The New Downstairs: Tutors
Private tutoring can expose you to a very privileged life, but, as Emma Jacobs reports, the role of the tutor remains fraught with ambiguity.
Filmed by Steve Ager, Nicola Stansfield, Petros Gioumpasis. Additional material: Getty. Graphics and animations by Russell Birkett. Edited by Nick Swinglehurst and Seb Morton-Clark. Produced by Nalini Sivathasan and Seb Morton-Clark.
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The costume drama Downton Abbey showed a time when the English elite could afford hordes of staff. Upstairs were the Crawley family, and downstairs, cooks, butlers, and scullery maids. The show told a familiar story of the decline of such professions in the wake of the first World War, or so we thought.
In my job at the Financial Times, I occasionally get a glimpse into the working lives of the global elite. And I kept coming across domestic staff in those familiar, yet now somewhat altered, roles. House managers dealing with globetrotting families, Michelin chefs cooking up five-star meals or baked beans. And 1,000-pound-an-hour tutors helping four-year-olds get a leg up in life.
I wanted to know how those traditional roles had shifted. What are the demands of people using these services today? And what is the relationship between them and their staff?
Tutors are a hot issue. The wealthy have been known to pay hundreds, even thousands of pounds for a super tutor to coach their children through exams or get them into the top schools and universities. And the sums can go far higher if the tutor is residential.
People that I have dated are very interested in the international man of mystery.
My private yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean--
You're only like a long lost relative.
To some extent, this kind of teaching is a job that Charlotte Bronte's literary creation Jane Eyre would have recognised. This 1934 production highlighted the requisite, wide-ranging talents of the governess.
French, German, drawing, music? You're quite accomplished, aren't you?
Jane Eyre's job was to tutor a French child in English language and culture.
How do you do, Adele?
It meant moving to Thornfield Hall, a grand house in the countryside, and working for the wealthy. A modern-day counterpart of Jane Eyre's is Gillian Harker. Tutors like her stay with families or in nearby paid-for accommodation. She recently completed her first residential job teaching two young Turkish girls. The world she entered was not one she was accustomed to.
I got to go jet skiing in the mornings. And I'm swimming in the ocean and doing amazing things. A few of the days I was tutoring the girls in my private yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean. So I'm just there like, is this really a job?
Gillian's experience is not unusual. The wealthy may want to hire a full-time tutor to educate their children as they travel the world. Such services are similar to the traditional governess role. They can be paid up 70,000 pounds a year.
Tutors might also be needed in lieu of school if the child has been expelled or going through a difficult time or if they're relocating to a different country due to their parents' jobs. They may need an intensive introduction to the local curriculum. Tutoring agencies like Oxford-based, Tutors International, match tutors with children and their family. The company has found tutors for children as young as two.
For a two-year-old, there may be some nanny responsibilities. But a tutor can do that as well, but can be forever thinking about which words a child can manage, which sounds they're able to master, which words they can be next brought onto, how their sentences are constructed. And if that's happening in multiple languages, not slowing down their language development--
For Adam's clients, most of whom are self-made, there's no limit to what they'll spend on their children's education. We have multiple families who have set up science labs at home. So if a homeschooling role is to incorporate all of the major school subjects, then sciences have to be taught. And the best way to teach science isn't for a textbook. It's from doing science. And so if, effectively, you have unlimited resources, building a science lab is not actually a terribly expensive process.
One of Adam's tutors is Nathaniel Hannan. The 36-year-old has a philosophy and theology master's from Oxford University and has been working as a residential tutor for about 10 years, despite considering a career in the priesthood. As his picture library can attest, his work takes him around the world.
I just finished the home education of a young lady who is now headed to university. So a typical day with her would simply be meeting at 9:00, studying through noon, having lunch, whether in or out, coming back, studying until 4:00, and then calling it a day.
And at that point, either we would go our separate ways, or we would go on a hike together, or we would head into the city for a museum trip or something like that. But on the other hand, because these families are the kind of families that they are, that kind of typical day structure is very often disrupted.
