Of all the questions we get asked, ‘how (or where) do I find a tutor’ is possibly the most common.
As a membership organisation representing the interests of ALL our members, we hope that parents will understand why we are not able to recommend any one of our members over another (we’d have a riot on our hands), but here are a few principles and suggestions that we hope will help.
This page addresses the following questions:
Is hiring a tutor a good idea in the first place? What do you have to consider when it comes to choosing a tutor and how do you find one?
And finally, what should you expect of your chosen tutor when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the engagement?
Is hiring a tutor a good idea in the first place?
The most common picture of a tutor presented in the media is of some kind of hired gun who will force-feed your child what he or she needs to know in order to pass some sort of test or exam. Whilst this type of tutoring may exist, it is neither the best reason for hiring a tutor, nor will you get the most out of either the tutor or your child if this is the sole basis for the exercise.
Be honest about your motivation. Hiring a tutor just because someone else you know is getting a tutor for their child is not a good reason for doing it. What is right for them is not automatically right for you – or, more importantly your child. Hiring a tutor for a child who neither needs nor wants it can even be counter-productive.
You also should consider the time commitment involved for you as well as your child. Hiring a tutor is not the end of the matter, it is just the start; you need to be prepared to engage with the tutor to monitor the progress your child is making, and make time to listen to feedback from the tutor.
What a tutor can provide is 1-to-1 attention and focus that goes far beyond what even the finest school with the smallest class sizes can physically manage within the time constraints of the teaching day. This means that a tutor can tailor the content, the presentation method and the speed of the sessions to the individual needs of the child. You may also want to consider whether online rather than face-to-face tuition is an option.
What a good tutor will also do is to provide the child with learning skills that are fully transferable to other topics and other subjects. The passing of a test or an exam is a short-term manifestation of how successfully this has been achieved, but it is not the ultimate goal of a good tuition process. The benefits of hiring a tutor with this attitude and approach is that your child will grow in confidence as well as ability. The relationship that a good tutor has with their tutee also puts them in a great - and privileged – position to see if the child is displaying any symptoms of mental stress or has unsuspected special needs. Above all a good tutor will inspire and motivate as much as teach.
Which brings us onto the question of whether having a teaching background is any guide to whether or not someone is a good tutor. There are, of course, many positive aspects of having gone through the formal training that ends up with the award of a PGCE. But the things that make a good teacher and a good tutor are, at root, the personal attributes of being passionate about your subject; being able to communicate that passion effectively – and actually liking working with children. If you have these skills, then you will be a good teacher or tutor (and many teachers are, of course, both anyway). Having undergone formal training may make you a better teacher – but it won’t make you an effective teacher in the first place. And a tutor without these basic skills will not survive long in the profession.
So, assuming you’ve decided a tutor is a good idea, what other considerations are there?
In today’s world, you need to be as sure as possible that you are minimising any risk to your child. There is no legal requirement for a tutor even to have passed a DBS check, let alone be signed up to any sort of code of conduct…
…unless, that is, you choose a tutor who is a member of The Tutors’ Association (TTA). This professional membership body was set up in 2013, partly to address this very issue. A member of TTA has to have passed a DBS check, and have it verified every three years. They have to sign up to a professional code of conduct and to TTA’s Child Protection Policy. They also have to provide references. If you’ve found a tutor through a tutoring agency, check that the agency is a corporate member of TTA. Its own terms and conditions relating to tutors should mirror or exceed those of TTA. You can check whether a tutor or agency is a registered member by contacting TTA.
How do you find a tutor?
Word of mouth
Don’t underestimate word-of-mouth as an effective way to find a tutor.
The school gate, local activity groups, your local community centre or church – anywhere where people with children of your age meet and talk - are great sources of information and recommendation.
The biggest comfort factor of personal recommendation is that it is based on the actual experience of other, local, parents like you with children at the same stage as yours, rather than a set of paper qualifications and testimonials from people you don’t actually know however promising they may look (and, indeed, be).
Most tutor agencies have been set up specifically to solve the problem of where to find a good selection of potential tutors for your child. The best ones will have a range of highly experienced tutors specialising in the subject, and level, that you are looking for.
It is estimated that some 10 per cent of tutor/tutee arrangements are made through agencies, although this percentage is higher in major towns and cities.
The advantage of using an agency is that the tutors will (or should) have been vetted and interviewed by people whose whole business is in the provision of tuition, and some agencies also provide tutor training. You will often have a choice of tutor, so can pick the one you feel most confident with.
We heartily endorse any tutoring agency that is a member of TTA as they will have signed up to our code of conduct and our child protection policy as well as performing their own vetting and approval procedures.
Depending on the attitude of the school – and sometimes the individual teacher - schools can be a good source of recommendation. At TTA we try to encourage schools to see tuition as an added resource that allows for 1-to-1 learning, rather than being in competition with – or worse as some sort of criticism of – school teaching. Your child’s school may or may not share this approach – but it’s worth asking.
Google ‘find a tutor’ (or something similar) and you face a barrage of tutoring agency websites. This is not very helpful. Sites that are worth a look include The Good School Guide, which has a review of some forty agencies most of which they have visited and assessed, and The School Guide which has a useful selection of tutoring organisations.
What should you expect of your chosen tutor when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the engagement?
First, you should expect the tutor to agree the objectives and goals of the assignment with you. Make sure these goals are clear and that you both agree on the measures of success; but don’t expect the tutor to guarantee unconditional success. No-one can do that – and if that is offered, you should probably be looking at finding someone else. Knowing the material, having the resources and being up-to-date with the syllabus are givens. As is arriving on time.
You should expect regular feedback. What progress is being made? Is the child happy and enjoying the lessons? Are there any issues? This feedback may be a mix of written and verbal reports. Agree this with the tutor. You should also expect and encourage this feedback to be completely honest. Occasionally, after a few sessions, a tutor may feel that they are not the best person to meet your child’s needs. It happens – and it is rarely a reflection of either the tutor’s competence or the child’s ability. Stopping and restarting may feel like a pain – but if it is in your child’s best interest that is all that really matters.
You should expect to see a growing rapport between your child and the tutor. The process of learning is not automatically instant and can sometimes be challenging; you should see the tutor instilling self-belief, building confidence and reassuring your child that it is ok to make mistakes and to learn from them. You need to adopt the same attitude too. You and your tutor should feel part of a team supporting your child, willing them towards success.
Finally, when the tuition goals have been met, tuition should come to an end. Tuition should not become a crutch; a tutor’s best goal is to make themselves redundant having passed on all that they can, leaving behind a confident child with new, lifelong, portable learning skills.