What to look for in a private tutor

Knowing how to choose a private tutor can be a daunting and difficult decision. In this post, we look at some of the key things you need to look out for – what questions you need to be asking, and how the whole process should work. 

So you’ve decided to get a private tutor? Whether it’s because you’re struggling with a subject, or you want to excel, a tutor is a great option. But a quick search online can often leave you more confused than when you started. It’s an unregulated market, and schools rarely give guidance on good local tutors.

In reality, though, there are four key things you need to look for if you want to get the best tutor (this advice holds whether you’re a school-age student, a parent, or a university student).

  1. Safety. Unfortunately, because the market is unregulated, there is scope for unsafe individuals to operate. Whether you’re selecting in-home tuition, online lessons, or meeting in a coffee shop or library, safety must be your number one priority.

In England and Wales, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) offers checks on someone’s background. However, because it’s not possible for someone to DBS check themselves (they have to have an employer do it), many self-employed tutors hold a Scottish Disclosure. You don’t have to be from Scotland to have a Disclosure. There are different levels of Disclosure, from Basic through to full membership, so check online at what each entails. In reality, a Basic Disclosure will suffice. Always ask to see the Disclosure form before organising a lesson. This can be emailed across to you before you meet the tutor. You shouldn’t accept excuses from tutors who are unwilling to show you a Disclosure.

For safety purposes, you should always look for tutors with good references. Contact the references if necessary.

The golden rule is to never meet a tutor alone the first time. If you are a parent of a school-age student, you should be present at the initial consultation meeting, and be present in the house every time the tutor visits. If you are a university student, arrange your initial consultation in a coffee shop someone near the university.

         2. Qualifications. Obviously, you want a tutor who is qualified, and who is competent in the subject he or she is teaching. But sometimes you need more than that.

As a basic start point, most tutors should have either an undergraduate degree, or a teaching qualification in the subject they are teaching. Some subjects have transferrable skills (History graduates can teach English; Physics graduates can teach Maths), but you don’t want an English graduate teaching Biology. You should think about the subjects as ‘families’. Have a look at our Subjects Offered page to see how you can group subjects.

Again, as with the Disclosure check, you should ask to see any degree certificates before proceeding with lessons.

If you’re a university student, the rule of thumb is that the tutor should have completed one degree level higher than the one you’re currently studying. So, if you’re an undergraduate, the tutor should hold at least a Master’s.

             3. Reliability. It’s a cliche, but the problem with first impressions is that you only get one. The way a tutor conducts themselves via email or in the initial meeting is usually an indicator of their reliability.

When you make your initial enquiry to a tutor, how long does it take them to respond? If it’s within 24 hours, you’re usually onto a winner. If you have to chase up and send a second email, it’s best to leave that tutor behind. In a modern age of smartphones and tablets, you can guarantee that a potential tutor will have seen an email within 24 hours, so for them not to respond usually doesn’t bode well. Even a short response or an ‘out of office’ are good signs.

When you arrange your initial consultation, are they on time? Are they flexible to your schedule? How are they presented? Remember that this is effectively a job interview for them. These initial stages of interaction are critical, and they usually indicate how tutors will behave in future.

              4. Personality. There is a big difference between a tutor and a teacher. The best tutors form good personal bonds with students, and get to know them. You need to look out for the ideal personality for you or your child.

Getting a tutor is effectively like forming a partnership. The relationship between tutor and student is symbiotic. If the student doesn’t get on with the tutor, they will not benefit from the lessons in the same way. That’s why tutoring is so reliant on empathetic bonds. For that reason, when you’re selecting a tutor, try and choose one with experience of tutoring. A teacher or a lecturer conveys information in a different way, as he or she will be used to talking to large groups. Tutoring is far more interactive than that (or at least it should be).

Also, if you think you or your child would prefer a female or a male tutor, or a younger or older one, that’s absolutely legitimate. Generally, a good tutor can overcome reservations about age or gender, but don’t feel afraid to state your preferences.

All AW Tuition tutors are background checked, highly qualified, reliable, and experienced tutors. To submit an enquiry into getting a tutor for you or your child, click the link here, call 0131 618 7717, or email info@awtuition.com.