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27 Mar 2020

The Guardian’s Education Feature

UK school closures prompt boom in private tuition

The Guardian, Friday 27th March – David Batty

The private tuition industry is booming amid the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures and fears of infection driving unprecedented demand for online teaching.

UK tutoring firms said there had been a surge in online tuition in the past three weeks as parents anticipated and then responded to the decision to close schools indefinitely.

Meanwhile, several agencies said some wealthy families had requested tutors go into isolation with them on remote country estates or super-yachts.

Leo Evans, a co-founder of The Profs, a tuition firm that works with around 2,000 schoolchildren and 3,000 university students internationally each year, said: “There has been a hike in online tutoring related to existential concerns around the coronavirus and schools being shut.”

Evans said the number of daily users of its online classroom platform BitPaper had risen more than sixfold in two weeks, from 5,000 to 32,000 . “There were 11,000 hours of online classes on Monday, almost a fifteenfold rise from 750 hours on 2 March,” he said. “It’s absolutely exploded since the coronavirus.”

Hannah Titley, the founder of the Golden Circle, which has about 80 homeschooled and several hundred after-school students, said all lessons were now being taught online, compared with 10% a few weeks ago.

“There’s been a huge shift,” she said. “Most homeschooled students in London have transitioned to online learning this week, and those families who can are staying in the countryside. This week 16 new homeschoolers have joined. We have another 11 starting after the Easter break.”

Titley said a drop-off in demand for GCSE revision as a result of the cancellation of exams had been more than offset by demand for other tutoring. For example, private schools were continuing to assess key-stage three pupils, aged 11-14, and after Easter some schools will start A-level courses for those pupils who were due to do GCSEs this summer.

One of the Golden Circle’s clients, Claudine Ries, who lives in central London, has switched to online tutoring for her 16-year-old son who is studying for US exams.

She said: “We are trying to socially isolate by seeing fewer friends and staying away from large crowds. We switched to online tutoring mainly because we felt it would unnecessarily expose the tutors who need to travel to our house while they could be isolating themselves at home.”

Will Chambers, the founder of Bramble, an online tutoring platform, said the number of daily users rose by 687% in a week, to 1,503 on Tuesday. Many of the new users were elderly tutors concerned that homeschooling could put them at risk of infection, he said.

Adam Caller, the founder of Tutors International, which caters to rich families, said he had received several requests from clients in the past few weeks for tutors to go into isolation with them at short notice.

“We’ve seen a sudden rush, especially from Switzerland,” said Caller. “They’re looking for tutors who are willing to come and be locked in. One family has relocated from an area affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in northern Italy to St Moritz in the Swiss Alps.

“Another family, from Dubai, want to go and hide on their super-yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s paying £24,000 a month to the tutor.”

Mark MacLaine, the founder of Tutorfair, said one tutor had gone into isolation with a family in upstate New York, and another family who had flown to the Caribbean to escape the outbreak were now receiving online tuition.

MacLaine said the additional demand was a boost to Britain’s private tuition sector, worth an estimated £2bn.

He said this year could be his highest earning yet because so many families were looking for private tuition due to the uncertainty over the next academic year.

“A few of my A-level students have decided to resit their exams next year but most want to keep working,” he said. “A couple of parents said they’ll have their kids resit their GCSEs in their A-level year if they have to.”

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