Essential tips for private tutors in the UK
Whether you are new to private tutoring or have some experience already, this essential advice for private tutors is for you.
It has been compiled through consultation with many experienced independent tutors who use The Tutor Pages website. Information is divided into seven sections: Personal safety, Legal requirements, Working with children, Ethical tutoring, Staying safe online, Getting paid, and Insurance for private tutors.
Don't forget that potential students, parents or carers are strangers, and so it is wise to be cautious. If you are meeting face-to-face for the first time, we advise you to:
- talk on the phone first (ask pro-active questions, listen for any inconsistencies in information you are being told and stay alert for any odd behaviour).
- be vigilant, trust your instincts and don't be afraid to call off the meeting if you feel worried.
- meet in daylight, and in a public place if possible.
- tell a friend or family member where you are going, and when you expect to return.
- don't let anyone pick you up by car.
- take your mobile phone with you, and possibly a personal alarm.
- if you are visiting someone's home, ask if anyone else is going to be there and, if you're concerned, also ask about any pets.
- if someone is visiting your home, let them know that a friend or family member may also be there. If you're worried, you might also consider asking a neighbour to expect a call at a certain time after the lesson.
- whether you're working at a student's home or your own, make sure you have a clear exit from the room and the building.
Although it is sensible to remain vigilant, despite what the tabloids would have us believe, we should remember that personal safety is only very rarely a problem. For more comprehensive advice on personal safety, visit The Suzy Lamplugh Trust website.
If you offer private lessons at your own home, you have a legal duty to make sure you're providing a safe environment. It is also worth mentioning to potential clients if you have any pets, in case they have allergies or are uncomfortable around them.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires that you do a simple risk assessment by looking for hazards in your workplace. Common hazards include trailing wires, frayed carpets or a cluttered work space. See the HSE website for further details.
Private tutor insurance (see below) will cover you in the unlikely event of an accident involving a member of public on your premises.
The so-called 'enhanced DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) certificate' is an official document which proves that there is no known reason why an individual may not work with children or vulnerable adults.
Having a DBS certificate is not a legal requirement if you are a self-employed tutor. However, many tutors prefer to have a DBS certificate to show to parents or carers.
Various organisations (such as unions or employment agencies) will help you obtain a DBS certificate, or you can apply individually at www.exessltd.co.uk. The cost is in the region of £65.
If you advertise, you are obliged by law to describe your tuition services truthfully and accurately.
This means, for example, you cannot claim to have qualifications you don't have, or that all of your students have received A* grades if this is not the case.
Members of the public can report false advertising to the Advertising Standards Authority. You can make sure you are abiding by the UK Advertising Codes by visiting www.cap.org.uk.
If you start working for yourself as a tutor, you're classed as a self-employed sole trader. This carries with it some responsibilities.
You'll need to record your income and the allowable expenses you'd like to claim, such as books, travel and advertising. You only need a simple system to record these, and can find a sample record sheet in our free guide for tutors.
You'll be liable for income tax on your profits and national insurance. You'll also have to complete a self-assessment tax return every year. This is obligatory, even if you are employed elsewhere.
For further information on setting up your business, visit:
Working with children
Working in one-to-one situations with children means that you have a duty to look out for their well-being. Therefore, consider the following:
- work with the parent or carer from the outset. Children, particularly older teenagers, may enquire about your tuition services. In this situation, make sure you deal with the parent or carer.
- avoid social relations with the student. Except for the clear purpose of arranging lessons, phoning, texting, emailing or other social relations with a child should be avoided.
- deal with any child protection issues. If a student shares any information with you regarding abuse or bullying, or you suspect such problems, then you cannot ignore it or promise a student to keep it secret. We would recommend you contact the NSPCC for advice on what to do next.
- take the NSPCC online course in child protection. This costs only £20 and can be accessed via the NSPCC website.
In-person tuition with children
If you're working face-to-face with children, bear in mind the following additional guidance:
- have another person present when tutoring. This person can act as a witness in the unlikely event of an accusation of abuse being made against you. If this is not possible, consider keeping the door open to where another person is present. Do not teach a child in their own bedroom.
- avoid physical contact. In academic tutoring, touching a student (including gestures such as putting a hand on the shoulder) is best avoided to prevent misinterpretation. On the other hand, musical instrument tuition often requires touch as a necessary part of teaching, and music teachers should research this area to understand the issues.
- be careful about offering transport. Only give a child a lift in your car with the clear permission of the parent or carer.
Online tuition with children
Online tuition with children is perceived by some to be safer than face-to-face tuition. The argument is that, without physical contact, there is a both a lower risk of child abuse and of false allegations against the tutor. Online lessons are sometimes recorded so that the child can review them later. This has the added advantage of providing evidence in the case of any allegations.
Having said this, one of the key issues surrounding online tuition is the psychological and emotional distance it creates. Online clients are reported to be slightly more unreliable, and engaging the attention of younger children may be more difficult. As a tutor, you'll therefore have to work harder to establish rapport and trust with both the child and the parent or carer.
There is also the risk of online grooming. As such, it is advisable not to tutor a child online unless the parent or carer is in the same room or within earshot.
