Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.
Hi and welcome to the latest NPSCC Learning podcast. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that most children have been out of school since mid-March, only returning over August and September. Whilst pupils were expected to do learning at home, it’s widely recognised that children will be behind and so there’ll need to be a ‘catch-up’ provision to get their educational progress back on track.
Already across the UK, initiatives are being set up by government, schools, communities, educational businesses and charities and individuals to help children catch up. In England, The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has been created so that the most disadvantaged pupils will have access to tutors, with primary and secondary schools providing one-to-one or group tuition for any pupils they think need it.
It's therefore vital that all tutors know their safeguarding responsibilities and what are appropriate practices and behaviours so they don’t put a child or themselves at risk. NPSCC Learning is creating a suite of free resources and information to help tutors, starting with this podcast.
We had a chat with two members of The Tutors' Association (TTA) - John Nichols, who is their current president and Sarah Gordon, who leads on safeguarding – and Helen Munn from the NSPCC, whose team creates online learning resources for NSPCC Learning. We spoke about how tutors, tutees and their families can feel safe and supported.
Before we get into the podcast, there are a couple of acronyms used – DSL which stands for Designated Safeguarding Lead; the term used in England for a person who has responsibility for ensuring safeguarding and child protection policies are adhered to, and DBS – which stands for the Disclosure and Barring Service. They carry out England’s vetting and barring checks and we acknowledge that both of these terms are different in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
I began by asking John how regulated the tutoring world was and whether he felt children, young people and tutors were sufficiently protected.
There's traditionally not been external regulation of the tutoring sector because it's so varied and broad and diverse. So teaching for adults even for children and young people, every subject is being taught in many different ways. There's music tuition, there's English and Maths tuition. There's primary and secondary and obviously people that are 16-to-18 or 16-to-19-year-olds. So, it's so diverse, it's been very difficult to directly regulate it in the past.
From The Tutors' Association perspective, obviously we always recommend that joining an association like The Tutors' Association gives a level of protection because the first port of call for clients, whether it's parents or schools to come to if they've got any concerns about the tutor themselves, there's an impartial body which isn't commercially engaged in the transaction at all. And where they can raise the complaint that will be properly investigated with a disciplinary panel which is chaired by a retired High Court judge who can review everything and make sure that there is a fair and objective, an impartial appraisal of what the circumstances are, and take action accordingly.
And Helen if I can come to you, we're likely to see individuals setting themselves up as tutors more and more aren't we that perhaps might not have been before and they might not have had any safeguarding training or experience. And if they're not in, say part of an association like The Tutors' Association, they may wonder where they can go for that. What would we be saying to people that are thinking about possibly setting up as a tutor?
Yes of course there's that and then there's also that tutors might be working differently so that even existing and experienced tutors may be working in different ways. The impact of coronavirus and lockdown and social distancing means that the children that the tutors may be coming into contact and working with may have different safeguarding concerns. They may have been restricted to a home that may not have been safe. They might have been experiencing more abuse or different types of abuse or neglect because of the impact of coronavirus. They may have experienced non-recent abuse and not had the usual support. So, it's going to be a really difficult situation for tutors regardless of their level of experience. And that's something that we do acknowledge and we are concerned about.
And that's why with NSPCC Learning, we're currently working on improving our current resources and updating them. But also developing new resources for tutors to help them support the children that they work with from a safeguarding perspective, but also to recognise safeguarding concerns and new safeguarding concerns that have come out from the current situation and how to respond and how to report that. Especially for those tutors who might be lone workers who aren't part of an agency or an association, and don't have the wider support structures of policies and procedures and reporting lines.
And Sarah, do you have any kind of idea about how your members are feeling about all of this? Do they feel confident that they've got the skills to safeguard?
From my experience, I would suggest that all of our members are very, very concerned about it and very committed to it. One thing that I have noticed and as Helen mentioned with the COVID pandemic that we've all had to deal with recently and continue to actually with this real uncertain world that we're all living in, is there's been a huge move to online tuition. And with one thing that I have seen from fellow tutors and colleagues that I know very well has been a concern about how we safeguard effectively online. And I think gaining clarity around that is really essential particularly as you say, we haven't got a regulated industry and we haven't necessarily got that DSL in place that we can go to.
You know, those of us that are lucky enough to be in the Association also being a professional agency, will have people there of course who are well placed to provide advice. But generally speaking and for lots of tutors who work by themselves, I think that's a really big area - keeping on top of that professional development and being aware of what you're not aware of, which at the moment I think is hugely focused on the online arena.
