A new ethos for tutoring students with SEND

nasen Connect September 2019

Dr Stevenson considers how tutoring can evolve and the opportunity this presents -published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 19.               

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Director Dr Ryan Stevenson considers how tutoring can evolve and the opportunity that it presents in this contribution to nasen Connect magazine (Sept. 2019)

Bright Heart director, Dr Ryan Stevenson relates his story of working with SEND students and the valuable opportunity that tutoring presents. He argues a new approach is needed.  This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2019 edition.

nasen Connect September 2019
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

A new ethos for tutoring students with SEND

Being a billion-pound industry, there are a multitude of tutoring agencies and private tutors in the UK. In addition, there are multiple combinations of subjects and exam boards to specialise in and tutors are varied in their nationalities, ages and eccentricities. This was the sub-culture I awakened to in 2012 when becoming a maths and science tutor in London.

After approaching several agencies, I soon began working and familiarising myself with the lingo of the curriculums and student levels. It was clear to me from the beginning that tutors can play an important role for families and schools in delivering education.

In those early days, I was matched with students needing tutoring in science or maths, but I would often find that students also presented with additional learning challenges. This experience was initially quite difficult for me as I came to grips with different ways of learning, the learning environment, the different SEN labels and student behaviour which often left me feeling the need to walk on eggshells.

The objectives for tutoring were most often expressed as simply improving grades. Preparation and training were not high on the agenda and little regard was given to the tuition process, other than ensuring the tutor had the required subject knowledge.

This simplification was an eye-opener. It is premature to launch into rigorous academic work when the student is not yet at ease in the learning environment; studies highlight the lack of retention when the mind is in a stressed state. In fact, a negative relationship with learning can be exacerbated if a student is feeling pushed or cornered into working by a tutor who does not first establish some rapport with them or who does not consider their specific needs.

Observing and learning from student interaction

With increasing referrals of students with SEND, I carefully reflected on what made for effective tuition. I found building rapport and trust with the student and being aware of the learning ‘space’ to be very important. This space is beneficial when tutors are aware of the student’s specific needs and know how to work with them, but also by tutors being calm, receptive and expressing warmth. Psychologist Carl Rogers describes this as ‘positive unconditional regard’, which he noticed made a significant impact on patients’ improvement rates.

Once rapport and trust has been developed, the student is often willing to work more diligently. In positively affirming the unique presence of the student, there is also an increase in their self-esteem and self-worth. All of this leads to greater confidence and a ‘flowering’ of the whole individual. This development is particularly apt for students with SEND who may have lower self-esteem. These positive changes help to promote academic progress and a more stable individual.

Moving away from traditional ideas about tutoring and solely being a subject expert, it is important to give attention to the ‘softer’ factors which make the above process possible. It is suggested therefore, to parents and schools, to look for the following qualities in a tutor:

  • the demonstration of patience and understanding
  • the ability to maintain a calm and receptive learning environment
  • being able to build rapport and create engagement
  • flexibility in their approach to the student’s needs and character
  • particular experience and training for the specific educational need of the student.

This approach aligns well with the SEND Code of Practice (2015) where person- centred working is central. Sometimes, however, what is most crucial is the mindset of the tutor. It is important that they have the intention of creating a safe space for the student from the beginning and are mindful of the role played by his or her own emotions.

Meeting the challenge and implementation of ethos

Seven years later and now the co- founder of a tutoring agency of my own, we have looked to implement a more personal tutoring approach to ensure effective tuition for students with SEND. In addition to providing tutors with detailed guidance on our tutoring ethos, we’ve met this challenge by selecting high quality, experienced tutors who exhibit empathy and understanding, while also preparing them with respect to the SEND landscape. Specially commissioned training videos have been provided for tutors which cover the current context of SEND, the four broad areas of need, person-centred working and specific needs and strategies. Face to face training has also been planned. While not a substitute for direct experience, this knowledge base allows tutors to gain an immediate context and a selection of useful tools. We also ensure we gather as much information as possible regarding each student’s learning preferences. This is something schools and parents can be aware of to enhance the tuition experience.

Tutoring, as outlined here, is not merely the transfer of knowledge to meet a specific educational target. It is a golden opportunity to engage with the child in a way that can further their whole development and one to which I hope I have brought some attention. With this intention, much can be accomplished.

Contact us

If you feel the above article rings true for you then please get in touch and we can see how we can help.


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Our nasen tutor training course

student doing online training course

In this article, we provide some insight from our nasen training course, produced exclusively for Bright Heart’s tutors.                  

Simon McQueen

We explain why we asked nasen to help train our tutors, discuss the course and provide insight from our tutors’ test answers.

Why did we ask nasen to help train our tutors?

The lack of tutor training was a key shortcoming observed by Ryan in working with various tutoring agencies. This was especially concerning for tutors working with students with learning challenges. 

One of Bright Heart’s main goals is to improve the quality of tuition for students who would benefit most from a more nurturing approach. We approached nasen (National Association of Special Educational Needs) to help achieve this, due to its stellar reputation over >25 years supporting SEN practitioners with training and resources.

In meeting nasen’s education team, we were surprised to find that no other tutoring agency had met with them before. We therefore commissioned nasen to produce an online training course exclusively for Bright Heart before even hiring our first tutor

The training course comprises 4 webcasts (as shown below) and a detailed written test. The aim of the course is to ensure that our tutors are adequately prepared to meet the individual learning needs of our students.

