Supporting Role

To tutor, or not to tutor, that is the question. Georgina Blaskey investigates the pros and cons: which tutor to use, when to get started and all the other questions asked by parents as children approach key stages on their educational path.

Giving your child the opportunity to reach their full potential is a given for many parents. At a certain point in their education, your son or daughter may need extra support beyond what their school can provide, and this is when you may consider the benefits of a tutor.

However, many schools are nervous when they hear a tutor has been employed. At primary and prep school level, teachers are concerned that after a full school day a child should attempt their homework unassisted and then relax, rather than hitting the books for a couple more hours.

Moreover, schools want to assess for themselves where the pupil is really at. Katharine Woodcock, Head at Sydenham High School, says to parents at open mornings that they don’t recommend
tutoring. “It has no place in our entrance procedures,” she says. “We look at the whole  child, interviewing every girl, setting an entrance exam which reflects the curriculum of state and independent feeder schools. It is worth asking the question, ‘If I need to tutor my child to get into this school, is it really the right school for my child?”

Dina Mallett, Head of Cameron House, concurs. “It is more important for a child to gain entry to a school that is suited to their character and pace of work, where they can be happy and thrive.”

Sara Williams-Ryan, Head of Peregrines Pre-Preparatory, sees the value in tutoring if it is short-term and targeted, “to reinforce knowledge or provide additional practice,” she says. “Individual tutoring can also be very beneficial for children who are introverts or particularly shy.” Tutoring companies have to walk a very fine line. Explains Dara Hanley, Director of Exceptional Academics and Head of English: “We see the role of tutor as collaborative with both schools and parents alike in collectively helping the children in our care to firstly grow in confidence and ultimately reach their full academic potential.”

There is genuine worry that spoon-feeding a child essay plans and exam strategies leads to a lack of self-reliance. Once in the school they were aiming for at 11+, a CAT test (an aptitude test which they can’t be prepared for) may quickly indicate that they aren’t where they thought they were, which can be very damaging for self-esteem. “Intensive tutoring can be detrimental to a child’s wellbeing,” adds Woodcock. There are strategies you can use to avoid these pitfalls.

Each child will need their own plan to avoid burn-out and reach their peak at the appropriate time. When making the decision about when to tutor, Lorrae Jaderberg of tutor agency JK Educate, suggests you start with why. “Ask yourself what you want to achieve – in most cases it’s to get some sort of result.” Most tutor agencies will start with  a consultation to assess what needs to be
done and the desired outcome. “If there’s a particular school parents have in mind, we will discuss whether that child is bright enough to qualify, and whether the choice they are making is aspirational or realistic. Once we are agreed, we need to look at what might sabotage the student’s success.

For example, the home environment, the timetable, and then ensure the tutor is absolutely the right person, academically, in their teaching skills and in the chemistry between them.” Finding the right person is crucial, agrees Dara Hanley of Exceptional Academics, as the industry is unregulated. “Some are qualified teachers but many aren’t. Doing your research and choosing a tutor with the relevant experience is important.” Crucially, it’s having an experienced tutor on board who can help regulate how much work is done, and on what timeline, to not only get the best results and avoid burn-out, but also to instill a love and curiosity for education.

Tash Rosin of Teatime Tutors explains: “A tutor needs to know how to explain something in different ways to help a child understand. Graduates may seem a good option but they won’t have the relevant teaching experience – there’s a difference between keeping a child occupied and keeping a child interested.”

Good agencies will ensure their tutors have the right qualifications, experience, DBS checks and references to ensure a positive result, giving a better chance of success than choosing a tutor from the library noticeboard or an online search. As Mary Lonsdale of London Home Tutors points out, “It’s good to choose an agency because they should have access to a wide pool of qualified, checked teachers, and so can take a careful brief about the child and match their personality and learning style to a tutor.”

Usually there will be a trial lesson to check the chemistry is there. Charlotte Hyde of Hyde Tutors points out that the better the rapport between the tutor and child, the more the child will enjoy the process of learning. Hanley agrees: “Ask yourself –are they a good ft? Do they have relevant experience with the age group of your child?

Are they ethical and honest? In some cases it might be too soon for the child and I would happily suggest to parents that it might be worth reviewing and coming back to tutoring at a later stage.”

Tutoring is also a financial commitment, so while going through an agency is expensive, you may get more value for money – the best match, the best experience and, therefore, the best result; you can expect to pay upwards of £55 per hour. Many agencies also support their staff with continual training and talks to keep them up-to-date on any syllabus and exam changes, the recent GCSE changes being an example.

Honesty and trust are as key in the relationship between tutor and parent as in the relationship between tutor and tutee. The partnership between the child, tutor and parents is an important one. Showing your child just how valuable the role the tutor plays in their life is, is crucial to a good outcome. You should be consistent and committed, sticking to weekly classes to keep the motivation going.

“If you move classes around a lot or even cancel them, it shows a lack of commitment that the child picks up on,” Jaderberg  continues. “Show them you value the tutor sessions by having the books ready each week (a ‘tutor space’ on a shelf can be a good  idea), by marking their homework when required and by being organised.”

Planning ahead is key in this process. All too often parents leave it until the September term before a January set of exams such as 11+ and 13+, only to struggle to find a tutor at all, let alone one
who is a good ft. Hyde advises that the more notice you give the more options you have, and a year is the optimum time to spend preparing a child for a set of exams but,  naturally, that depends on the child. Any more than a year in advance and it could have the opposite effect.

As Lonsdale says, “As long as there are no major gaps in knowledge in respect of Maths and English, one year’s preparation should be perfect. Too long a campaign can make the child lose  motivation and put pressure on them over too long a period. Their mental health and happiness should be paramount.” Beware the last-minute rush! Rosin has found herself counselling stressed parents through the process, who in turn stress out their children by leaving it too late, causing panic and anxiety all around.

While tutors are not counsellors, they can bring a different perspective to what can be a stressful process and offer real solutions, as many agencies have in-house school consultants or know the institutions well themselves. Equipping your child for the future is as important as aiming for good exam results. Children should use a tutor to get to a certain point and then they need to learn to do it independently. Ignite the spark and let them fly.


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