Behind on exam revision? Call in a tutor

Pupils about to sit GCSEs and A-levels might need home help, but parents should be aware of the costs, says Chiara Cavaglieria

The recession has forced many parents to give up hope of educating their children privately, while others simply thought it was too expensive or elitist long ago.

But there is still the option of private tuition to supplement state school lessons and, with GCSE and A-level exams a few weeks away, extra revision. A recent government survey showed that 11 per cent of parents with state-educated children have paid for private tutors. The survey, involving 1,500 parents, also showed that 9 per cent of parents with children as young as five used tutors.

Private tuition agencies have seen demand grow markedly in recent years. Indeed, private tuition agency Fleet Tutors had a year-on-year increase of about 18 per cent in March. "We've experienced a couple of years of quite dramatic growth but saw a real burst in March this year," says Mylene Curtis, managing director of Fleet Tutors.

The cost of private tuition will vary widely depending on where you live and what level of tuition you require but, generally speaking, tutors charge between £15 and £60 an hour. Tutors in London and the South-east usually charge more money and sessions for exam preparation are also likely to be significantly more expensive. Over a year parents who fork out for regular tuition will soon see bills rocket to thousands of pounds. However, there are ways parents can get value for money.

One of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of a private tutor is to buy sessions in bulk. Parents with more than one child, for example, should ask for a discounted rate if using the same tutor for both children. Harrison Allen, for example, which is based in south-west London, offers reduced fees for parents who pay for package deals. So while primary, common entrance (CE) and GCSE tuition normally costs £44 per hour, it will cost £38 per hour when parents opt for a six-hour package deal. Alternatively, up to four children can be tutored as a group for £28 each per hour (up to GCSE level), and there is even a Saturday school on offer for children aged nine to 11 at £16 per child per hour. Parents can get together and pool their funds to pay for joint tuition, again at a reduced fee. However, parents are advised not to hand over money for a package of sessions before meeting the tutor and even having a trial lesson.

Online tuition is another option for parents and can work out cheaper than face-to-face tuition, expect to pay between £10-£15 an hour or a monthly fee of about £50. However, while online tuition may be suitable for parents looking for an overall level of tuition, there is no personal contact, which is perhaps the reason most parents turn to private tuition in the first place. Furthermore, many are based outside of the UK and may be unfamiliar with UK syllabuses or teaching methods, "Cheap is not necessarily cheerful. You may find that online companies that are based abroad don't know the local regime," says Sue Fieldman, editor of The Good Schools Guide.

Unfortunately, there is no regulatory body for private tutors, although tutors must by law be registered with the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB). Parents who are concerned may want to opt for an agency tutor who will have been regulated to some extent by the company representing them. Many agencies, for example, will take only retired teachers, or those with degrees in the subject they wish to teach. Additionally, an agency can perform a thorough background check and monitor the performance of every tutor on their books. "We have had potential tutors approach us who don't have appropriate qualifications and they are quickly shown the door," says Julie Harrison, director of Harrison Allen.

However, some argue that the best way to find a tutor is to ask friends and family, or school teachers. "Normally word of mouth is the best form of recommendation," says Ms Fieldman. Parents should be cautious when simply using internet search engines to seek out a tutor. "Absolutely anyone can put their details on these online noticeboards and they are not screened at all," warns Ms Curtis. Parents should always ensure that any prospective tutor is CRB checked and ask to see their qualifications and references before letting them near their child.

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