Webcast 1: The Current Context of SEND

This provides a brief overview of the legislative context of SEND (special educational needs and disability) in England. It considers the key principles of the Code of Practice (2015), followed by the models of disability. The current definition of SEND is also discussed.

The current context of SEND

Webcast 2: The 4 broad areas of need

This covers the four main divisions of SEND according to student need, being:

  • Communication and Interaction
  • Cognition and Learning
  • Sensory and / or Physical
  • Social, Emotional and Mental Health

The webcast also considers how support and provision works, discussing the graduated approach and general strategies to consider for students.

4 broad areas of SEND

Webcast 3: Person-centred working

This defines person-centred working and how it should inform all interaction with students. It also explains how it should be used in conjunction with the Bright Heart Approach. Our heart-based approach focuses on the whole student and building rapport with warmth, before addressing academic needs.

Person-centred working

Webcast 4: Specific needs and strategies

This webcast provides a good examination of some specific SEN, including dyslexia, autism and social, emotional and mental health needs. It explains how understanding a student’s needs and considering related strengths and appropriate strategies helps to improve tutoring. Lastly, it discusses general strategies of engagement to add to a tutor’s tools for effective tuition.

SEND tutoring strategies

The nasen training course test

Bright Heart’s tutors are required to pass a detailed written test covering the nasen training course. The test comprises 20 questions requiring careful consideration from tutors. The focus is on applying the course material to practical learning situations. A selection of the questions posed are:

  • How might adopting the social model of disability benefit your work?
  • How could person-centred tools be used as part of the graduated approach?
  • Imagine that you are working with a young person that is being uncooperative. How might you go about trying to engage them?
  • Why is care needed when using labels to describe needs e.g. dyslexia?

Interesting insights provided by our tutors

Our tutors demonstrated their full understanding of the course material through their test answers. Reviewing these answers provided some interesting insights into their approach to tuition. Answers took into account the Bright Heart Approach, specific tools and guidance provided by the nasen training, as well as tutors’ own practical experience and other relevant training and qualifications.

A selection of helpful and insightful extracts from tutors’ answers to the questions above included:

  • "Adopting the social model is paramount to any educator's practice... Adherence to the model means looking at each one of my tutees as a unique human being, whose feelings, needs and learning style differ from those of any other human being. The Bright Heart model is quintessentially social, and relies on creating an empathetic rapport with the tutee in order to nurture not only the learner but the sentient being who has feelings, hopes, wishes and opinions of his or her own. ..."
  • "Many of the tools promote information gathering, and encourage an exploration of the young person’s world: how they experience their learning. This leads to both assessment of needs and also a recognition of what is useful to include in planning. Other tools promote review and reflection and can be used to indicate what needs changing or adapting as you go along."
  • "... Listening to the person, showing concern for their feelings, can often deal with the root of the problem, and not only the outward manifestation, which can only worsen if left untouched. Without attempting to solve the problems in people's lives, or to intervene in them in any way, simple listening and caring can help to build a healthy relationship with our tutees. Even if we manage to get a person to collaborate under a punitive approach, the fact that they are doing it under duress will only make it a short-term remedial measure. The Bright Heart approach is based on caring and understanding of tutees, not coercive measures which may assure compliance, but damage rapport, and, most importantly, fail to foster lifelong learners."
  • "Because every individual is different and they may not "fit" the dyslexic label as simply as one might expect - e.g. showing maybe one of the characteristic signs rather than all. Dyslexia is a spectrum condition, and also can occur comorbidly with other learning difficulties. Lastly, using the label may down play their strengths, such as creativity and their natural ability to see the bigger picture of concepts and problems."

Find a well-trained tutor to help your child

Bright Heart is pleased that its tutors have embraced their training and demonstrated their thorough understanding of it through their test answers. We plan to complement online training with in-person nasen training. Bright Heart’s directors have already received in-person training from nasen. We will write more about this in a future blog. 

Please get in touch to talk to us about how one of our well-trained, caring tutors could be perfect for your child!


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SEN Magazine features Bright Heart Education

Bright Heart Education’s tuition offering has been featured in the Jan / Feb 2019 edition of the SEN Magazine. 

Bright Heart Education

Bright Heart’s tuition offering was featured in the Jan / Feb edition of the SEN Magazine

SEN Magazine features Bright Heart Education

Bright Heart is pleased to have been featured in the “What’s New” section of the Jan/ Feb 2019 issue of the SEN Magazine

This feature highlighted the nurturing approach that Bright Heart brings to the tutoring market. It also explained how Bright Heart provides its tutors with exclusive training through nasen (National Association of Special Educational Needs). 

Extract from the "What's New" section of the Jan/Feb 2019 edition of the SEN Magazine (SEN98)

SEN Magazine is the UK’s leading special educational needs magazine. It is published every 2 months. Its readership includes SENCOs, parents, therapists, teachers and other special educational needs practitioners. It covers many topics with respect to special educational needs in the UK, including:

  • All major conditions (such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome)
  • Mental health
  • Literacy and numeracy
  • Behaviour
  • Teaching children with special educational needs
  • General issues of education, care and government legislation
  • Special schools and mainstream schools

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