What is tutoring?
Tutoring is a bit different to teaching, although there are crossovers. Teaching involves working through a set curriculum or scheme with a group of learners in a formal educational setting, whereas tutoring happens on a one-to-one or small group basis, in an informal setting, and is focused on the individual learning needs of the tutees.
Tutoring is not a regulated industry. This means that anyone can set themselves up as a tutor, and there are no quality checks on tutors. This lack of regulation has its pros and cons. An advantage is that people with a wide range of skills and knowledge can help others learn, regardless of their qualifications. However, it also makes choosing a tutor tricky because there are so many people out there, offering different skills and subjects, at a variety of age ranges with varying levels of qualification, experience and pricing. How do you know if they are actually as good as they say they are?
How to choose a tutor:
Think about why you need a tutor and who might be best placed to provide the best quality support. Here are some examples:
If you want to learn conversational Spanish for an upcoming holiday (well, maybe next year!) then a native Spanish speaker, or someone who is fluent in Spanish, will possibly be able to teach you that better than a qualified languages teacher who specialises in French but knows a bit of Spanish. Equally, if I want to learn accounting, then a bookkeeper who can explain things simply to a layperson may well be a better tutor than a maths teacher who can do the maths but may not understand the ins and outs of tax and expenses.
If you want to help your child get through GCSE physics, then a qualified science teacher who knows the syllabus for the exam board your child’s school uses is probably going to be a better tutor than a theoretical physics student from Oxford University. The teacher will know exactly what the examiners are looking for and how to get those precious marks. They may well be exam markers themselves, so they have valuable inside knowledge.
There are lots of A level and university students offering GCSE tuition in the subject(s) they are studying. They are obviously very good at the subject and they will likely have sat the very same exam and got an A* a year or two before, but what they won’t have is the inside, professional knowledge of “how to do exams” that a qualified science teacher will have. The students are good at their subject but they will not have had the experience of getting a cohort of 16-year-olds through an exam, and therefore the tips and tricks for exam technique, what examiners are looking for in answers and how to nail it – especially if it is not a subject that comes naturally to you.
If you are looking for cheap, then a student with good subject knowledge is fine. They will help your child understand the subject better. But, if you are prepared to pay more for the tutor who is also a science teacher, you will get that valuable inside exam knowledge. It might well be worth paying a bit extra for that tutor’s qualification and experience.
I tutor primary children. I see lots of people advertising primary tuition. Many are students. Many offer tuition from Key Stage 1 right up to undergraduate level or beyond. This rings alarm bells to me.
I think lots of people think that tutoring primary aged children is “easy” because what the children need to learn is “easy”. However, I think homeschooling during lockdown has perhaps highlighted how complex the primary curriculum actually is, and the wealth of subject knowledge and skill in engaging young people that is needed.
The younger the child, the more vital getting their education right is. The Early Years (ages 0-5) is the most valuable time for learning, and it is where the most skilled practitioners are needed. Primary school is where children learn all the fundamental, vital skills to enable them to progress with their education. If they leave primary with poor literacy or maths skills, then it is incredibly difficult to fill those gaps the older they get. In fact, it starts to get difficult once they reach Year 5. Any struggles with learning need to be caught and addressed as early as possible, by skilled educators who understand how young children learn.
Therefore, I believe that primary tuition is most effective when delivered by people who have a solid understanding of how under elevens learn, and the expectations and teaching techniques used by schools. Your 16-year-old neighbour might be good at maths, and is very happy to have £10 an hour to help your 6-year-old, but do they understand how children’s knowledge and understanding of number is developed, and how maths is taught in school, at a developmentally age-appropriate level? Teaching techniques have probably changed since they were in primary school, so it’s not as simple as just showing them what they do/did. An understanding of child development and pedagogy (the theory and practice of how we learn) is what makes primary tuition most effective. Poor quality tuition at this level can lead to misconceptions that can then become very difficult to rectify.
Spreading the net wide, or an expert in a specialist area?
As well as honing down what you want the tutor to help you (or your child) with, think about whether you want someone who spreads their net wide and covers a wide range of subjects, age groups and/or skills, or someone who focuses in on the specific age group, subject and/or skillset you require and does it exceptionally well.
I have nearly 20 years of experience working with primary aged children in a variety of educational settings. This is where my expertise lies. I can offer very high-quality tuition that is based around an excellent understanding of how primary aged children learn, school priorities and teaching techniques. I have a degree in history. I don’t, however, offer history tuition at GCSE/A level or beyond because I have never taught history at this level and am absolutely clueless about the curriculum and exam syllabuses. Just because I’m good at history, and a qualified teacher, doesn’t mean I can get your child through their history GCSE. In fact, I absolutely can’t! Equally, I have no experience of working with 4-year-olds, or 40-year-olds. Their learning needs and styles are going to be very different to a 9-year-old’s, which I do understand well.
This is why I (and other similarly qualified and experienced tutors) usually charge more than your 16-year-old neighbour or the undergraduate tutoring 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds (maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you see my point). You are paying for an experienced, skilled and qualified practitioner in a specific field.
This might be a clunky analogy, but think of it like this: If you need a solicitor to help with a land dispute, you are not likely to choose the one who specialises in employment law, even if they were a bit cheaper. You want someone who knows exactly what they are doing and are prepared to pay a bit more for that knowledge and experience. I believe tuition is the same. Find someone who specialises in the subject, skill or age group you are looking for and is not spreading their skill set so wide that the quality of their service becomes diluted.
If you are looking for a tutor who has the experience and has built up a range of skills and knowledge relevant to the subject, skill or age group they are tutoring and has invested in themselves to earn qualifications, then the extra money you pay will be well worth it. As the old adage goes, “You get what you pay for.”
If you are wanting tuition for a child in Year 1-6 because they lack confidence, are struggling with school work or have SEN then do get in touch to discuss how I can help.
If you are looking for support for a child in the Early Years, 11+ prep or anything beyond Year 8 then I am not the right tutor for you, but I may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can help.