In this article, I will discuss a few questions related to whether it is right to get a tutor for your child. I have been a mathematics teacher for 20 years, teaching in mainstream, alternative education, homeschoolers and 1-1 tutoring, as well as online since 2019. I have a 14-year-old son, so very well aware of attempting to teach at home!
The word ‘need’ in this question is quite subjective. Many parents will be asking schools whether their child is making ‘expected progress’, i.e. where are they right now, compared to where they should be.
The problem here is every child is different. Comparing them to the average is not always the best way to tell how well they are doing, and whether they need any extra input.
In addition, our expectations as a parent may differ from that of the child. It is better to ask where the pupil currently is, where they would like to be, and if their current progress and learning methods are likely to get them there. If not, then tutoring can definitely help.
I will draw your attention to the part ‘where they would like to be’, they, not you. Including the child in the decision and process means tutoring is going to have a bigger impact. For further reading on assessment technique (AFL), I would suggest looking at the excellent work by Dylan William.
Obvious signs would be through communication with the school, e.g. parents’ evenings, and school reports. Is homework completed well and on time, or is it always a battle? Are there any differences between subjects, with one sticking out as difficult? Has the child’s grades or effort changed recently?
Talking to the child, and asking questions is really important. Some other signs you might spot at home could be indicators that they are not managing their studies alone as well as you’d hoped. Sherpa has covered some of these in another blog.
In Mathematics, there is a difference between knowing what to do (multiply this number by that number) and understanding it. This is especially important for younger children, any misconceptions at that stage, will be compounded later on. Ask your child to explain what they are doing, ask them why it works, can they draw a diagram to explain it for instance.
One of the questions I ask, even GCSE students, is “Can you explain what multiply means without using the words multiply or times?”. If they struggle to explain what they are doing, even if they are getting the right answer, it is worth exploring this with a tutor.
Understandably, it is natural for some children to not know (or not even want to know) the full theory behind some topics they study. Even though I would encourage curiosity in every aspect of education, at least initially to explore their interests, we all start to form preferences in what subjects we align with by the time we start taking exams.
What’s really important in the long run - is that if your child expresses a passion for a certain career profession or field of study, they will benefit tremendously from understanding it from its core principles in the earlier years if they are likely to succeed in studying it in higher education.
If they seem to lack the full understanding of topics needed to make that dream come true, they are much more likely to struggle when they need to think for themselves and use their critical thinking and reasoning rather than simply reapplying a formula. The earlier this depth of knowledge is nurtured, the better!
So, let's say you’ve followed the steps above and have decided it’s time to try tuition. Here are some frequently asked questions that I have covered in detail to help you on your journey to finding the right tutor.
There are varieties of different tutoring options. You can find adverts for freelance tutors, or your local school will likely have links with tutors who have worked with pupils from your school before. Most are available in person or online to avoid any travel costs. Each with its own benefits and drawbacks.
There are online companies, which match tutors with prospective students, and others that take this a step further by hosting the tutoring online and providing an easy-to-use platform for more than just the lesson. Platforms like Sherpa are a great way to take the stress away of finding a tutor, and then managing the contact, payment and lesson quality.
Online tuition enables lessons to be recorded and reviewed, notes to be automatically accessible and protection and support if a tutor does not fulfil a promise. Beware, not all online platforms are created equal and some charge premium prices for inexperienced students.
There are also homeschool companies that encompass whole courses, not just tutoring. Whichever route you choose, I would suggest you ask questions about the level of qualifications in the subject, and in teaching, that the tutor has.
Knowledge of the subject is not enough; teaching in itself is a skill. An unskilled tutor who is just ‘good at the subject’ can do more harm than good - so it pays to find someone who has teaching qualifications or is well-reviewed as being effective at getting results.
Equally, a teacher who is tutoring a 2nd subject, may not have the in-depth knowledge to improve the learning of the pupil. Consider if you are looking for general help in study skills in several subjects or a specialist to unravel the mysteries of a particular area. One major benefit of using online tuition platforms is that it’s just as easy to manage lessons with 3 specialist tutors in separate subjects as it is to use one tutor.
In addition, check the tutor has an up-to-date DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service). This ensures they have been cleared by the government and police authorities to work with children and vulnerable adults in England & Wales. For other areas of the UK, it can be called something different.
There is a simple answer to this, absolutely not!
Being a parent is a difficult job. Even as a Mathematics teacher, I know that my role as a parent would not combine well if I attempted to tutor my son. He will come and ask me the odd question if stuck. To be a part of their learning, I will be interested and ask him questions about his learning, but trying to mix the roles of parent and tutor is not effective.
If you did want to try, ask yourself whether you know the subject in the detail required, and are you aware of the latest techniques, the curriculum, exam requirements and mark schemes.
Additionally, you may know what your child is doing wrong, but do you have the skills to help them understand how to see it for themselves? This sort of learning reaches far beyond simply watching someone else do it correctly and it takes patience and careful instruction to be effective.
It is important to have a goal in mind when speaking to the tutor for the first time and give them as much background as possible. Ensure everyone has an idea of what the child wants to achieve and what success will look like to them. This gives the tutor an idea of the scope of the work and they will know how best to get there given a variety of constraints such as time, budget or ability.
Consider a few sessions then review how things are going. Over time, I try to encourage my learners to become more independent, helping them to learn for themselves, they should become less reliant on extra sessions, not more so. Tutoring can be very effective, but not cheap. You want to know if it is working.
A good way to benchmark progress is taking a practice test periodically as a homework task, which a tutor can organise. Creating an independently predicted grade as you develop will help catch out any problem topics and help confidence grow overall so you can assess the need for future sessions.
Ultimately, confidence is everything going into exam assessments and for motivation to study - so it is important to ask your child early on, how do they feel sessions are going?
Rarely, it could be the case that the tutor is not a great match for your child’s learning style. This will affect their work both during and between sessions. They may need someone that gives them more positive reinforcement or be more patient for example, so ask them and the tutor questions to see if a change is needed. The child's attitude towards the tutor and the sessions, in general, is vital to their development.
In summary, finding a tutor has never been easier and with the help of one, it’s never too late to make some changes that can impact the outcome of results day. The most beneficial impact of having a tutor is that your child doesn’t have to go through these testing times alone!
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