Experienced teacher Jennifer Taylor, a tutor for 10 years, explains how to select the right one for your child’s education
Before embarking on your quest for the perfect tutor, look carefully at your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Review their schoolbooks to determine the areas that would benefit from a close focus, and speak to teachers – they have a familiarity with your child that provides invaluable insight for a tutor.
If you’re looking for help with 11-plus prep, make sure you know the exam style or have a couple of past papers to hand. If it’s for GCSE, take note of the exam board and syllabus. Talk to your child about tutoring so you can gauge the commitment and the attitude they’re likely to show in lessons, as well as their level of interest and confidence in the subject.
Whether using a reputable online service or personal recommendation, child safety is paramount; online tutors and undergraduates should have undergone vetting from the provider. Good online tutor services put security first, recording sessions between tutor and child, and making them available to parents and teachers. Contact details about the student and parent remain private throughout and are not visible to the tutor.
The most highly skilled, expensive tutors are usually qualified teachers with classroom practice, and some are professional examiners. Sign teacher-tutors up as early as you can before exams to avoid disappointment. Undergraduate tutors are usually a less costly alternative and may have greater availability.
Look for student tutors who study the subject you need and have impeccable GCSE and A-level grades, and check for tutoring experience too. If you’re choosing from online profiles, look for a sense of professionalism, a passion for the subject and experience with specific exam types relevant for your child.
Most tutors offer a preliminary discussion with parents and a short introductory lesson. Watch their dynamic with your child and check you feel comfortable with their presence in your home, whether in person or by video link. Allow your child to be honest. For example, if they dislike history, a good tutor will try to unpick why this is, as well as discussing learning styles your child enjoys and finds effective.
Collect some recent marked schoolwork to show the tutor and agree on goals. Avoid numerical targets such as “her maths test mark will go up 10 per cent” – lessons won’t be fun if the student feels over- pressured and frightened of failure. Increases in achievement come from confidence and clarity, so “understand how to analyse sources in more detail” is a much more constructive target.
Be aware that tutors shouldn’t assist with homework the pupil’s class teacher will be marking; scoring highly may feel good in the short term but it creates a false impression of ability that isn’t helpful. Tutors should work on skill development using activities that, over time, will enhance the student’s academic performance.
For online lessons, use the initial meeting to check your video software and internet connection is up to scratch. Sit in on the first lesson in case technical glitches arise and to see how your child responds to video tutoring. Make sure their mobile phone and other potential distractions are far from reach. Documents needed for online lessons should be sent prior to the lesson so that time isn’t wasted, so discuss systems for submitting work in the initial meeting.
Whether the lessons are online or in person, make sure cost and payment arrangements are clearly agreed before tutoring commences to avoid awkward conversations later. After the first meeting and again after the first lesson, chat to your child and trust your instincts as a parent. A good tutor- student rapport is essential – if they feel upset or frustrated, the chemistry might be wrong and you may need someone else. Tweaks in the lesson pace or level of challenge, however, can and should be discussed comfortably with the tutor, who will adapt the sessions accordingly.
As your child’s tutoring continues, expect regular updates on progress; it’s helpful if tutors leave a note of topics covered and homework set. Some tutors will happily chat to parents after each lesson but don’t be surprised if they have to dash off. It’s better to schedule time in the last 10 minutes of a lesson for longer discussions.
You should expect some disruption to lessons due to exams if your tutor is a student, or parents’ evenings if they are a teacher. Likewise, aim to give advance notice if your child will miss any lessons and discuss your plans for tutoring during school holidays.
Keep an eye on how your child is coping with the additional workload that tutoring creates after their school day and their level of enjoyment. Hopefully you’ll hear productive conversations, enquiring questions and the occasional laugh coming from their bedroom; a great tutor will become a trusted learning partner, empowering your child to achieve and increasing their confidence at home, at school and beyond.