Go teach by the pool

16th June 2006 at 01:00
The rich are prepared to pay for live-in tutors to ensure their children succeed, writes Mark Piesing

Most people would expect to read in a Victorian novel about a tutor who lives with a family rather than meet one at a Saturday night party, but this may be about to change. According to leading agencies such as Gabbitas Educational Consultants, there has been an increase in demand, usually by the wealthy, for residential tutoring in addition to or instead of schools.

So could the lifestyle of rock stars and royalty tempt you out of the classroom?

It does seem to be a good time to become a private tutor generally, and a live-in tutor specifically. Dr Judith Ireson and Kaite Rushforth from the University of London's Institute of Education have conducted research that suggests parents are likely to turn in increasing numbers to this shadow system of private tutors because of the importance of educational success for future careers and rising parental expectations. Professional parents are the most likely and able to invest in extra tuition for their children.

"We've got rock stars, royalty, actors and leading businessmen on our books," says David Spencer, director of Tutors International.

"Increasing affluence means that more parents can afford what even the best private schools can't provide. Many are responding to children who aren't doing as well as they should at school. Some just want their children to have an enriched education experience, even going on a safari in Kenya with their tutor."

With the hope of pound;30,000 per annum plus car, accommodation and the chance of a jet-set lifestyle for up to a year, it would seem to be an even more attractive option. Throw in the opportunity to forget the national curriculum, working hours that may just make the double figures for the week and foreign locations that make a supermodel blush, then few teachers could resist the temptations.

"Most of our tutors are teachers who fancy a change," says David Spencer.

"Many are from independent schools as they're used to a similar kind of relationship with parents. But, in the end, if they have the right of kind of skills and experiences then they will get the job."

Successful businesswoman Sue Craig had dreamt of being an English teacher, but it wasn't long after qualifying that she felt burnt out by the classroom. Her experience tutoring at the Bournemouth Learning Support Centre, a pupil-referral unit, led her to apply to Gabbitas to be a residential tutor. Since then, Sue hasn't looked back, even though the placements aren't always with rock stars. She also does supply teaching.

"I love it," she says, "as I can see the progress the students make, take the personal interest and provide the nurturing environment. But the classroom still calls me."

Likewise Andy Higgie, who finished his PGCE in 1995 but was fed up with teaching in schools after a few years. When he saw an advert for Tutors International, he applied, but didn't expect to be considered. Now, a couple of years later, he really enjoys the work-travel lifestyle of a live-in tutor.

"For me, it was just the opportunity to work one to one, with no classroom management issues and with the bonus of being able to see the student progress," he says. "The short term contracts were attractive as it was good not to feel committed to a long stay."

Yet life as a live-in tutor isn't always a glamorous affair. It can be very fraught. After all, the tutor doesn't get to go home and lives in the "school" 247.

"Living in the house can be quite intensive, a lot more than the classroom", says Andy Higgie. "The parents may be breathing down your neck for results, and you actually have to like your student as well."

Sue Craig agrees. "Parental anxiety can be hard for a tutor to overcome.

It's also easy to get almost too close to the family and their issues."

Not only that, but long hours being left to yourself, possibly in a country where you don't speak the language, can quickly seem like solitary confinement. Trying to understand whether you eat with the family, staff or by yourself can be problematic. When you're in-service, do you speak only when you're spoken to?

"People don't realise that residential tutoring is a totally different ball game from the classroom," says Simon Dweck, director of recruitment for Gabbitas Educational Consultants. "Some people, in the end, like the blurred line between employee and employer; others don't and quickly drop back into the classroom."

So, after all the pros and cons, is it actually a good move to make?

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, feels that, even though schools may see it as a helpful experience, it can be difficult getting back into the classroom without the necessary professional development. Not to mention the nitty gritty of employment conditions. "Any member should think carefully before taking up this kind of employment," she says. "A person who becomes a tutor maintains their qualified teacher status, but their legal status would depend on their contract with the family. If they retained membership, we would of course represent them if they got into difficulties"

Despite the overtones of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, residential tutoring may not only be rewarding, but also renewing. Tutors can stay with the same family for years. "It's re-ignited my interest in teaching," says Andy Higgie. "I was thinking of having a change of career but not now. I may possibly teach in a school again one day, but it's not something I'm thinking about now."

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