Private tutoring companies have profited from the crisis in Britain’s education system. Tutors, taxpayers, and parents have paid the price for this. The unions must unite and fight to kick the capitalists out of education.
Online tutoring is advertised as the perfect ‘side-hustle’ for university students looking to earn a bit of extra money alongside their studies. In reality, the tutoring industry is a rotten scam; a decrepit sector, plagued by poor pay and profiteering.
Private companies like MyTutor exploit both their workers and the public purse. And now they are looking to overhaul their pay structure, in an opportunistic attempt to make more gains amidst the crisis of Britain’s education system – itself a reflection of the deepening capitalism.
Tutors must get organised to resist these attacks, and join forces with teaching unions – and the rest of the labour movement – to fight for a socialist alternative to the marketisation and privatisation of education.
The private tutoring sector saw a large expansion during the pandemic. With schools across the country disrupted by lockdowns, many home-ridden pupils turned to online teaching.
High-quality teaching should have been provided ‘in-house’, within the public education system, provided by workers with proper qualifications and training.
Instead, the Tory government launched the ‘National Tutoring Programme’ (NTP) – a £1.7 billion scheme whereby catch-up education for school students was outsourced to a handful of profiteering corporations.
Similarly to the outsourcing seen in the NHS and local councils, this is a clear case of further privatising public services so that the Tories’ capitalist chums can make a quick buck at the taxpayer’s expense.
Politicians pushing such privatisation and outsourcing have no interest in providing decent services. Instead, they seek to prioritise the bosses’ profits over the public’s needs, with corners cut in the name of ‘efficiency’.
Ironically and tragically, however, the NTP has resulted in an incredible waste of public money.
The Department of Education claimed that this catch-up programme would cover two million pupils for the current academic year. Instead, the scheme’s organisers have fallen 200,000 short of their target.
And rather than private sector involvement improving standards and the quality of services, as those advocating outsourcing often claim, the example of the NTP has seen the opposite.
Most of the teaching provided in this programme has been of a substandard level, provided by recruits with limited training or experience. To work for MyTutor, for example, one of the largest private contractors in this scheme, only one hour of training is required; the rest of the training courses offered are optional.
At the same time, the NTP programme has involved the rampant exploitation of tutors by their outsourcing employers.
At the height of the pandemic, tutors were being paid a meagre £11-12 per session. The overwhelming majority of the public money poured into the NTP has been syphoned off by the bosses.
For most new tutors, the bulk of their time is spent helping school students as part of the NTP catch-up programme. But often, once they get more experience, tutors will move towards teaching pupils privately, paid directly by parents.
For private sessions, tutors have to give up nearly half of the fee to the company as ‘running costs’. As part of this setup, tutors are labelled as sole traders, paying these companies to manage their services.
In reality, many of the extra responsibilities required – setting homework; reading and marking essays; and writing long feedback reports after each session – are done by the tutors themselves, with no help from these private companies.
In conversations, many have said that they do this work full-time, serving as the main breadwinner for their families, while struggling to pay the bills.
At the same time, the bosses treat tutors with extreme contempt: deliberately delaying payslips whenever monthly wages are scheduled to go out on a weekend or on a bank holiday, for example, causing enormous stress and hardship for workers.
Under MyTutor’s new plans to overhaul their pricing system (to their benefit), they have increased the fees charged to parents by £2-4 on average for each price band.
At the same time, tutors will only receive a small fraction of this price increase, meaning that the company will increase the fraction that it takes in from each session.
MyTutor has lauded this new setup as a ‘win-win’ for both the firm and the tutors, presenting the arrangement as a 10-15% pay rise for workers. In reality, it is nothing more than a disingenuous ruse for boosting the bosses’ profits.
Rather than disclosing where the money goes, the company has replied to any scrutiny with vague assurances that all income is being “invested into improving the services provided”.
Another downside of this new pay policy is that it will inevitably force many tutors to move down the price bands in order to cater to cash-strapped parents, who are understandably facing a similarly tough financial situation in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.
This means that many tutors will end up taking a real-terms pay cut, in order to continue providing a vital and valuable service to students and parents.
When it comes to their employment status, the situation facing tutors is neither unique nor exceptional.
Across the board – from retail to construction to transport – an increasing number of workers are facing precarious employment conditions, as the bosses seek to exploit their workforces and increase their profits as much as possible.
Pushing workers into ‘self-employment’, as part of the so-called ‘gig economy’, helps the bosses to drive down wages and conditions, and thus push up their profits.
As the numbers classed as ‘self-employed’ have risen, wages have stagnated and declined. According to the ONS, self-employed workers have experienced a 22% fall in real pay since 2008-2009.
The capitalists and their media goons constantly prettify the gig economy as an opportunity for workers to gain independence, have flexibility at work, and be free from any restrictions. But the reality could not be any more different.
Not only do workers in the gig economy have to follow strict rules set by their employer, but they must often work despite being sick, or must take on extremely unsociable hours, in order to earn enough to survive.
All the while, ‘self-employed’ workers are faced with an array of hidden extra costs. Tutors, for example, have to fork out on buying books, revision guides, and worksheets.
In truth, therefore, this is nothing but bogus self-employment – a fig-leaf for the ruthless exploitation of the bosses.
All of this shows the importance of fighting for proper rights, pay, and conditions for workers in the gig economy – including those in the tutoring sector.
This requires organisation and action by workers themselves. Employment rights such as holiday pay, sick pay, and work breaks have all historically been won by workers through collective action and struggle.
Drivers at Uber and Deliveroo have shown the way forward in recent times, mobilising to demand that they be classed as employees, given full employment status and rights.
Online tutors are now taking similar steps, organising against the new pay plans at MyTutor, and looking to form a union as part of the IWGB (Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain).
In their fight for better conditions, tutors have put together a petition with demands for: proper employment rights, including sick pay; a reversal of the pay changes; and an opening up of the books, in order to show where the money is going.
This is a positive start, which should be supported by the rest of the trade union movement. But alongside these initial demands, the whole of the labour movement must also vigorously campaign for a real solution to the crisis facing the country’s education system.
With limited university places available, competition is intensifying amongst students for better grades. At the same time, cuts to schools are forcing teachers to handle ever-larger classes. All of this, alongside a rigged exam system, pushes desperate parents into the arms of preying private tutoring companies.
If students are struggling and need more support, then they should be able to receive it through their school, free of charge. This means reversing the outsourcing of education: bringing the entire tutoring industry under public ownership and control, with tutors employed on the same pay and conditions as school teachers.
Whilst the bosses rake in ever-greater profits, workers across the education system face the same issues. Staff at schools, colleges, and universities everywhere have suffered years of attacks on pay, jobs, and conditions.
We cannot allow the Tories and the bosses to divide education workers in order to continue this race to the bottom. Instead, we must unite our struggles and tackle the problem at its root.
The way forward, therefore, is for organisation and militant action across the education sector. This means unions such as the NEU and the UCU coming together and fighting to reverse all privatisation, outsourcing, and marketisation; to bring teaching under workers’ control; and to provide free, high-quality education for all – paid for by the expropriation of billionaires.
Capitalism can only offer cuts and crises. The fight to defend education is the fight for socialism.