Carnegie Mellon University recommends my blog post

Press article
It’s great when your work gets noticed. A while back I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Tips for tutors: 12 teaching strategies for effective learning‘ which has turned out to be quite popular on the internet, and highly ranked on Google.

Tips for tutors

It was with some surprise and delight that I recently found that the article has been added to a list of recommended resources by Carnegie Mellon University – Leonard Gelfrand Centre.

Carnegie Mellon



Good that my blog posts are being read, and even better if they can be of practical help to students.

Educational Reforms and BBC Radio Bristol

Well the new School year has started. Kids the length and breadth of the country take a deep intake of breath, pull on the school uniform and head back to School.

This year is different though. Love him or hate him, Michael Gove’s reforms are making an impact. From free school breakfasts (okay a Clegg initiative) through to tougher marking for GCSE and A levels, he has definitely left his mark.

Last week, I was asked by BBC Radio Bristol to take part in a discussion involving educationalists and head-teachers about whether these reforms were on the whole good or bad, and the growing role of tutoring in education. I was not there to blow the trumpet about Tutorhub, but to provide insight from the perspective of The Tutors Association.

You can listen to the discussion by clicking on the bar below.


Mentioned in the FT

I was excited to be quoted in an article in today’s Financial Times entitled ‘Home school tutoring turns mainstream’.

Tutorhub in the FT

The article focuses on the use of Pupil Premium monies made available by the Government to Schools to improve the performance of children from less privileged backgrounds. Government funding for the Pupil Premium is now £900 per pupil for the year 2013-14, at a cost of £2.5bn. So what are the qualification criteria for the Pupil Premium? It covers those who have benefitted from Free School Meals (a population size of 1.6m) sometime in the last 6 years, those in care for over 6 months and the children of service personnel.

I was asked my opinion by Dorothy Lepkowska for my thoughts on the use of the Pupil Premium and whether we at Tutorhub had been asked by schools to provide online tutoring services direct to schools. It may come as no surprise that children from these backgrounds tend not to do so well at school. Comparing GCSE (A* to C, 2011-12) results of this group to the average, shows 42% passing versus 67%, an ‘attainment gap’ or shortfall of 25%. Lower levels of educational attainment are linked to low aspirations and future prospects.

In my opinion, a clear focus on this group is important, if we are to see higher levels of attainment across the board and in those schools which traditionally struggle to get children through their education with decent grades.

A controversial study by the Sutton Trust reported that most studies have consistently found that Teaching Assistants have a very small or no effects on attainment. Given this finding, it is somewhat surprising that schools continue to use money in this way. The picture for one to one tuition is different. The Sutton Trust also say that “pupils might improve by about 4 or 5 months during the programme”. Why isn’t this money being focused on providing hands on one to one tutoring help for disadvantaged pupils – £900 per pupil will still go along way.

Tutorhub in the FT

I see private tutoring as a way of levelling the playing field between those that have some money and those who have next to none. It seems like a ‘no brainer’ to me that Pupil Premium cash should be focused on where it will achieve the maximum benefit – private tutoring. For more on this see my article in the Tutorhub blog

Online tutoring in the UK: the current state of play

As some of my readers already know, I am the co-founder of Tutorhub, the specialist online tutoring website based in Bristol, UK.

I last posted back in September 2011, about the emerging web businesses starting to focus on the online tutoring market in the UK. Back then there were a few businesses: Home Tutoring Online, Brightspark, Dizeo, Maths Doctor, Exam Fox, Live Tutor and Meteor Online Learning. So in the intervening period, what has changed?

Well quite alot actually. We have some new entrants:

  1. Itutormaths, part of Nelson Thornes (along with Bond 11+), specialising in maths and focusing on group learning online
  2. Mytutor, part of AQA, focusing on maths and english
  3. Tute, which is offering homework help and online tutoring

There have been a number of changes. Exiting from the market are Brightspark, Home Tutoring Online, Dizeo and MyTutor. Whilst Exam Fox are now the Tutor Crowd.

We at Tutorhub have been working hard at working out what customers want and how best to achieve product : market fit. The obvious question, is has anyone else ‘nailed’ the customer proposition, to which the honest answer I think is ‘no’ – this is a classic ‘new product in a new market’.

There are three things that I believe we all have to get over.

1. There is a perception amongst some customers that online tutoring ‘must be’ in some way inferior to traditional face to face tutoring. We have conducted extensive research that demonstrates that this is every bit as effective. We will be expanding on this in due course.

2. The online tutoring technology isn’t particularly appealing to students or tutors, based on generic meeting based third party platforms. There are no compelling product delivery platforms out there at the moment in my opinion, which is why we will be launching a new online tutoring platform soon.

