New online tutoring service aims for ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’
Tutorfair tutorTutor leads a Tutorfair session in schoolA new online booking service for tutoring, Tutorfair, has pledged to provide free tutoring for pupils on free school meals. For every paid session booked – for school or home – Tutorfair promises to provide one free of charge to any pupil nominated by his or her school.

The new service has gone live first in London, where research indicates that as many as 40 per cent of learners have access to tutors, and goes nationwide in 2014.

Work by education research outfit The Sutton Trust came up with 40 per cent as the proportion of pupils in the capital who make use of private tutors. It’s a figure that may raise eyebrows among parents as using a tutor is a touchy subject linked to social class, and it’s not often admitted to. Some commentators think that is because parents don’t want the stigma attached to giving your child a hand-up while others simply can’t afford to do so.

Parents simultaneously book tutors while helping others

That’s why Tutorfair has instituted its one-for-one scheme, allowing parents to simultaneously book tutors while knowing that they are helping others. The intention is to position Tutorfair as a community marketplace for tutors with a ‘levelling’ promise at its heart.

It’s simple. Parents or carers log on to www.tutorfair.com and search for suitable tutors by subject and postcode (subjects include all parts of the national curriculum and beyond). A search for a primary maths tutor for London N1, for example, yielded a selection of 20 candidates, at rates per hour ranging from a lowest of £26 to a highest of £88.94 (both with five-star ratings).

Tutorfair says that all of its tutors have been vetted and screened, and customers can see their previous ‘ratings’, view their profiles (with video presentations, qualifications and backgrounds). The tutor lists lesson times when they're available and parents click a time to book and pay online. Tutors visit schools and homes and can deliver lesson online using services like Skype too.

By running the whole booking service online Tutorfair is able to keep overheads down and so offer the free sessions. The child-for-a-child charity element works simply. Tutorfair partners with schools that have a high proportion of students on free school meals (inner-city schools in London at the moment). Class teachers select the students who will benefit most from extra support and Tutorfair's tutors go in to the school and work with them one on one and in small groups.

The company sees its free tutoring as a contribution to bridging the attainment gap in UK schools. Nearly half of children claiming free school meals achieve no GCSE passes above a D-grade (1); about a quarter get five good GCSEs (2); and only a sixth get to university (3); but 96 per cent of pupils from independent schools make it to university (4). And The Sutton Trust estimates that the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor costs the UK economy £1.3 trillion a year.

‘Child-for-a-child promise is a global first in education'

Edd StockwellEdd StockwellEdd Stockwell, co-founder of Tutorfair said, “Our ‘child for a child’ promise is a global first in education. For every student who pays, Tutorfair provides free tutoring for a child who can't. And using the power of the Internet we provide a reliable source of data-based recommendations on tutors, allowing more choice and better decisions about tutoring. I fundamentally believe no other tutoring company opens up and professionalises tutoring in the same way.

“Never again will tutoring just be the preserve of the privileged few. Tutoring is one of the secrets at the school gate, one that makes it hard for students to find good tutors, even when we know 40 per cent do in London. Now, with our charity element, we can help take away the stigma of an unfair advantage through tutoring – and be proud to celebrate its positive impact on learning.”

There is plenty of feedback on tutors on the Tutorfair website, and comments from partners making a joint observation at a Tutorfair partner school reported:"Children made outstanding progress over the course of the lessons. All tutors showed an excellent relationship with the children..." Karen Mears (IOE tutor) and Lisa Wise (DHT).

(1) Cassen and Kingdon, 2007, (2) Department of Education, 2008, (3) Sutton Trust, 2010, (4) Sutton Trust, 2010.   

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