For further information about how best to tutor online, read our comprehensive report into online tuition.
Question: Which of the following roles are appropriate for a private tutor?
- social worker
- all of the above
- none of the above?
The best answer is… e) – this is because, as a professional, you need to be aware of and maintain appropriate boundaries. At the same time, there is also clearly a need for flexibility. For example, it possible to be friendly but not a friend, and supportive but not a social worker.
You might like to consider the following spectrum of tutor roles:
← Disciplinarian, Instructor, Assessor, Coach, Mentor, Adviser, Listener, Counsellor, Confidante, Social Worker, Parent, Friend, Intimate →
The key is to remain aware of the roles you can play, and to exercise caution so that you can build rapport with your students without landing yourself in trouble or being taken advantage of.
Other ethical issues
Self-awareness is key for most issues which may arise. These include:
- refusing to engage in plagiarism, such as completing a student's work for them.
- rejecting 'over-tutoring', i.e. by discouraging tuition if there is no need for it.
- admitting when a student's demands (academic, emotional or behavioural) are beyond your capacity or expertise.
- keeping all student information confidential (unless there is a child protection issue, in which case relevant authorities need to be informed).
- respecting diversity in all its forms: e.g. religious, cultural, linguistic and in family life.
- dealing politely and promptly in all interactions with students, parents or carers.
Finally, you should consider what makes you a professional, competent and effective tutor. This could include, for example, staying up-to-date with exam board curricula, understanding the need for CPD (Continuing Professional Development) or joining a professional society such as The Tutors' Association. Our free guide for tutors helps you explore this area, and has a wealth of advice on effective teaching in a one-to-one context.
Staying safe online
The UK government-sponsored website www.getsafeonline.org is the best source of information on staying safe online. Below are two areas of risk for tutors.
Avoiding identity theft
Private tutors are particularly vulnerable to the risk of identity theft. This is where a criminal will impersonate you for financial gain.
If you advertise your tutoring services on the internet, you need to take extra care that you don't post sensitive data online, for example in your CV. According to the Metropolitan Police, criminals need only three out of 15 key pieces of information to commit identity fraud, and the average CV contains eight pieces of information.
Spotting fraudulent enquiries
If you advertise as a tutor on the internet, you need to watch out for the occasional fraudulent email enquiry.
These emails are usually variations of the so-called 'counterfeit cashier's cheque' scam.
Put simply, a dishonest enquirer from abroad asks if they can send you a cheque to pay for a block of lessons. For one reason or another, the enquirer then requests a refund for part or all of the amount. However, since the original cheque is fraudulent, you will lose any money you transfer back to the enquirer.
These emails tend to:
- be from a 'parent' overseas (typically Africa, Russia or Eastern Europe).
- request a large block of lessons upfront, despite knowing very little about you.
- have poor spelling and grammar.
- immediately request personal information such as your home address.
The best advice against such scams is simple: never send money to someone you've only ever met on the Internet, no matter what the circumstances are.
Tutors will charge a wide range of fees, and will sometimes offer a discount for a block booking. Visit our Tutor Fees page to see the current average price per hour for different subjects, and to find out the factors influencing what tutors charge.
Avoiding late cancellations or 'no shows'
The risk posed to tutors by timewasters or those who don't intend to pay is very low, though the risk may be heightened when an enquirer asks for a one-off service (such as proofreading).
One of the major problems, however, can be the financial loss caused by late cancellations or 'no shows'.
The first step towards addressing this problem is to set out your terms clearly: both verbally when you meet the client, and in writing. For example, many tutors require 24 or 48 hours notice for a cancellation, otherwise the lesson fee is forfeited.
Many tutors will create a Tutoring Agreement to set out their terms. This can be given to new students at the outset, along with other documents such as a questionnaire to help with your initial assessment of the student. A sample Tutoring Agreement and Questionnaire can be found in our free Guide to Private Tutoring.
Another strategy to reduce the number of cancellations or 'no shows' is to use a free online booking system such as 10to8.com. These systems are useful because they automatically send out emails and text reminders to clients to make sure they don't miss their lessons.
Experienced tutors use a wide variety of strategies to ensure that they are paid in a fair and timely way. In practice, though, most tutors will show some flexibility in order to promote goodwill and nurture the relationship. Strategies include requiring:
- payment in advance for a whole term's lessons.
- payment in advance for a block of 4 or 6 lessons.
- payment at the end of each lesson.
- payment in cash, cheque, Paypal, bank transfer, or through a online payment system on the tutor's website.
Whatever strategy you use, many tutors find that a free or reduced-price consultation lesson is important to establish trust and understand the student's requirements. You might consider offering a consultation lesson for free, at a reduced fee, or for a shorter length of time than a standard lesson.
Insurance for private tutors
Being insured is not a legal requirement for tutoring.
Insurance for private tutors usually covers the policy holder for two areas: Public Liability and Professional Indemnity. Public Liability insurance would cover you, for example, if you were sued because a student had an accident at your home and suffered personal injury. Professional Indemnity would cover you if you were sued by a student because you had given defective advice.
Further information on insurance for private tutors, and where best to apply for it, is given in our e-book for private tutors.