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    Advertisement
    1. Home »
    2. Education

    Private tutors can earn thousands

    He’s one of the most in-demand of the new breed of ‘super tutors’, earning up
    to £1,000 an hour to help the offspring of the rich and famous win a place
    at a top school or university. But it isn’t the money that drives him.

    Mark MacLaine

    Study skills: Mark MacLaine Photo: HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY

    By

    7:00AM GMT 20 Jan 2012

    I don’t particularly like the term “super tutor”, which I hear used more and more by the parents who hire me to work with their children. The connotation of “super tutor” is that it is all about being paid very large fees. And while that is certainly part of it, it is not the whole story.

    I tutor the children of royalty, movie stars, sportspeople, millionaires and billionaires. My year is spent between London, Hong Kong, Cannes, St Moritz, New York and the Caribbean. I’ve tutored mid-air on jumbo jets kitted out by their owners as homes, and was once picked up from my place at an hour’s notice by helicopter to take me to the private jet that then flew me to my pupil in Rome. In some cases, I don’t even know their real names because of security concerns around them.

    But all this hype among parents and in the press about “super tutors” risks giving tutoring a bad name. I know some of the guys in this new breed who make a lot of noise about it and charge up to £1,000 an hour. Often they are very good, but however well-qualified they are on paper, with Oxbridge degrees, qualifications don’t always make for good tutors. They can lack a genuine motivation and I end up coming in and picking up the pieces with the children they have failed.

    The demand from rich parents for tutoring has been growing for as long as I have been doing it, but especially over the past three years. It has gone mad – like New York and Hong Kong where some tutors are treated like celebrities. I have calls, based on word-of-mouth recommendations, offering to double or triple my normal rate of £300 an hour if I can squeeze their child in. On one occasion a well-known ruling family in Asia proposed what was frankly a silly rate of £1,000 an hour if I would make a four-day trip out there and give intensive sessions to their son so he would pass the Eton entrance exam. And I said yes.

    It may sound glamorous, but that is only part of the story. At the same time there are some students I take on for nothing because they can’t afford to pay, but they are being failed by the education system.

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    I never meant to make tutoring my career and, since I started 14 years ago, I have had a spell away from it to concentrate on a music and film career, which I still maintain in tandem. But I could never give up tutoring, simply because I love doing it. The thrill of working with a 13-year-old who tells you when you first meet her that she’s stupid, but who then goes in a few weeks from scoring 22 per cent in maths to getting 85 per cent is just extraordinary. And that confidence, especially in maths, then has a massive knock-on effect in all other subjects.

    I got into tutoring when I was an undergraduate in London. I was doing part-time work in a DIY store to make some cash. One day I was explaining how a vacuum cleaner worked to a customer. “You’re very well trained,” she said. I explained that I was doing a degree in astrophysics at King’s College, London. “You should tutor, like me,” she replied. “I earn £25 an hour, which I’m sure is a lot more than you.” She put me in touch with the agency she worked for and I began tutoring in maths, where there are always high levels of demand.

    My first student had recently lost her mother, had been taken out of school because of stress, and was predicted Ds and Es at GCSE. After a shaky start, we got on well. Having someone believe in her eventually helped her pass with flying colours. It is that connection that is in some ways more important than the actual lessons or having “a top brain” doing the tutoring.

    I firmly believe that any tutor charging “super” rates should be able to deliver success in a short time, at most a few months. I consider I have done a good job if I put myself out of work quickly. If tutoring carries on for too long, it creates dependency, and that isn’t healthy.

    After that first student, one recommendation followed another. I am no longer with an agency but I am working from 4pm until 9pm on weekday evenings and 9am to 9pm at weekends. Some days I come home absolutely exhausted because I give everything I have in those sessions. That is what parents are paying for, and that is how you win a child’s trust. I am totally there for them, not taking calls on my mobile phone while they do book exercises.

    I have two niche areas I specialise in: bright six- and seven-year-olds, especially in the sciences, who aren’t being sufficiently stretched at school but who are too immature to be moved up a year; and those struggling with maths at GCSE.

    Why are people prepared to pay such large sums for tutors? Because they’ve been told we are good at what we do and I have a solid record of As and A*s at GCSE. I always insist on meeting pupils and their families before I agree to take them on. Partly it is to avoid finding myself landed with children who are just ghastly. I was once physically assaulted by a pupil. But it is also because the chemistry between a tutor and a pupil is so important. Lack of chemistry in the classroom is why many children don’t thrive at school, even when they have good teachers.

    Sometimes it is assumed that parents who pay a lot of money for tutoring are also disconnected from their children, and want to pass a burden to the tutor. I have come across that. I had one pupil who said to me, “Mummy orders tutors like other people order pizzas.” In other homes, the children are in the day-to-day care of nannies. I remember once asking a child when they’d last seen their mother and he replied, “I think I saw her last week.” But, as I was leaving, there she was, around and about in their very large house. These are parents who only get together with their children for the happy family photograph on the Christmas card. But, fortunately, they are the exceptions.

    There are, I am the first to admit, many problems with the tutoring industry. It is not transparent. Many parents don’t quite know how to find a tutor or how to judge how good or bad that tutor is. They panic and end up paying for something that doesn’t really help their child. There is no assessment or regulation.

    I’d love to teach and, given my record, I’d be good at it, but I couldn’t bear the red tape and it wouldn’t pay me enough. And teachers still are not sufficiently respected. That used to be true of tutors, too. Having a tutor was like having a dirty secret. To admit you had one was regarded as saying “my children aren’t very bright”. But that has changed. Now I am invited to go and meet the schoolteachers of kids I work with and they often say they are glad of my help.

    The other problem with tutoring, of course, is that it is only for people who can afford it. I know about being on the wrong side of that. When my family moved to Britain from South Africa, we couldn’t bring any money with us. My father died when I was young and we lived on a council estate. So I do try to take on children whose parents can’t afford tutoring. Often they are very intelligent but it is the exams that daunt and defeat them. They usually come to me via recommendations from friends or family.

    I am also talking to a number of academy schools (and other organisations) about assisting them to ensure they deliver the best education possible for their pupils. I do it for the very selfish reason that I enjoy it. I want to see tutoring taken seriously.

    As told to Peter Stanford

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    My Private Tutor


    • release date: 10-15-2012
    • runtime: 1h 47 min

    Starring:

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    2 Videos
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    190

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