How to Become a Private Tutor: What qualifications do you need to be a private tutor?
Updated: Feb 19
Unlike lawyers, accountants, and other regulated professions, there are no legal requirements for people seeking to become private tutors. Therefore, in deciding what qualifications are needed, we need to be more specific, or the matter becomes as indeterminate as the old question about the length of a piece of string.
Let me re-phrase it, then, as What qualifications (or skills) do you need to be a good private tutor? Our view at Threshold Education is that a good tutor is anyone with deep understanding of their subject who can successfully communicate that understanding to others. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this but the most important are academic rigour, empathy, and self-awareness.
This is the cornerstone of tutoring. Knowledge of a subject is not enough; a tutor should understand it at a deep conceptual level. In general, a good private tutor should have qualifications at least one level above the level at which they are teaching, e.g. to teach a subject to undergraduates, a tutor should have at least a Master's degree in the field. All of our private tutors are required to have attained a first or an upper second at a good (Russell Group or equivalent) university in a subject related to the ones they intend to teach.
However, knowledge alone is not enough. A good personal tutor also requires a quality we like to call "academic empathy". If empathy is the ability to imaginatively comprehend another person's experiences, a tutor requires the ability to imaginatively comprehend their intellectual situation.
In other words, they have to be able to intuitively grasp what a student understands about a subject, what they don't, and why. For example, an A Level Economics student might be comfortable drawing graphs of equilibria for a range of different markets, but be unable to explain the reasons these equilibria occur in words. A good Economics tutor will immediately understand this, and identify the aspects of the student's skill profile and mindset that explain this problem. Knowledge of pedagogical theory can help with this, but equally, a gifted tutor might be able to do this intuitively, without a theoretical framework. A personal tutor should never try to fit a student's mindset into a theory of learning, but adapt their style on an ongoing basis, to find the method that works for that individual.
A private tutor should be able to connect with a student on a personal level, while retaining a professional demeanour. Since every student is unique, so is their ideal tutor. This is why why we always give a student or parent the final choice about whom they choose to work with, and why they are welcome to change tutors at any time.
Of course, certain qualities help relate to all learners. Patience, emotional warmth, and a friendly attitude are vitally important, especially with younger children. But ultimately, we believe that an ideal tutor's personality is as unique as their student's.
What about QTS?
Qualified Teacher Status, regulated by the government and awarded by various universities in the UK, permits you to teach in a UK state school that isn't an Academy or Free School (these are not as tightly controlled). To earn this status, you need to complete a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Whilst this has many good and worthy elements, much of it is based on the requirements of managing large classes, and is therefore not really applicable to private tuition. Moreover, it hasn't yet ensured that every teacher teaching in a UK state school is a good teacher. It is partly for this reason that many independent schools, keen to encourage ambitious and gifted graduates to enter the profession, do not require it. Being a qualified teacher, then, may make you a better private tutor, or it may not. Many of our tutors are professional teachers at leading schools in the UK, whilst others have never taught in schools but are fantastic full-time tutors.
If you have any questions about how to find the right private tutor, please contact Threshold Education.