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Word of mouth, your child’s school, tutor agencies, website agencies, reviews – there are plenty of ways to find the best tutor to suit your child.

Word of mouth

Word-of-mouth is the most effective and popular way to source good tutors. A lively local network, and simply knowing people, can enable you to find out who in your area is reliable, friendly and has good results. Parents whose children have just done the relevant exam, if that’s what you’re preparing for, are often the best source.

But remember a good tutor, especially in English, maths or science, is a local treasure and so their name may be 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.

You should also be mindful that nerdy Nick might have worked a treat with your friend’s son, whereas your child will find him dull as dishwater. Meanwhile, gregarious Gail may be a huge hit with your offspring, but would develop no rapport with your neighbour’s child.

Plus, 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.

Your child’s school

If you are at work all day or new in an area and don’t know who to ask about good tutors, you could 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.

Be warned, though, that teachers can be defensive and feel you are being critical, suggesting it is the teacher him or herself who is the problem and your child needs some support to overcome the deficiencies of the school provision.

Tutor agencies

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.

But employing a tutor from an agency has advantages and disadvantages. You are not getting a tutor recommended to you by someone you know. That said, you may well get a choice of tutors and can pick the one who seems most compatible – and if it doesn’t work out, you can switch. You may pay more – those agencies can take a hefty commission and some insist on a registration fee. On the other hand, some offer a free introductory lesson to see how you get on – we like this! And an agency tutor will almost certainly come to you, whereas experienced local tutors often prefer children to come to their houses – where they probably have stacks of material.

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. Other, generally less expensive agencies, have a large list of tutors and who cover a wide geographical area. They are dedicated and hard-working and take enormous pride in the service they offer but do not provide the face-to-face relationship offered by the more exclusive agencies. They meticulously check references, DBS records, etc but, partly because of the size of their lists, conduct their interviews only over the telephone or – in some cases – don’t even interview.

Some agencies make both tutor and client sign an immense and scary-looking contract while others look bemused when you ask about contracts and then chortle helplessly. Whether you find this lack of regulation healthy and a refreshing change from the red tape which loops itself round every other area of normal life, or whether you consider it a scandal in this day and age, is up to you.

Website agencies

The best of the UK website 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.

Website 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 – often the south-east. However, there is likely to be little support from website agencies if things go wrong. Such companies take little or no responsibility for the tutors they list and usually have not 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.

A quick surf through websites calling themselves tutor agencies is salutary. No regulation or inspection of these websites exists. So anyone with an ulterior motive can advertise on them. Caveat emptor!

Reviews

Verbal reviews from people you know of individual tutors can be invaluable. Otherwise, Google can help. You can also find testimonials and reviews on tutor websites but be warned you’ll only get the sugar-coated versions.

The Good Schools Guide has reviewed over 50 tutor agencies, providing in-depth reports based on detailed questionnaires to all the tutors and families they’ve worked with during the past 12 months (including follow ups with at least five of each). And in all cases, we’ve visited the agency itself and grilled the staff.

Checklist: what to ask

  • What is your educational background?
  • How much tutoring experience do you have?
  • How will you tell if you’re suited to tutoring my child and how will you evaluate their needs?
  • What tutoring methods do you use and how do you motivate your students?
  • What do you expect from me?
  • What hours are you available?
  • Where do you tutor?
  • How long do you expect the tutoring to last?
  • What are your fees and are there any hidden costs and terms and conditions?
  • Can you provide references and DBS records?

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