One advantage of belonging to an association of business-owning professional tutors (the APTC) is the opportunity of visiting centres in different parts of the country and exploring different ways of successfully delivering tuition.
I recently headed to Leeds in order to visit the headquarters of Lextra – which is pioneering a two-prong approach to tuition – both traditional face-to-face tuition for students living within the geographical catchment, and a systematic online tuition service for the wider population.
Online teaching is no longer new – and was of course frequently in the news during the lockdown periods of 2020 and 2021. Some of the publicity was positive, such as that it enabled continuity of lessons while schools were largely closed, but some also focused on limitations: for example, was the learner in the online class really engaging, paying attention, being inspired, doing the work and enjoying the subject?
Online tutoring – as opposed to classes – offers more flexibility and more social interaction, as one-to-one vis-a-vis one-to-20 (say) always will. Many of our traditional tuition centres adapted to lockdown by providing tutoring online – but all found it challenging to advance from individual tuition to small group tuition in this mode, and some have decided to revert completely to the in-centre face-to-face method that had worked before.
There were issues of increased workload and control. If online tuition was to be scaled up, centres would need to equip themselves with robust systems beyond basic hardware and software: on the administrative side, systems for managing registrations, payments, attendance, deployment of staff etc. – and on the teaching side, structures for the control of quality in the delivery of lessons. Assuming that business owners would not be willing or able to lower their fees, and that parents would demand from online tuition the same level of excellence as from face-to-face tuition, considerable ingenuity and innovation would be needed to make small-group online tuition work effectively.
It was the ingenuity and innovation that I was aware that Lextra was bringing to these challenges that motivated me to contact Jonah and invite myself to Leeds. I spent an eye-opening Saturday morning with him and his senior team, looking not so much at centre layout or ongoing teaching, as the mechanisms and materials they are developing month by month with the aim of making Lextra eventually a larger player in the tuition marketplace than the traditional local centre can ever be.
So I return to Canterbury – my rural branch-line of the tuition network – with an adjusted outlook. Not so much carrying a list of sharply-defined changes to make over the months ahead in order to stay competitive – more the sense of a beginning of a transition in group-tuition possibilities – the ‘blended learning’ idea of recent years fast becoming a sophisticated and integrated product.
These are early days for Lextra and many challenges lie ahead – not least the tough economic environment that confronts us all. But the belief, experience and togetherness of the team that I was introduced to, should carry them a long way forward. The Association is fortunate to have Lextra as a member.