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Finding the Right Tutor for your Home Education Programme: 5 Tips

Many Home Educators choose to engage the services of a professional tutor to help them deliver aspects of their Home Ed programme. Here are 5 tips to help you find the best…

Reasons for engaging a professional tutor vary but are likely to include access to specialist subject knowledge, experience in preparing engaging lessons, expert assessment/feedback or perhaps just a need to free up a bit of time!

Online technologies make it relatively easy to find tutors and have them deliver live sessions in the comfort of your home. However this is an unregulated sector so how can you be confident you are choosing the right tutor for you and your child?

What should you consider when looking for a tutor? What questions should you ask?

Here are Tutor Led Learning’s Top Five tips on appointing a professional tutor:

  1. Safeguarding

Safeguarding is a term used to cover the health, wellbeing and human rights of individuals. Safeguarding is of particular importance to vulnerable people including children. Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Certificates (previous CRBs) will be held by professional tutors to prove that they are not disqualified from working with young people.

A professional tutor will have had safeguarding training and will be able to explain to you the steps they have taken to promote the safety of your child during any tutoring sessions. Areas to consider include the use of webcams, recording of sessions, maintaining appropriate professional boundaries and discouraging/dealing with inappropriate behaviour. 

All contact regarding the tuition should be arranged via the parent/carer and a child’s personal contact details (email address, phone number, social media details) should neither be requested nor offered.

Covid-19 presents a particular set of risks for any face to face tuition, particularly if tutors are frequently moving between households. If face to face tuition is permitted to take place it would be sensible to discuss your specific situation with the tutor. You should consider asking for a written risk assessment covering what they will do to minimise the risk of any viral transmission; Government guidance should always be followed.

Further guidance on safeguarding can be found online via organisations such as NSPCC.

2. Qualifications

Effective teaching is not just about knowledge transfer from the tutor to the student. A professional tutor will have learnt a range of different teaching techniques (pedagogy) so they can effectively educate young people with a broad range of learning styles. In the UK many teachers undertake a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and then a year ‘on the job’ training before gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Other routes to QTS are available; your tutor should be able to explain what pedagogical training they have had.

Subject knowledge can be developed either formally or informally. A university degree is perhaps the most common way of demonstrating proficiency in a given subject and is likely to be essential if tutoring at Key Stage 5 (A-Level or equivalent). For learning up to Key Stage 4 (GCSE or equivalent) or for non-academic subjects, a tutor may have developed adequate subject knowledge through other means such as through a previous career. Being an expert in a given subject doesn’t necessarily make for a great tutor; for that you usually need experience.

3. Experience

Teaching is sometimes compared to cooking: a set of skills that are best learnt by doing. An effective professional tutor is likely to have considerable experience of either home tutoring, teaching in a classroom or working in another educational setting such as a museum or library. Experience means a tutor will be more able to vary how they teach, respond to the individual needs of your child, explain things in different ways and bring a subject to life with stories, anecdotes and links to everyday life.

Expert assistance around preparation for exams requires a tutor to have detailed knowledge of an Exam Board’s subject specification (a list of what needs to be taught for a given exam). Experience of setting and marking exam questions from that exam board is essential. If your tutor has been an Examiner (involving the paid marking of exam scripts) then they are likely to have an even deeper insight into how to avoid common pitfalls and bag those extra marks.

Online tutoring requires many of the same skills as face to face teaching/tutoring and a few new ones as well. Initially it can be difficult to make online lessons interactive and engaging – how is your potential tutor proposing to tackle this? Using several different platforms at once requires some technical skills – which platforms is your tutor comfortable with?

4. Rapport

For many students rapport is perhaps the most important way they will assess if a tutor is ‘any good’. Building rapport takes time and will depend on frequency of lessons, whether they are face to face or online and the personalities involved. 

A professional tutor will carefully pitch the content of the lesson, Goldilocks style, so it is neither too hard nor too easy, however don’t expect them to get this right straight away. Enthusiasm about a subject is a good way to build rapport with a student as is the appropriate use of humour and sharing of anecdotes.

You might be surprised at the amount of praise you hear a professional tutor giving during a lesson. The process of learning can be rather bruising at times and praise helps keep the focus on what is going well rather than what is not. You may learn a few tricks to improve your own Home Educating by listening in to some or all of the lessons.

