Private tuition - what are the risks?

11 March 2021, Steve Ball, Thirtyone:eight

Campaigners are urging the government to ensure convicted sex offenders cannot work as tutors. Over 350,000 children in England and Wales alone are privately tutored and although most tutors working for agencies are required to have a DBS check, private tutors do not currently qualify for a check under existing legislation. Steve Ball, our joint-CEO and a private music teacher himself, welcomes the focus on this often overlooked area.

"Many parents up and down the country have experienced something very new during the lockdown: what it’s like to be a teacher. If my experience is anything to go by, the last people children want to teach them is their parents! As we go further through this pandemic and the recovery afterwards, many parents are looking to private tutors to help them with schooling. 

Before working for Thirtyone:eight I ran a successful music school and subsequently have continued to teach as a private music tutor. Even now I would be teaching if it wasn’t for Covid. I have done some online lessons, but it’s not the same learning experience as ‘in-person’ for me or the student. 

For many years I've felt that there is a loophole for private tutors such as myself as we are not required to go through the same safer recruitment processes that we would if working for a school or other tutoring organisation. Private tutors are not eligible for a disclosure check on the same level than if working for another organisation.  

In all my years of teaching, I’ve only twice been specifically asked about DBS checks or good practice from a prospective parent. This is in part due to most of my students coming from a direct recommendation, but even so this still surprises me. I’m not suggesting for a moment that all private tutors are dangerous – there will be a very small percentage that have inappropriate motives - but asking some basic questions of your tutor would be completely appropriate. At the very least, it would register with a potential tutor that you're aware of safeguarding issues and, where there may be a risk, that they’re ‘not going to get away with anything here’

As a private tutor, aside from the initial surprise, I welcomed the questions and thought ‘what a responsible parent’. Any good tutor should be able to articulate good safeguarding practice as well as the syllabus they are teaching. 

What can parents or carers do to ensure their child is kept safe?

In October last year, the Department for Education published a guidance document to help parents and carers ask the right questions when selecting out-of-school activities for their child. This document called 'Keeping Children Safe during Community Activities, After-School Clubs and Tuition - Questions to help parents and carers choose out-of-school settings' is a really good place to start, and offers some sensible pointers of things to look out for and questions to ask.

I think about it in the same way as I’d expect the recruitment process to be if I were going for a job: Application form; Interview; References; and other checks. As a parent you’ll be looking for a tutor rather than them applying to you, but you can still find out details of their qualifications and experience before having a chat with them – the interview. An interview doesn’t have to be formal, but it does give a good idea of what the person is like, how they will interact with your child and give you that ‘gut feeling’. If you’re still happy, talk to others who have used them. This may have been how you found them in the first place – through recommendation. Finally, you can’t get an enhanced DBS check as a private tutor, but you can get a Basic check, which gives some confidence. 

After that, it’s a question of good common sense to ensure that the environment is as safe as possible. Teaching in the child’s bedroom is probably not a good idea – instead use an open room where everything is in public. Maintaining a quiet environment may be tricky if there are others in the house, but better to ask siblings to ‘find something quiet to do’ for the duration rather than have the tutor behind closed doors. 

As a private tutor, I’d welcome this if I were going to people’s houses. In my case, I have a specific room set aside for my teaching which I’ve always had linked to a waiting area and encouraged parents to wait whilst the lesson goes on. The door is always open and there’s a large window between the waiting area and my teaching room.

In conclusion, if your child needs a private tutor for some specific help, following the basic steps outlined above will ensure everyone is a safe as can possibly be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of a potential tutor before asking them to start. They shouldn't be offended and should welcome your interest.  Use the Government guidance document above if you need some help of where to start and if you're at all worried or have any concerns our Safeguarding Helpline is always on hand to answer questions and to sign-post you to sources of help should you need it. Call us on 0303 003 1111."

 

 

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