The tutoring market is sophisticated. While part is focused on the specialised residential work that Nathaniel does, a large majority of tutors are hired part-time by the hour to help children who are in school prepare for specific exams or general top-up learning.
Maya has been teaching five-year-old Bella maths and English for the past five months. Bella attends a private school in southwest London and has tuition every Monday evening. She's one of five students that Maya teaches every week alongside her full-time job at an NGO.
I have to understand my pupil inside and out, their characters, their personalities, what motivates them, what inspires them. I need to really, fully understand my pupil. And my lessons, I don't create generic lessons. I create super tailored lessons for every individual people.
There's a special game that we play. And there's cards that have numbers on. And then, she says like 4 plus 4. And then, the card with 8 on, I have to pick up and give it to her.
Bella's mum, who pays Maya 80 pounds an hour, has been thrilled by her daughter's progress. She says she hired a tutor to boost Bella's confidence.
Back to the classroom and love it.
Tutors and tutoring agencies are keen to point out that being a brilliant teacher doesn't necessarily make your natural tutor.
Good teachers a generally at school. Good tutors are available for two or three years often. it's a period in their life where they've finished university, before they perhaps go to the city, or to become a doctor, or whatever it is they're passionate about doing.
Today, tutors are likely to have a minimum of a degree, but could have a master's or even a PhD. Generally speaking, teaching qualifications still aren't a prerequisite. Nathaniel McCullagh, director of Simply Learning Tuition, says tutors have different skills and abilities to teachers.
They're highly driven, they're highly intelligent-- what they're not so good at, perhaps because they never tried, is class control, bureaucracy, working in a school.
In the leafy suburbs of southwest London, there's one tutor who can demand sums more associated with rock stars than teachers. Mark Maclaine has been dubbed a super tutor because his services are so sought after and has been paid as much as 1,000 pounds an hour. He started off as a residential tutor and does the occasional stint today, as well as tutoring schoolchildren and helping to run a tutoring agency. He says that the demands on tutors can be intense.
They've hired you to come, even if they don't know consciously, they'd like you to fulfil that role 24 hours a day. And so that can be really intensive. You are very much in each other's shoes the whole time.
It can be very confusing trying to figure out your place in the household.
A lot of tutor friends of mine refer to it as being sort of like a long lost relative. Essentially, they're very polite with you and things, but also you're sort of included in a lot of the family activities.
Why didn't you dress up?
Because I didn't intend to appear as anything but what I am, the governess.
The bottom line is you can never relax. One evening, you're sitting at the table with them and their guests, in some cases, with Nobel Prize winners drinking fantastic wine. The next day, you're at a different house, you're sitting on a little table with four children, and you can see the parents drinking Krug next door to you. And you do start feeling a bit lonely, especially after six months.
And if the loneliness doesn't get to you, perhaps the families will.
I found myself on this wonderful island that is essentially paradise where the mother and father of this family are arguing with each other and using me as a sort of a weapon. It's hell. And it's very hard to get out of. Eventually, I finally said to the family, I'm going to buy my own flight home. I just had to go.
There can be problems with the children too, ranging from bratty to even violent kids. Nathaniel Hannan says that a child once even pulled a gun on him. But despite that, he says it's the family's demand for privacy and discretion, which can cause the greatest trouble.
People that I have dated are very interested in the international man of mystery. We might date for a year or two and then the question always rises, well, Nathaniel, when are we going to settle down? And the answer is and will always be we are not. And you knew that when you signed up.
So it's very likely that I will probably not have a long term relationship. But I'm at peace with that too. I mean, remember, this is this is the man who thought he was going to be a priest.
For homeschool pupils, a full-time tutor can provide an alternative bespoke education tailored to the particular lives of its pupils. For their tutors, it can be an opportunity to experience a world far removed from their own along with all the ambiguities that come with such a privileged position.