How to get the best from tutoring

Child and tutor working together
If you’re investing in a tutor for your child, you’ll want to get your money’s worth. We explain how to make the most of tutoring.
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Whether your child is preparing for the 11+, getting up to speed for SATs or just needs some general support with their schoolwork, hiring a private tutor is becoming increasingly common. In London, around a third of children are being tutored, and tutoring is on the rise in other areas of the UK too.

Private tuition doesn’t come cheap, so it’s important that you get results. We asked two experienced tutors for their advice on getting the best from tutoring.

Getting the relationship right

One of the most important factors affecting the outcome of tutoring is the relationship between the tutor and your child. This means finding someone who can engage your child and relate to them, but can also motivate them and be firm when necessary.

When you’re looking for a tutor, using an agency can be helpful as they’ll have a number of people on their books and can help you find the right person for your child’s specific needs and challenges. ‘A good tutoring service will send a representative to meet you and your child together, to help match you with a custom-fit tutor,’ says Tania Khojasteh, director of tutoring consultation service Über Tutors. ‘They should also give you the opportunity to change tutor if the relationship doesn’t work out.’

If you’re not going through an agency, try to find out as much about prospective tutors as possible, and, if you can, speak to other parents and children who’ve used them: the most popular tutors rely on word of mouth and don’t need to advertise.

‘Read through tutors’ profiles, and go with your gut, letting your child pick with you,’ advises Madeleine Kasson of tutor finding service Tutorfair. ‘On our website, many of the tutors have a video on their profile, and you can get a real sense of their personality from those clips. You can also ask tutors beforehand about their approach to teaching and see if they sound like a good fit for your child.’

It’s reasonable to ask a tutor for a trial session before you commit, although bear in mind that they may still charge.

Your child’s opinion

Once your child has begun working with the tutor, it should become apparent whether the relationship is working out. ‘Children are usually very honest and will tell you if they don’t like someone,’ Tania says.

But don’t be too hasty to ditch a tutor if your child complains about them: they may be confusing a reluctance to do extra work with a genuine dislike for the tutor. If your child raises concerns, it’s best to speak to the tutor about how things are going before you make a rash decision.

How much, and how often?

To get the most out of tutoring, you’ll need to make sure that your child is spending the right amount of time with their tutor. ‘For 11+ preparation, we usually recommend that children start tutoring a year before the test, with one session a week, potentially increasing to twice a week in the run-up,’ Tania says. ‘But for more general academic support, once a fortnight may be enough.’

Madeleine agrees. ‘One to three sessions a week is standard, but intensive tutoring for last-minute exam preparation, half or full days outside of term-time can be really useful. It’s important to be guided by your child: some are good at working on their own, so spending an hour with a tutor who then sets them work for the week is fine. Others need that work time carved out, so may have several sessions with the tutor to complete the work under their supervision.’

Session lengths may depend on the tutor, as some only offer fixed time slots. But you’re the best judge of whether your child can stay focused for a 90-minute session, or whether they’re likely to lose interest after an hour, wasting time and money. ‘As a guide, primary school students will struggle to stay focused for more than an hour to an hour and a half,’ Madeleine adds.

Helping your child prepare for tutoring

Tutors will usually set homework to do in between sessions. ‘The best policy is little and often, with some time set aside each day for your child to do the work recommended by their tutor, whether it’s learning times tables or doing practice exams,’ says Madeleine. ‘Having a set place to write down what needs to be done is important, such as a whiteboard or a to do list on the wall.’

Getting children to do tutoring homework can be tough, especially as they may not see it as ‘compulsory’ in the same way that schoolwork is. ‘Give them some time alone to tackle their homework, but if they’re losing focus or need help, try to give them 15 minutes of your undivided attention, without their siblings or other distractions around,’ Tania says. ‘This undivided attention often works miracles in helping children concentrate.’

Once the homework is finished, make your child takes it to their session. ‘They need to bring their work to the tutor so they can go over it together and identify any gaps in knowledge to work through,’ Tania explains.

The other important thing to do before a tutoring session is make sure your child has had something sensible to eat. ‘Because tutoring often happens after school, it sometimes interferes with dinnertime,’ Madeleine says. ‘Hungry students are distracted and not as productive as they could be, while students who have just loaded up on a sugary after-school snack will crash mid-lesson.’

Communicating with your child’s tutor

It’s vital that you have open lines of communication with your child’s tutor. ‘Our tutors provide written feedback at the end of every session, listing what they did, what skills the student has gained, the challenges they need to work on, and their homework,’ Tania says. ‘They’re also very receptive to parents telling them about any particular issues that the child needs to tackle – for example, if their teacher has mentioned a weakness in an area of maths.’ 

Madeleine agrees that written communication works best. ‘Most tutors are available to email or text, and quick chats before and after lessons are okay as long as they don’t run on too long,’ she says. ‘Some parents schedule a paid hour every few weeks to sit down with the tutor and discuss their child’s progress and how to support them, as well as update them about school reports or exam results to keep the tutor focused in the right direction.’

Monitoring your child’s progress

Although you should be able to see progress through the marks your child gets on their past papers or practice tests, this isn’t the only way to prove that tutoring is working.

‘Exams – even practice ones – aren’t always the best reflection of tutoring results, as children sometimes struggle with exam stress,’ Madeleine explains. ‘So look at other indicators such as homework results, encourage your child and reward them for their efforts – encouragement often precedes progress.’

Most important, though, is to look at how your child’s attitudes to their work are changing. ‘Ask them how they like the subject, and how good they are at it,’ Madeleine advises. ‘If their confidence is growing and they’re feeling good about it, it’s a solid indication that their tutoring is on the right track.’