3. Pricing is a barrier. People expect online tutoring to be cheaper than regular face to face tutoring. The Tutorhub platform shows a hourly price range not that dissimilar to face to face tutoring. This does not create a compelling reason to swap from a face to face to an online tutor. Tute’s £5 for 45 minutes online tutoring, is a move in the right direction I think.

So what do I see the next 12 months bringing? I think four things:

  1. This is currently an embryonic market place, and I expect to see increased interest and take up. We are further away from a tipping point than I might like, but things are moving in the right direction
  2. New business models, clearly focusing on customer needs and expectations – what currently flies in the UK will be different to that which is working in India or the US. Once the offer is proven in the UK, then it can be rolled out internationally
  3. Differentiation based on delivering superior levels of customer service
  4. More new entrants and more exits

This is an interesting market, which I think will develop and grow. I think that we at Tutorhub have the plan to deliver the most compelling customer offer – watch this space.

Online tutoring UK: new entrants

Before I launch into my latest research into UK based online tutoring businesses, I should declare that I am a co-founder of the UK based start-up Tutorhub.

I blogged eight months ago, back in December 2010 about UK based online tutoring websites and the embryonic nature of the online tutoring marketplace. Since then we have seen three new businesses enter the market:

  1. MyTutor, which is interesting as it is owned by AQA exam board
  2. Itutormaths, owned by the educational publisher Nelson Thornes
  3. Tutorme, of which I must admit to knowing very little
It is interesting that two of these businesses are part of publishing businesses. I can see the logic in branching out into online tutoring, as an additional line of business cross-sold from their existing educational content.
I suspect that many more corporates will enter the market in the next year. The more businesses the better, as much more needs to be done to explain the concept of online tutoring to UK parents.The good thing about growing markets is that there is room for new entrants. The key to success will be getting the offer and business model right.
I hope that you found this post interesting, and I am happy to open up this blog to anyone interested in this subject.
Addendum: By December 2013,  both mytutor and itutormaths had ceased trading.
About Tutorhub:

For those of you that don’t know, Tutorhub is a new online tutoring service that makes it quicker and easier to find and access UK based, CRB / DBS checked tutors, whatever the subject. Tutoring takes place online, only as and when it’s needed and is backed by best practice child safety features. Designed for the Facebook generation, Tutorhub includes an open Q&A feature and archive of previously asked questions. 

Educational inequality

I am repeating my post on the Tutorhub website here, as I think it bears further exposure – maybe some of you will be as annoyed by it as me, who knows….

Students from high attaining comprehensive schools are far less likely to attend top universities than those from independent schools. So say the Sutton Trust in their report ‘Degree of Success’.

Just focusing on Oxbridge entrants, they found that:

“2,000 schools and colleges had two or fewer Oxbridge entrants over the three years… just under two thirds of all schools and colleges, and accounted for 5.6% of Oxbridge admissions over the three years. The total number of Oxbridge entrants from these 2,000 schools and colleges over the three years is less than the number from 4 schools and one college who produced 946 Oxbridge entrants over the period.”

What proportion of these applications are accepted?

“5.2% of independent school pupils were accepted by Oxford and Cambridge, compared with 0.8% of pupils in non selective state schools, and 4.2% in selective state schools.”

Sutton Trust conclude that “independent school pupils are nearly seven times as likely as pupils in comprehensive schools to be accepted into Oxbridge.”

The Times Educational Supplement commenting on wider university acceptance rates included in the report saythere is something terribly wrong when a comprehensive school with the same scores as a local independent sends 17% of it’s pupils to top universities compared to 66% sent by its neighbour.”

But what do we as a nation do to correct this? Surely bright children from poor backgrounds should be given the same chance as kids from more affluent backgrounds? Can we expect much to change anytime soon? My belief is that increasing tuition fees will only serve to reduce state school applications still further, and that without proactive selection procedures at Oxbridge, nothing is likely to change.


Raising expectations and aspirations

Jamila Uddin screamed “I played ping pong with Barack Obama! I can’t believe it!”. Ayo Osisami yelled back “He winked at me!”. His visit to the Globe Academy in South London, with David Cameron really went down well.

Apart from an hour out of the school day, what did his visit bring to the kids at Globe Academy? As a kid from, shall we say, a ‘more challenging’ inner-city comprehensive school, I believe that meeting people that have done something and achieved in their lives is really important. Getting a new perspective, seeing that they are really no different from you, helps raise aspirations and set a new outlook on life.

Did it really have that big an impact on these kids, well it’s over to Tanvir Khan who said “It was the highlight of my life”. Those wanting Barak to visit their school, should form an orderly queue.

Wonder what the kids would have said about their views on the visit of David Cameron – maybe these weren’t printable 😉