5. Terms and conditions

You should expect a tutor to be upfront and clear about their terms of business. Typically tutors will charge at least £25ph, this may sound a lot but if you factor in time for lesson preparation, feedback, administration, taxes, holiday and sick pay it’s not the pathway to great riches it may seem!

As well as discussing fees you may wish to consider a discussion about cancellation policies (in case of illness etc), notice for holidays, setting and marking of homework and assessment/feedback.

There’s not one way to approach the Ts and Cs but it’s generally better to discuss all this up front and make sure both parties are clear with what’s agreed, in writing.

These tips are not intended to be extensive guidance on how to choose the right tutor and should not be taken as definitive. If you have any further specific questions or think one of our professional tutors might be able to help you please get in touch.

© Andrew Milson, Tutor Led Learning

September 2020 

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What is ‘unschooling’ and how do I do it?

If you’re new to educating at home, you might just be hearing about ‘unschooling’.

So what is ‘unschooling’?

The term ‘unschooling’ can mean different things to different people. For some, it’s the period of transition when children move from formal ‘school based’ education to ‘home based’ education. Others use the term to describe how they organise their own home based education programme. Still unsure? No problem – let’s look at each different view in turn.

Unschooling as a period of transition, for children moving from school-based to home-based education, is something which parents/carers would be well advised to consider carefully. Schools typically have very many rules and regulations which must be followed to enable the smooth running of such a large and varied community. In a school there are usually rules about what to wear, what to bring, where to sit, stand and queue, when you can use the toilets, what to study, when to study and even how to study. Whilst these rules can be the source of much frustration, if they are designed properly and enforced consistently they free school staff up to get on with what is important. Each home will have its own rules and regulations – some may be more conducive to a new home education routine than others. Should rules stay the same? Be reduced? Changed? Increased? Children adapt to changing routines differently, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder may need more time than others to settle in. 

As well as their primary purpose to educate, schools also play a significant contribution to a young person’s socialisation. In fact this is the reason many parents/carers choose to home educate; because they feel their child is unhappy, not mixing appropriately, being bullied or otherwise. During the transition period you can expect to observe (and be involved in) a range of new emotions and behaviours which will take time to work through. If you need support handling this phase there’s no shame in seeking it out. There are lots of resources online and some useful phone numbers if you need someone to talk to.

Be realistic about what can be achieved and in what time frame. There is no need to try to replicate exactly the same timetable as that which was being followed in school. Don’t worry about falling behind – rushing the transition phase is unlikely to be productive and once you are up and running home learning is often more productive than time spent in the classroom. 

Depending on your child’s age, personality and individual circumstances you may need to plan for a transition period lasting from several weeks to a few months. Focus on relationships and routine ahead of content and progress. Remember to make time for yourself and other family members too.

Unschooling as a process or ideology of education is rooted in putting a child’s individual interests and talents at the heart of the learning programme. These interests and talents may take some time to emerge which is why a period of ‘no pressure’ exploration can be a good way to begin. Try to think beyond your own experiences of education and what you think education should look like. Does learning really have to take place at a desk with pen and paper or can it happen on a countryside walk with a magnifying glass and set of binoculars? You don’t need to have all the answers – why not share your questions and search for the answers together?

There’s a spectrum of attitudes to what should be learned ranging from ‘only that which will get good exam grades’ through to ‘only that which you are interested in’. For most home educators the sweet spot lies somewhere between these extremes. National curricula are freely available online and give an idea of what the UK Government considers to be age appropriate learning for different subjects. These documents, combined with input from Home Ed forums, support groups and professional tutors, will help you structure learning in a way that suits you and your child ensuring exams can be taken at some point in the future if necessary.

A few tips from my own time teaching in and out of the classroom: 

  • Nurture your own patience by actively thinking about what you are going to define as a ‘success’ in any given session (start gently!)
  • Think about rules carefully, perhaps negotiate them together, be consistent in enforcing those that matter to you, don’t be afraid to apologise when you get things wrong
  • Give praise at least ten times as often as you give correction or criticism
  • Strive to enjoy the journey, not just the destination
  • Find (or form) your own support network to help with the tricky patches and ask for help if you need it

For more detailed advice on Home Education you may wish to check out information provided by charities such as Home Education Advisory Service or Education Otherwise (many other sources of information are available). If you have specific questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Although we can’t advise on specific individual situations if we can help, perhaps by pointing you to some useful information, we will.

Some resources you may find of use are below. Tutor Led Learning neither endorses nor takes responsibility for any external content.