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.

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