New national occupational standards for personal tutoring  will help to raise standards across the sector, writes Sally Wootton

The learning and skills sector has long supported the idea that personal tutoring contributes to improved retention and achievement, with a great deal of research suggesting that it lies at the heart of every learner’s experience and is central to his or her achievement and progression.

So why is the role of the personal tutor still often under-resourced and undervalued?

Many see tutors as an expensive luxury; they are often the first to go when savings need to be made. But reducing the level of tutoring is a false economy considering the role it plays in identifying learners at risk, implementing early interventions and supporting learners to keep on track.

And lost learners mean lost income. That aside, remember that when we recruit learners we are making a commitment to serve them well —  good tutoring is part of that service.

Being a tutor is a complex role but it is one that contributes to retention, achievement and progression. Tutors monitor progress; identify barriers to learning and enable learners to become motivated, autonomous self-starters; to develop essential wider skills so that they are well equipped to succeed.

The difficulty is finding evidence to show the impact of this complex role. It has been said that where learners succeed, it is down to good teaching; where they fail, it is down to poor tutoring.

Many case studies have found that poor tutoring can have a negative impact on  a learner’s mental wellbeing”

More work needs to explore and develop methods to assess the impact of tutoring, not simply to validate the contribution that it makes but also to provide a tool for self evaluation and quality improvement.

There’s the assumption too that ‘anyone can do it’. Tutoring is a learning relationship that requires specific skills and attributes. A negative tutoring relationship — that is, one that does not engage fully with the learner — hinders an individual’s potential.

Plus, many case studies have found that poor tutoring can have a negative impact on  a learner’s mental wellbeing. The right people must be in place to encourage, support and challenge learners.

Sadly, many organisations still allocate tutoring on the basis of timetables and availability, rather than an ability to do the job effectively.

Historically, little guidance has been available to support the effective recruitment and development of skilled personal tutors. This has led to a disparate quality of provision  across the sector and, in many cases, across individual organisations.

The Further Education Tutorial Network (FETN) is addressing these issues through research, training and resource development, and has recently worked with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service to develop national occupational standards for personal tutoring.

These standards identify the requisite skills, knowledge and understanding, and are applicable to FE and sixth-form colleges, higher education and work-based learning. The new standards clarify the tutoring role, bringing it in line with other professional occupations such as mentoring, coaching and counselling.

The standards can be used as a benchmark for effective tutoring practice and as a tool to review policy and procedures for recruiting, training and supporting personal tutors. They are available on the free resources page of the FETN website.

Dr Sally Wootton, founding director of the Further Education Tutorial Network