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Tutoring unstaked claims to a goldmine?

publication date: Oct 3, 2006
author/source: R Taylor
Tutoring is the scourge of the government’s League Table system, because they never want to highlight the direct correlation in well-performing schools between their ranking and the percentage of students who receive tutoring (with spending on revision guides, IT and other study aids).
In the UK, estimates of what parents spend on tutors vary widely but it is likely to be in excess of £1bn each year! Accurate figures about tutoring for the UK market are hard to find, but in Australia, a market one-third the size of the UK, there are more than 75,000 individuals who offer tutoring services. Parents spend A$1.5bn p.a. (£0.6bn), with one in five children receiving some form of tutoring between the ages of five and sixteen. Extrapolating these figures for the UK would mean there may be as many as 200,000 tutoring businesses, turning over as much as £1.8bn per year. We have discounted this to a very conservative estimate of £1bn, as the number of children in private education in Australia is almost 40% and so it is reasonable to assume that this may encourage a climate where tutoring is more widely used.
And yet this is an unregulated market, dominated by cash payments and small businesses, many just one person working part-time to supplement their income. Referrals from parents and school are the lifeblood for tutoring businesses, large and small. For parents the choice comes down to three options; class-based tutoring by an individual, attendance at centres that use tutoring software, or individual in-home tutoring.
There are a few well-known tutoring companies like Kumon, Explore Learning, and Kip McGrath, but overall they do not dominate the market the way that large US tutoring companies like Club Z, In Home Tutoring, Huntingdon Learning Centres, PLATO Learning, Educate Inc (Sylvan Learning Centres, Hooked on Phonics and Catapult Learning) do.
Over the next decade, we expect the UK market will change substantially. Some of the changes we expect to see include:
  • Formal links (including endorsement and accreditation) between tutoring companies and businesses like Pearson, Harcourt, Granada and others who produce supplementary learning materials inc. books, software and tests. We may even see educational institutions, particularly independent schools and universities, enter this market. It is not inconceivable that one day there may be brands called Oxford University and Eton Tutors
  • Growth of larger tutoring companies whose business model is the development of branded learning centres that use a mixture of IT and group work to improve student academic ability. Explore Learning is the leader in this segment and their exclusive agreement with Sainsbury’s gives them a significant competitive advantage over their competitors. We expect this to be a growth market and to see similar joint ventures between educational companies and retailers like Tesco, Asda and others over the next few years. These might include tutoring centres set up in schools to take advantage of the government’s extended schools program
  •    An expansion of franchise-based tutoring companies like Kumon (Japan), Kip McGrath (Australia), ComputerXplorers (UK - the US franchise is known as Computertots)
  • Expansion of major international childcare companies like ABC Learning into tutoring, providing tuition at retail centres and possibly some form of home-based service
  • Growth of tutor broking companies (franchised and independent). The largest market of tutor brokers is in the US with companies like Club Z Home Tutoring, Get Homework Help and Home Tutoring Business. In the UK there are versions of tutor brokers, examples being School Zone, Tutors Directory and Personal Tutors
  • Mandatory CRB checks and the possible introduction of an industry-managed licensing system for UK tutors
  • In-home tutoring evolving to private one-on-one education – a new trend in the US home schooling movement that is served by companies like Partners With Parents based in New York and Professional Tutors of America Inc, based in California.
One of the reasons US tutoring companies are looking closely at expanding into Europe and Asia, is that many have grown dramatically as a result of the government programme No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that also provides funds for tutoring. Large tutoring companies realise NCLB won’t last forever and are looking to expand their markets while they have the income from NCLB.
Whatever the exact figures, it is undeniable that tutoring is a growing and profitable part of the UK and international education markets. In the next few years there is likely to be significant change in the UK, both in how tutoring services are delivered and amongst the companies trying to build their businesses in this highly competitive market.

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