In the wake of COVID 19 school closures and disruptions, many parents have found themselves asking if their child would benefit from a private tutor. There are arguments for and against this and we're not going to go into those here (we offer tutoring services ourself so it hardly seems impartial!). Instead, we'll list the five things you should look for in a private tutor to help you make an informed decision. If after that, you decide to give us a try, well you know how to contact us!
1) What does my child need?
Some needs are very specific. If you feel your child is falling behind because of dyslexia-related issues, or if there is a definite learning need (related to behaviour or mental health) then a well-meaning A. Level maths student probably won't serve your needs. These children need specialist help. There are qualifications out there (Certified Dyslexia Awareness, Child Psychology etc.) to match those specific needs. Often they are more expensive because they are specialised and people have spent significant amounts of time earning the qualifications.
If you child just needs a bit of catch-up on their grammar or times tables then maybe give the A. Level student a try.
2) What do I want for my child?
In our experience, people hire private tutors for one of two main reasons: to pass an admissions test; to increase confidence. If you want a tutor for the former, then make sure the tutor knows about the admissions tests. Check to see if they know about the schools you are interested in. Do those schools use the ISEB tests or do they make their own in-house exams? Make sure that they are not going to train you child for a test they might not have to take. For example, some independent schools require a Non-Verbal reasoning exam, others don't).
If you're looking to build confidence in a child then you will need to make sure that the tutor understands the difference. There is no point spending money on a tutor who is going to push your child too hard. That won't build confidence and may simply cause more emotional damage.
3) Can you get a refund?
Some tutoring companies operate on a subscription model; some week-to-week, some will insist on termly payments. We're not here to say which is better. What we will say is that you should check the refund policy. This is particularly important if the tutor expects a monthly or termly booking. Again, we're not here to judge but if the tutor expects you to pay up-front and offers nothing in the way of potential refunds then it might suggest that they are not that confident in their teaching (i.e. they should have a refund policy because they are confident they will never need to use it!).
To be clear, a situation that might justify a refund is if there is a clash of personalities, or if someone's teaching style doesn't work for your child. Which brings us on to number 4...
4) What are the Terms and Conditions?
Most tutoring companies will have fairly standard terms and conditions. They should include information on how to cancel or re-schedule a session; what the price includes; and will probably mention that they cannot guarantee any improvements in your child's academic progress. This might sound strange but it's pretty fair. Most tutors will acknowledge that, while they will do everything they can to help your child achieve their potential, on the day it is up to the child and there are many things that can affect performance (the official term for this is construct irrelevant variance). If a company or private tutor guarantees you 100% success, you might want to check their references and their methods!
If a tutor doesn't have any terms and conditions don't be fooled into thinking this is a benefit. While this means that you are under no obligation to them (with regards to payment schedules, cancellations etc.), it also means that they have no obligation to you. You might find yourself needing a refund but not able to get one.
5) How are the sessions conducted?
You're paying your money; you should be allowed to see what goes on. If the tutor is adamant that the sessions remain entirely between the child and the tutor, I would ask why. There might be a very good reason (we have heard stories of parents who keep answering for their child; parents who question the teaching; even parents who shout at their child for not knowing some answers) but you are certainly entitled know what it is. If you still want to stay then you should be able to; if you're told that it won't be possible, find someone else.
On a similar line, if you want to stay to learn how the tutor is helping your child, with the aim of replicating this at home for yourself, you should absolutely be allowed to. Good tutors, tutors who have been professionally trained as teachers, will have spent years learning how to teach and developing their teaching style to make the education easily accessible. With the greatest will in the world, most parents have not. What I'm saying is, your enthusiasm to help your child should not be a threat to the tutor's professionalism. If it seems like it is, find someone else.
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