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One of the questions often encountered by the special needs team from The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants is the best way of finding a sympathetic, knowledgeable tutor for a child with learning difficulties.

When can a tutor help?

Just what’s needed can vary wildly. Children with mild dyslexia can get a huge boost from one-to-one literacy sessions that can help narrow the gap between their potential and their current performance in school.

Other gifted children with high-functioning Asperger’s who struggle to cope with whole class teaching can flourish with individual support.

Then there are the parents who have struggled with the school system and – for now at least – are giving it a miss, choosing to educate their child at home, disenchanted with unsympathetic heads or teachers who just can’t get their heads round children who deviate from the norm. While many will go it alone and take on their child’s education single-handed, others seek to share the burden, particularly for older children on the run up to GCSEs or similar high stakes exams.

Finding the right tutor

The key to any successful relationship between tutor and tutee is compatibility. As any parent knows, children with or without special needs are just children – with their own personalities, quirks and ways of learning.

Tutors who succeed with SEN are thus special people.

They need to understand how a learning need can impact on a child’s education, and have a bus load of tricks and strategies to cope, yet be able to see past the label to the child.

They must empathise and encourage – but also know when they’re being taken for a ride by a frail child apparently pushed to his intellectual limits, head drooped pathetically over the table (or, on a particularly bad day, whole child beneath it) yet capable of Lazarus-like, joyous revival the second the lesson comes to a premature close and the iPad hoves into view.

So where do these God-like creatures hang out?

We always say word of mouth is a good way of finding local tutoring options.

But while a mine of information for 11+ coaching, the school gate is a less reliable option for a child with special needs.

Alternatively, local SEN support groups may well be able to offer useful advice – or at least tell you which tutors to avoid.

Tutor agencies

Start by looking at tutor firms. You might assume that the only people paying for out-of-school support are those fixated on getting their child through high stakes exams or into top schools. While that’s undeniably true for many, some elite tutor firms also have a surprisingly substantial commitment to SEN.

Several ‘A’ list tutor firms on the Good Schools Guide (GSG) website, for example, employ staff who have had specialist dyslexia training in particular subjects, such as maths, and take mild to moderate needs in their stride. Another currently has a specialist on its books who has professional qualifications in psychotherapy and play therapy and specialises in working with children with behavioural and learning difficulties.

Several more offer pro bono work for deserving or gifted children whose families couldn’t otherwise afford tuition fees. Though this doesn’t specifically include children with learning needs, it might be worth contacting them as their desire to open up education opportunities to those in need means they might be persuaded to help.

One firm works with local looked-after children, who might have missed out on parts of their education, or may have behavioural or emotional difficulties. These tutors take it all in their stride.

Online tutoring

Many of these firms are, it has to be admitted, based in London. But if you aren’t, it’s not necessarily a problem. In recent years there’s been a boom in online tutoring, beaming teachers direct into your home. You’ll need a decent broadband connection, sometimes a headset or Skype. With a click of the mouse, your computer screen converts to a two way blackboard, allowing the tutor to see and correct your child’s workings out – but technophobes won’t have a problem as their child is absolutely certain to master the details within seconds.

Currently, there are limitations. Maths and the sciences are the subjects most commonly offered, largely because they lend themselves to this style of working. And not every company offers SEN specialists. There are enough who do, however, to make this an option worth considering. Again, tried and tested examples are listed on the GSG website.

And finally…before you embark on the search for the perfect tutor, spend a few minutes working out what you hope to achieve – and why.

For many children with learning needs, building confidence and self-esteem is the key to any successful brush with education.

They may be capable of taking GCSEs but it’s worth avoiding a headlong dash to the finishing line if your child will feel happier and more successful taking everything at a more relaxed pace and sitting exams a year later.

For more information see our section on tutoring

For individual specialist advice see: The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants

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