The start of an academic year is usually a time that parents think about finding tutors for their children. How to find a tutor is a question I get asked about very often. When I left full time classroom teaching 17 years, I was teaching in an independent school and it was almost unheard of for children at the school to be tutored unless they were really struggling in a particular area. These days whether your child is in the state or independent sector, tutoring is extremely common and if you google tutoring agencies, there is a huge choice which can feel very overwhelming.
The first thing I would encourage parents to ask themselves is:
Why do you actually want or need a tutor for your child?
Some parents feel a pressure to engage a tutor just because they see other families use them and there is a concern that your child will be left behind or disadvantaged if they don’t have one. If for example your child is in a good prep school and they are at the level they should be at for their age, the school’s remit is to prepare them for selective exams to get into secondary school. There should be no need for added tutoring on top.
Despite being a teacher myself and having provided hours of private tutoring before I had kids, I engaged tutors for my own children for a range of different reasons. One of my kids really struggled with spelling so she had an intense course of support from a language specialist to teach spelling patterns, another 2 had tutoring to prepare 1 year before 11+ exams as they were in the state sector and had no preparation for this. My eldest child was in a state secondary school where he had 7 different English teachers just during the GCSE course and desperately needed support to be in with a chance of doing well in English. Thankfully it paid off!
You need your child’s buy in and to discuss why a tutor could be beneficial. Given the choice most kids would rather do their own thing than have yet another lesson outside school but if you are forcing them to attend, they are unlikely to get anything out of it.
Typical reasons for requiring a tutor are:
• Struggling in a specific subject. This could be due to ability, maturity, special education needs, poor subject teaching in school.
• Preparation for selective/competitive exams, particularly when transferring from state to independent or grammar school
• Loss of confidence
• General boost to secure best possible results in public exams
• Gifted and talented children may need to be challenged
Where to find a quality tutor?
The best way is through word of mouth but some parents may be secretive about the fact that their child has a tutor or not want to share details in case there aren’t enough slots available for their child or the next sibling. I’m being a little cynical but this is the reality!
Ask the school for recommendations or better still, maybe a teacher in school who already knows your child might be available.
Use a tutoring agency. I have had mixed experiences with these. They may have Oxbridge graduates with incredible knowledge and passion for their subject but that doesn’t mean they can teach or fully understand your child’s requirements. It’s particularly important for public exams that the tutor is familiar with the exact exam board the student is preparing for.
My preference would always be to have a tutor who has actually taught in a school.
Connection is vital
I made this mistake a few times with my eldest. Tutors had come highly recommended by friends but my child just didn’t connect with them and I continued the lessons far longer than I should have. For a child to thrive and learn they absolutely must be inspired, enjoy the lessons and connect with the teacher. I always insist on a taster lesson and ask the child for their input. The lessons should be positive, engaging and interactive. What I have found countless times with my own 4 children, is that when a teacher is good the kids are extremely motivated and willing to work and do extra homework. When they feel a teacher is not making the effort or doesn’t ‘get’ them, the kids are totally disinterested and reluctant to work.
Have regular catch ups to understand what was covered in the lesson and how your child is progressing. There should be noticeable progress within a few months.
It’s not always possible but try to ensure the lesson is at a time of day when your child is receptive. If they are absolutely exhausted after a full day at school, you could be wasting your money.
Be clear with your child and tutor about what your goals are or what you are trying to achieve through the lessons.
If your child requires a tutor for a specific exam that’s coming up and you know they need a tutor, make sure you plan in advance. Good tutors can have very long waiting lists!
In some circumstances, it’s helpful for the tutor to liaise with the school to understand where the gaps are or whether the support is having any noticeable impact.
These vary enormously depending on the area you live in, the tutor’s experience and whether or not they come directly or through an agency. Just because they charge more does not mean they are better.
Be reliable and supportive
Good tutors are in demand and don’t necessarily want to manage difficult parents or reluctant students. Make sure you don’t cancel lessons at the last minute or be unreasonably demanding. If the tutor has set homework, put systems in place to follow through with your child during the week and ensure it gets done.
Wishing your children all the very best for a successful academic year.