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.

 

Personal safety

Personal Safety

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.

 

Legal requirements

Legal Requirements

Student safety

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.

DBS Certificates

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, and some umbrella bodies will help the self-employed obtain one. It is worth searching online for a relevant company. The cost is in the region of £65.

Other alternatives are applying for a 'basic disclosure' from Disclosure Scotland, or a free 'subject access request' through your local police station.

Advertising truthfully

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.

Paying Tax

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:

https://www.gov.uk/business-legal-structures/overview

https://www.gov.uk/register-for-self-assessment

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 

Working with children

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.

 

Ethical tutoring

Ethical Tutoring

Professional boundaries

Question: Which of the following roles are appropriate for a private tutor?

  • parent
  • friend
  • 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

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.

 

Getting paid

Getting paid

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'

In general, the financial risk posed to tutors by clients who don't intend to pay is quite low. This risk is heightened when a client asks for a one-off tuition session or service such as proofreading, and strict payment in advance is advisable in these cases.

However, when dealing with more regular clients, the main problem that arises is the late cancellation or 'no show'. This article distils the wisdom of experienced tutors who have learnt how to deal with this.

Encourage commitment from the outset

It is far better to take steps to avoid cancellations instead of having to charge for them.

Many tutors find that a consultation lesson is helpful. Not only does it mean you can understand the client’s requirements and gain their trust, it also enables you to judge whether they are likely to be reliable. Some tutors offer a consultation lesson for free, at a reduced fee, or for a shorter length of time than a standard lesson.

Experienced tutors often ask for payment in advance. This helps to encourage commitment and to avoid financial risk if the student cancels.  Strategies include: 

  • payment in advance for a whole term's lessons.
  • payment in advance for a block of 4, 6 or 10 lessons.
  • payment online a week in advance for each lesson.
  • payment by cheque, Paypal, bank transfer, or through an online payment system on the tutor's website.
  • offering incentives for block booking, such as a 10% discount.

 

 Communicate your terms clearly

It is strongly advisable to communicate your terms and conditions to new clients in writing before lessons begin. These can be sent as an email, included as part of a Tutoring Agreement document, or posted on your own website.

In addition, it is more difficult to charge for cancellations unless you discuss your terms in person with the new client. Take the opportunity to let clients know why you have such a policy: not only does a late cancellation mean that you are left without an income, but other clients will potentially miss out on that time slot.

Only your own experience will help you create terms which are right for you. However, terms often include the following: 

  • full (or 50% of) tuition fees payable unless the lesson is cancelled 24 (or 48) hours in advance.
  • the possibility of rescheduling the lesson, but only at the tutor’s discretion.
  • recognition of extenuating circumstances such as illness.

 

Some tutors use their terms to explain what happens if the tutor has to cancel the lesson. Introducing a degree of reciprocity in your terms can be popular with clients, and can demonstrate your commitment and professionalism.

As with your teaching practice itself, high expectations and clarity encourage respect and commitment from clients, and too much leniency actually has the opposite effect.

Be flexible to maintain goodwill

Having said this, a robust cancellation policy gives you the opportunity to show discretion and flexibility in applying your terms, which many tutors see as very important. This is because demonstrating flexibility builds goodwill, and being too business-like or officious can actually be bad for business.

With this in mind, some tutors do not charge for a late cancellation the first time it happens. You can let the client know that you would have to charge in future, and can take the opportunity to remind them of your terms.

Likewise, although experienced tutors do not reward lateness by adding the time onto the end of the lesson, you may choose to do so if it is a rare occurrence.

It may be surprising, but some experienced tutors do not charge for cancellations at all. With long-term, reliable clients regular attendance and goodwill can actually outweigh the benefit of charging for cancellations.

Confidence and clarity

Finally, dealing with cancellations well requires you to be clear in your own mind about what is acceptable and what isn’t, and to have the confidence to communicate your terms in a professional but friendly manner. The options discussed here should help you do that.

Anything else, and you will find that either the client or circumstances will dictate the terms rather than you.

You will find a sample Tutor Agreement in The Tutor Pages e-book for tutors, and comprehensive tips for tutors on our tutor advice page.

 

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.