding the attention of one.
Another benefit for the teacher is becoming a tutor themselves. Speaking from experience, tutoring can be an incredible outlet for teachers to enhance their practice and use their creativity, without the roadblocks of classroom management, the rigidity of the curriculum or the boundaries of school bureaucracy. It gives educators the opportunity to develop a broader skillset that can only improve what they deliver on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.
The future of education
Looking to the future, Lucy Spencer, founder of Education Boutique and Vice President of The Tutors’ Association, believes we’ll see a move ‘away from traditional large classrooms and a long, set day of classes plus homework in the evening.’ Corporate businesses and companies making the move to a hybrid style of at home and in office working begs the question – can education follow suit? Lucy believes in ‘a blend of the traditional classroom, small groups and one-to-one coaching opportunities’, whether that be online or face-to-face, could be the future of education.
As aforementioned, the outdated stereotype of tuition being reserved to the privileged and wealthy is dismantling, and that’s fortified by the expansion of online learning. The pandemic proved one thing, that a digital approach to learning is feasible. Although not a replacement to the important social contact students need to become well-rounded individuals, online learning provides a space for others around the world, who normally could not access education, to come forward and benefit from the knowledge and experience of trusted tutors.
Discussing her own global tutoring journey, Lucy says, ‘We are currently looking to the future at some disruptive alternative solutions to make tuition even more accessible and available to all so watch this space!’
For the future of education, it’s time to move away from seeing teaching and tutoring as separate professions, but instead look to blend the traditional classroom with small groups and one-to-one sessions. Learning is not a one-size fits all. By combining tuition with teaching, we have an opportunity to identify, develop and nurture individual learning styles; allowing children to access knowledge on a deeper, more personal level.
The role of a tutor is a responsive one. ‘Tutors are here to complement schools and make the task of educating learners easier and more efficient.’ Lucy continues, ‘We are all educators, and we are all on the side of the learner.’ For the education system to grow and improve for the better, it must change. Teachers and tutors should all be considered educators, working together for the sake of future generations to come.
With forward thinkers such as Julia and Lucy trail-blazing for tutoring to be lifted from the shadows, it’s only a matter of time.
About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Tammy now works for Eteach as Content, Brand and PR Manager, where she can combine her passion for education and writing.