Finding A Tutor
Word-of-mouth is the most effective and popular way to source good tutors especially as generally, the best tutors do not work for an agency – they don’t need to.
A good tutor, especially in English, maths or science, is a local treasure. Their name is guarded jealously by parents who, are often less than keen for other people’s children to have the advantages they are buying for their own.
How and where do you find top-notch tutors?
A lively local network and simply knowing people is the way to find out who in your area is reliable, friendly and has good results.
However, the best local tutors are usually very busy and may well have waiting lists. If you need someone who will be flexible on account of your son’s karate competitions or music lessons or the au pair’s English classes, you may well find yourself relegated to the bottom of a long waiting list. It’s also more difficult if you are out at work all day or new in an area and don’t know who to ask about good tutors. Try talking to your child’s teachers, if they are prepared to discuss your concerns. Many teachers may be happy to help a little outside school or know of other people who tutor. However, all too often, sadly, the teacher is defensive and feels you are being critical, or it is the teacher herself who is the problem and your child needs some support to overcome the deficiencies of the school provision.
Where do you go for help?
If you deal with a professional, painstaking agency which takes a pride in the tutor/tutee relationships it sets up, then you could find yourself with a choice of highly experienced, hand-picked and expert tutors, custom-built to meet your own child’s particular needs – rather than the local, all-purpose, tutor who takes on all-comers.
Around 10 per cent of tutor/tutee arrangements are made through agencies, though this percentage is probably markedly higher in London. There are more tutor companies in London than in the whole of the rest of the country put together. In London, by far the greatest concentration of tutor companies – and of tutees – is in the Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Mayfair areas and the boroughs roundabout. Consequently, hopeful new tutor agencies aiming to serve these neighbourhoods are springing up all the time. Employing a tutor from an agency has advantages and disadvantages.
You are not getting a teacher recommended to you by someone you know – a teacher your child may even have met at his friend’s house.
An experienced local tutor usually prefers the children to come to her house rather than visit yours for lessons. They will have stacks of material at home and may well refuse to come out.
On the other hand, if you deal with an agency-based tutor they will probably expect to send their tutor to you.
Around 90 per cent of tutors recommended by agencies teach in the homes of their tutees or on the agency’s own premises.
The best agencies take immense care over fitting as accurately as possible the tutor to the tutee. These agencies will select carefully, interview, vet and train their tutors and do careful follow-ups to make sure everyone is happy. At the other end of the spectrum there are agencies who are really merely website databases – anyone can say he is ‘a tutor’ and advertise on their site. There are no interviews, checks, follow-ups.
A* for e-tuition?
Ask whatever you like from the comfort of your own PC or phone – you can get, in some cases, instant answers. A bit like keeping your tutor in a drawer and taking him out whenever you need him to explain something.
A recent innovation is online and telephone tuition offered by companies, principally based in India, who coach one-to-one according to each student’s individual needs. There are now a number of these companies and take-up is growing, especially in America. Clearly there are benefits including, in some cases, instant answers. However, if the UK tutor industry is unregulated, there are even fewer checks you can make on these companies and on whoever is assigned to you.
There can be no guarantee they are familiar with UK syllabuses or methods of teaching, that their qualifications are sound and that the claims they make are verifiable.
There are other downsides – some of the companies work US time and you can only access them after 3.00pm; some students find the Indian English hard to understand. However, the instant availability of competent exponents of maths and science might be a real boon to a struggling pupil whose school is failing to fill posts in these key areas and it may well be that this industry takes off here as in the States. (One is tempted to wonder why recruitment of these teachers – as with African nurses in the past isn’t actively pursued by the government.)
The best of the UK database agencies – those which act like newsagents’ advertising boards – have their place. Generally, the arrangements made between parent and tutor will be cheaper than those provided by more personal agencies.
The parent can interview or chat to as many potential tutors as they like before agreeing to start tutoring.
Database agencies often list tutors all over the country whereas most of the elite agencies, while often having access to tutors outside their core area, do tend to specialise in one part of the country – usually the south-east! However, there is likely to be little support from database agencies if things go wrong. Such companies take little or no responsibility for the tutors they list and will not have undertaken, for example, the police checks that all the reputable, more complex, agencies now do routinely. The risk, therefore – but also the potential success – inherent in this kind of tutor/tutee relationship is down to the parent.
There is a large number of website-only agencies and one can spend many hours searching, trawling and selecting.
There are other, quite respectable tutor companies which offer more than the website agencies but very considerably less than the more superior operations.
We list three below which seem to us to offer a sound and responsible service but which do not pretend to offer the close and personal attention offered by the blue chip operations, all of which are in central London. This is not to say that other agencies not listed here don’t offer a decent service – and, in fact, we have heard praise of several – but we would advise parents to take considerable care if choosing a tutor from a website-only agency and to check references very carefully before making an arrangement.
A quick surf through websites calling themselves tutor agencies is salutary.
Overt child molesters advertise on the un-moderated websites. No regulation or inspection of these websites exists. Caveat emptor!
A cautionary note
Remember you are letting someone into your home and leaving them alone with your child and, in an unregulated industry, anyone can call himself a tutor.
We consider that a case could be made for regulating and accrediting tutor agencies. It would be impossible to appraise and accredit everyone who tutors, but agencies who provide tutors who come into your home and work alone with your child – perhaps.
Especially those, usually perfectly reputable, agencies who do not necessarily ever meet the tutors they recommend – could be subject to inspection and regulation. That would give at least some security to the clients who, otherwise, have to take all they are told on trust. It would also be welcomed by the respectable agencies. Agencies can be registered with the Criminal Records Bureau but that is the sole safeguard around at present. We would be interested in your views on this and to hear of any experiences you have with tutor agencies.
A note on London
In central London at least, tutoring is reaching epidemic proportions. There are now relatively few children in the central and west London boroughs – particularly those at fee-paying schools! - who have not been individually coached at some point.
We heard of a recent incident which illustrates this epidemic. A young tutor called Yasmin, of Iranian descent and with a Cambridge degree in the politics of that part of the world, arrived at the house of a new tutee – or so she thought. Unfortunately, she had mistaken the address and went to the house next door to the one at which she was expected. However, on being admitted, she introduced herself and was let in by a maid obviously quite used to tutors coming in and out and was led into an huge dining room (parents nowhere to be seen).
An expectant nine year old was found and marched in for the unscheduled tutorial.
Twenty minutes into her potted history of Iranian politics since 1954, the boy had not whimpered a complaint, but Yasmin had figured the address was wrong and made her excuses and left. We do rather wonder what the nine year old made of his lesson and quite what he was expecting to be tutored in on that occasion. We also question the culture, especially in those already paying for expensive schooling, that demands so much extra hothousing.
A Note on ‘Vetting’ and ‘Checks’
Tutor Agencies - Section A: Tutorial agencies that know their tutors personally. They meet and interview them and keep in close contact. All the agencies in this section have been visited and reviewed by The Good Schools Guide.
Tutorial Agencies - Section B: Agencies which meticulously check the credentials of their tutors but do not offer the face-to-face service of those in Section A. The Good Schools Guide has visited and undertaken extensive consultations with these agencies.
Tutorial Agencies - Section C: Agencies recommended to us by satisfied customers. We have not visited these agencies.
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