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Tried and tested: how to check if a tutor is roadworthy

Many tutoring agencies describe themselves as ‘top’, ‘leading’ or ‘professional’. While most do indeed perform a vital job...

3 years ago

Many tutoring agencies describe themselves as ‘top’, ‘leading’ or ‘professional’. While most do indeed perform a vital job as regards safeguarding (only a third party can secure an enhanced DBS check, meaning that most agency tutors are better vetted than their independent counterparts) and are highly experienced at matching the right tutor to a child’s individual needs and personality, remember: almost all tutors are self-employed. This means that they control how and when they tutor, not the agency. So, to find the right tutor, you often need the help of a reputable agency, but you have as much control over a tutor as they do. 

In short, you need to vet the tutor thoroughly. References should always be taken up. But you will also need to interview. With this in mind, below are the sort of questions you should ask prospective tutors. Remember, as with all advice on how to interview people in education, be as specific as possible. Start questions with ‘What’…‘, ‘Please confirm that…’, ‘How much…’, “How often…’, ‘Can you reassure us that…’ rather than ‘Are you…’ or ‘Do you…’.


Given that self-employed tutors control their own time and often juggle a portfolio of interests (including being offered more lucrative work from other pushy agencies, postgraduate study and even full-time jobs), consistency and reliability are very difficult to ensure. The best tutors are often professional actors. Their tutorials tend to be hugely enjoyable and effective but they are hopelessly addicted to performing in front of an audience and will almost always let nothing stand in the way of an audition.

The right questions:

  • “You say that you are free every Thursday during term until the end of the school year. What commitments might come in the way of that.” 
  • “Please confirm what your agency tells us – that you are definitely free and will remain so until after our child finishes exams in the summer.” 

Then double check…

  • “So, if an interview comes up and you accept a full time job, what happens?”
  • “When is your lease up, by which I mean how certain are you to be in London for the next ten months?”

Quality of tutoring

The difference between an OK tutor and a superb one often relates to:

  • Experience with the curriculum at hand.
  • Experience with the ability at hand, particularly if there is some dyslexia or other SEN.
  • Awareness of the need to vary activity. Tutors often feel they need to talk all the time because they are being paid by the hour. Most people, let alone children, switch off after a few seconds, unless they are being told a ripping yarn, or where the treasure is buried.
  • An ability to figure out enough of the a child’s cognitive profile to gauge what style of delivery is best. Is the child more of an auditory or visual learner? How important is kinaesthetic (or tactile) learning? What speed of processing can be expected? What is the level of short term memory? Sequencing ability? 
  • Planning the tutorial and ensuring mastery of mark schemes to ensure the tutor knows exactly what is required to improve grades. A tutor can inspire a lifelong love of learning for a subject, but not prepare well for a public exam in it. Such is the dreadful nature of many exam curriculums that the two often do not go together…

The right questions:

  • “What are your assessment criteria of my child? Please confirm the specific weaknesses that need to be addressed to improve grades?”
  • “What tutoring strategies have you identified work best with my child’s cognitive profile?”
  • “Please confirm that you have successfully tutored this curriculum before, to children of similar ability?”
  • “Please confirm that you are happy to produce brief reports of each tutorial, demonstrating which outcomes have been attained.”
  • “How much time have you set aside to plan your tutorials?”

Care and confidence

Successful tutoring is about instilling confidence, which usually comes about when children really feel that their tutor is focused on them as an individual. This means that tutors have to really care about their tutees. Ask yourself these specific questions: what time do they arrive for each tutorial? How much time do they take to discuss their findings with parents? How often do they check in for a few minutes between tutorials to find out if the suggested extra reading or questions have been undertaken? Do you feel that they care? Do you feel that they are invested in your child’s success?

Finally, so much of tutoring is unquantifiable because it relies on tutors with charisma, patience, persuasion and other sympathetic character traits. Try and have a longish conversation with your child’s prospective tutor about anything before confirming the appointment. Then try and put yourself in your child’s position. Ask yourself whether this tutor is sufficiently personable for your child to want to spend a considerable amount of regular one to one time together.

And above all, try to identify humour and kindness.

About the author: Charles Bonas is a tutor and education entrepreneur. He is the founder of Bonas MacFarlane Education.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read: No benefit to doubt: the role of the tutor in instilling confidence.


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Scholato comes from the team behind Bonas MacFarlane and the Independent Schools Show.

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