Helen, if I could bring you in to comment on that about how the NSPCC can also provide information, best practice, maybe areas of clarity?
So, we do of course acknowledge that there are these grey areas and we are trying to produce content and information and resources to help tutors with best practice. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the NSPCC Learning team produced some really useful content about teaching safely online.
We also have content around things like how to draft safeguarding policies and agreements with parents, contents and scenarios around lone working, information about how to recognise signs of abuse and neglect and report them. We've got the new content and the video and of course, we've got this podcast which we're hoping that tutors will find useful in terms of what they need to know around safeguarding and what they need today.
Sarah, you mentioned a concern being about tutoring online. Are there any other areas as well as that that maybe the tutors have concerns about with regards to safeguarding?
I think it's the development of that same issue that we've just discussed. What happens when we move from working in the child's home to working online. And that one-to-one relationship that children have with their tutors is often very different to the kind of relationship that a child will have with classroom teacher in a large group of students, ranging anywhere from around 15 to 30 students in one room at a time.
So, I think there are some really unique challenges that tutors face when it comes to safeguarding whilst still building a really strong, positive relationship that really nurtures learning, because tuition is so incredible when it comes to supporting students and getting them to where they want to be and improving their confidence, but of course it's all based around relationship building.
And with that in mind and working with young students who by definition through age are vulnerable, we've got to be really careful with how that's handled. So, I think that's probably one of the biggest safeguarding concerns that I identify very often and that I've seen tutors often discussing as well - how certain situations are handled. I think that's what I would see there in terms of key concerns.
Maybe John, we could explore this kind of one-to-one relationship between a child or a young person and their tutor a bit more. Do your members worry about making sure that lines aren't blurred or not to confuse the professional relationship with a personal one? Is that a theme that crops up and what kind of advice do you give your members with regards to that?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it is something which is pertinent because obviously the one-to-one relationship, it is noticeably different from the teaching relationship as Sarah mentioned where it's sort of one to a whole class. And it does take place often outside of a formal, professional premises, in many cases, not normally happening in a school. Sometimes it's happening in a tuition centre, but especially in the recent past, that's not the case. It's usually happening in either the tutor's home or the student's home. And I think that does mean that there is more scope for the lines to be blurred or potentially to be blurred. And that's something that tutors are often really conscious of.
There were a number of reasons for tutors to be more wary than the teachers normally would be because obviously it's very much more easy for the student to interpret things as being more on a friendship level than actually on a professional teaching basis. So, the vast majority do handle this fairly well, but it's something we always want to provide guidance on because it's very, very important those boundaries remain. That it is a professional and exclusively professional relationship where the tutor, whilst it's a very intensive academic engagement, that it has to remain in the student's eyes, an academic relationship and one about encouraging their academic development primarily.
Obviously in the one-to-one relationships, students often feel more comfortable about opening up about things that perhaps strays into more personal or pastoral aspects of their lives. And if there's a lot of trust there, which is what most tutors do try and ensure there is a high degree of trust so that they can teach very effectively and at a much faster pace sometimes than they see in a classroom environment, that level of trust can mean that all the students can spill the beans as it were on things that perhaps are not necessarily appropriate or that otherwise raise safeguarding concerns.
And that happens in cases that are very different from the sorts of experiences that teachers will often have. Students don't feel as inhibited in some cases when they are talking to someone they may know quite personally for some time. And they're in their home environment. They do sometimes feel more open about opening up on things to do with their personal lives. And it could be a whole matter of things, whether it's to do if abuse or neglect, whether it's recent or not, whether it's to do with activities that are illegal or that are inappropriate.
And for tutors it's really important for us to make sure all the tutors understand how they can manage difficult circumstances, where they understand how to ensure they don't compromise the relationship they have with their students in terms of, they can't ever promise to keep things in absolute secret. They must always make it clear to students that there is always the potential that we need to pass information on and they must also always make that clear.
Also, being able to provide appropriate advice to students immediately following any kind of discussion that student raised which isn't directly related to the academic side of things that they're trying to teach and making sure that they can provide the appropriate guidance. Whether that's signposting them to other forms of support, whether that's explaining to them what they need to do next or whatever it might be in accordance with that situation.
It's obviously a much more challenging circumstance that tutors could potentially be involved in and it's something they need support with on an ongoing basis. And it's something we're really, really keen to provide and make sure there's available for them.
Sure, thanks John. So, Helen if I could pop back to you for an NSPCC perspective. What would we be saying to tutors about what they should be having in place in order to ensure that everybody's protected, all parties are protected?
