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There are many reasons why tutoring your child may be a complete waste of time and money. Follow our do’s and don’ts to make sure you’re not throwing your money away.

Do think about whether your child really needs a tutor

In at least one part of the country (that will be London, then), hiring a tutor isn’t so much a considered purchase as a reflex action. But tutors aren’t always necessary and the best in show will tell you so. Tutors come into their own when it comes to 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 if students are too young, aren’t happy, the goals are unrealistic or they are learning well without a tutor, you’ll be wasting your money. Worse still, the tutoring could have a detrimental effect, with your child being pushed beyond their limits and/or getting the message that they are failing at something they’re not.

Dig deep into the motives of the tutoring firm

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. Others, 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.

Don’t assume the more expensive the better

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).

Don’t dismiss online tutoring

Online tutoring sessions can provide excellent value for money, as well as being hugely popular with children, especially teenagers. Particularly since COVID, you can get online tutors in pretty much any subject and at any level – and it costs a lot less than face-to-face lessons. For more information, see our article on online tutoring.

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. Are travel costs extra? Will you still be charged if little Johnny is ill? 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).

Don’t pay for unnecessary extras

Do you believe that choosing a tutor should be exactly like buying a new car? Nor do we. Which is why we urge parents to think carefully if tutor firms are busting a gut to push you into expensive, go faster extras, like screening tests you haven’t asked for, revision sessions or holiday courses. ‘The tutor we got for my dyslexic nine-year-old daughter insisted on a £300 assessment before starting lessons,’ says a mother. ‘She spent a couple of hours with her, the report took weeks to arrive - she said her printer had broken – and when it did, it was a cut-and-paste job (from dyslexia websites). It felt like an unnecessary cost.’

Do be wary of guarantees

Lynne Nathan at Able Tutors was recently asked to guarantee that a child would gain a place at their first-choice senior school. She refused. In addition to the normal hazards of day to day life – like a child feeling off-colour on exam day – there’s also the sheer weight of competition. ‘There might be 11 children sitting for one place,’ she says. ‘We say that unless the child is at the top there’s no way. You can’t just be average or bright, it’s even more than that.’ Bottom line – if your tutor tells you your money comes with a guarantee of a school place, ask yourself how that’s really possible.

Do get updates

Sure, your child may have needed a maths tutor a year ago. But do they still need one now? Only use tutors that give you regular updates, either in person at the end of each session or in writing every month or so. And don’t give in to generic statements – find out exactly where your child has improved, what they still need to work at and always make sure your tutor is working towards specific goals.

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