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How to: make sure you're not ripped off by tutors

Charlotte Phillips | January 2018

There’s a reason new tutor firms have sprung up like wildfire, and – spoiler alert – they may not all be driven by idealism.

Sure, some people (and in our biased view, very often the best) who go into tutoring either had a rocky ride with the school system themselves (it’s surprising how many are dyslexic) or are natural teachers who started helping out their friends at primary school and never looked back.

TutorOthers, however, may have different motives. Well-connected young things with no teaching experience who suddenly decide to open a bijou tutor agency in an affluent area might, it’s true, be overwhelmed by a sudden need to make the world a better (educated) place. There again, they might prioritise other things - like nurturing a bonny, bouncing bank balance over your child’s educational needs. Read our pointers to working out which is which. 

Does your child really need a tutor?

Tutors are often brilliant at plugging specific gaps – where, for example, a child has missed a lot of school because of illness or relocation, is preparing for a vital exam, or needs a maths, science or history top up when a topic didn’t quite stick first time round. But tutors aren’t always necessary and the best in show won’t hesitate to tell you so. ‘Some tutor agencies are really upfront about this – it’s so refreshing,’ one parent told us.

It costs HOW much? Paying a fair price…

Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder when it comes to value for money. And if ‘reassuringly expensive, no matter what’ is the mantra that works for you, skip this bit. It’s true that super specialist tutors in niche branches of STEM subjects, for example, may charge a small fortune that reflects their area’s rarity value and their depth of learning (well, wouldn’t you?). However, we have encountered a trend for tutors to base their charges on whatever they think the market will bear (and in London and the South East, where competition for school places is fiercest, that’s a lot).

…And knowing when you aren’t

Our advice? Get to know the tutor firm before committing yourself. There’s nothing wrong with the profit motive (we’re quite keen on it ourselves) but if all you see in a tutor’s eyes are revolving pound signs, best look elsewhere. And don’t dismiss online tutoring when you do. Skype-powered sessions can provide excellent value for money, as well as being hugely popular with children and tutors (though parents – even the technophile ones - can be surprisingly fuddy duddy about the whole thing).

Do go with your gut feeling

First impressions count for a lot. The tutor firm’s carpet may be so deep that you could row across it to the reception desk but if you’re treated like a nuisance when you get there, move on swiftly. When you’re about to entrust them with the most precious thing in your life, a lack of civility doesn’t bode well for the relationship.

Do sweat the small stuff

Even if you’ve snapped up the best GCSE maths or science tutor in the area, save cracking open a celebratory bottle until you’ve read the small print. How are safety checks are carried out (child protection is crucial - and non negotiable)? Are travel costs extra? How does feedback work – yours and theirs? Do you want a quick chat at the end of each tutorial or formal written feedback? And if you’re asked to pay for a block of lessons upfront, be clear about your right to call the whole thing off if a tutor turns up late, is underprepared or several GCSEs short of the best version of themselves (plonking tutees in front of a computer while they answer emails or deal with the carpet fitter isn’t unheard of).

‘We don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go’

If your tutor is part of the family, complete with favourite chair and tin of niche herbal teabags, be worried. It’s a sign that they’ve been there too long. Built in obsolescence for tutors is an essential. They should complete the job they’ve been hired for, then, like Mary Poppins, leave on the next west wind. A hearty chorus of ‘Chim chim cher-ee’ may speed them on their way, along with selling the chair and chucking the teabags. And if your child still needs a tutor, find a new one – but this time set clear objectives and a timescale and stick to it.

Does your child STILL need a tutor?

It’s increasingly common for children to be tutored not just to get into a school but all the way through their school career. The message it sends – that a child can’t succeed without outside help - is scarcely a recipe for building inner confidence and resilience. ‘It’s a form of child abuse,’ says one SW London prep head. So by all means engage a tutor – but remember that, unlike a puppy, they’re should always just be for Christmas (or a little longer) and never for life.

To find out more about tutors, visit the The Good Schools Guide to tutors: www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/tutors

For more personalised assistance, why not contact The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants: www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/education-consultants

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