Well I think our main message is that it's everybody's responsibility to protect children and young people. And tutors, for all the reasons that have been discussed in this podcast have such an important role. Especially at the moment when they may be one of the very few adults to actually outside of their immediate family to interact with the child.
So, we would say that tutors need to have a safeguarding policy and codes of conduct and they should have agreements with parents. And this may be around whether they are left alone with the child. We say it's best practice to have two adults present when working with children and young people.
But we do acknowledge that sometimes that's not appropriate or achievable, but that needs to be talked through. There needs to be an in agreement in place. We don't want a situation where also a tutor's put in a really awkward position where they might go into a family home to tutor a child and the parents say, "oh, we're just popping out to the shops. Can you watch that child and their siblings?". All that needs to be discussed up front with the safeguarding policy and a code of conduct, an agreement in place between the tutor and the parents.
Helen, going back to a little bit that Sarah said about tutoring online. For some tutors, it's a new thing. They may be really used to tutoring face-to-face. What best practice advice would we be giving around online tutoring?
I think one of the main important things to consider is that safeguarding is safeguarding whether it is face-to-face or whether it's online or a blend of the two. Safeguarding is something that needs to be paramount and central to everything. And the content that I mentioned on NSPCC Learning around remote teaching has some really useful points and guidelines that can be part of that agreement about how online teaching can take place safely.
So, for example from a parent perspective, I've recently engaged a tutor for the very first time for my child because of my concerns about the impact on her education because of recent events. I have to admit that the tutor I engaged was slightly taken aback when I asked the massive list of safeguarding questions. I think that might be because I work for the NSPCC, my questions were more specific than most parents. But we did upfront agree things like how it would work, where I would be, that I would be in earshot.
My daughter's tutor is doing a blended approach, so she's doing some sessions face-to-face and some online. And in a way, we're kind of working it out as we go along because it's new for the tutor, it's new for us. But we did have that upfront conversation and we did set those upfront ground rules. And that has been really, really essential and beneficial for it working effectively and safely.
Sarah and John, we're nearing the end now but it would be good to pick up on that point. From your experience, both as tutors and as members of The Tutors' Association, do you find that parents are very concerned about safeguarding? Do they ask your members for vetting and barring and checks upfront? Do you get a sense of that? What would your take be?
So, in terms of the parents and how much they're focused on the sort of safeguarding concerns, I think we encourage parents to always check that your tutor has a DBS check. Ask them about it. Feel free to ask about it. No reputable tutor is ever going to be concerned or in any way put out by the questions of have you got a DBS check, when was it last done and any other questions around safeguarding and sort of the circumstances and how they'll act in certain circumstances. Especially if you've got any particular concerns about your child, then please discuss it with your tutor upfront and agree everything in advance.
We strongly recommend to tutors that as Helen's described that they have a discussion with parents at the outset to explain how things work, to make it really clear about how they will be helping to safeguard the child and the circumstance in which they go straight to the parents.
We also recommended and we support tutors to have a more comprehensive safeguarding policy in place should the parents want to look at it in more detail. We would encourage parents to do that and at least make themselves familiar with the fact that there is something in place. There is a set of rules and guidelines that tutors will follow because tutors are professionals in the sense that teachers are professionals. They just work for different people and they work in a different way.
I think probably one of the greatest surprises to me, I left a teaching career to begin tutoring exclusively, is the fact that not one parent - and I work with a wonderful series of families, always have been lucky enough to do so - and I have never, ever, ever been asked to show them my DBS certificate, which has always really surprised me.
I actually offer it up anyway and provide that as one of the first things I do when I start working with the family. And I think that parents just aren't aware that it's not regulated as an industry. And I think very often they confuse the fact that tutors and teachers are one and the same, which as John's just mentioned, we aren't. All reputable tutors are just as professional as any school teacher that you can find. However, there is an onus on us as a result to regulate ourselves.
So, I think the biggest thing that I would and I echo what Helen has done there as well, is to ask the tutor to see in the very first instance a copy of an up-to-date DBS certificate, and hopefully they're on the update service too. But additionally, and it's something which I take great pride in, to provide the parents with a safeguarding code of conduct because again it demonstrates your tutor's commitment to the safety and wellbeing of your child which has to be at the centre of all great learning. So, I think that would really be what I found working with families.
John, Sarah, Helen, thank you so much for talking to us today. It's been really interesting. Really appreciate it. Thank you very much.
"Thank you for listening to this NSPCC Learning Podcast. If you're looking for more safeguarding and child protection training, information or resources, please visit our website for professionals at nspcc.org.uk/learning."