Where does the ISA review leave parents?

The new Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday that the Government are to review the new vetting & barring and criminal records regulations to ensure that ‘they are scaled back to sensible levels’. Under the existing proposals privately organised tutoring between parents and tutors was outside of the scope of the new regulations, although arrangements made through tutoring agencies would be covered. So to this extent, there was some inconsistency in the way that tutoring was treated by the ISA.

As parents we continue to be very much in favour of the new ISA regulations. Nothing brings the need for tutor checking home more than the recently reported case of the private tutor Ugochukwu Okorie who went on to abuse two young sisters. Would the new regulations have stopped this happening you may ask, well only if the tutor was already known to the authorities and the parents had conducted an ISA check.

Our advice to parents continues to be to make their own tutor checks and follow up references every time they use a new tutor. The ISA would have made the process a whole lot easier – the combination of wider safety checks and ability to look someone up quickly on the database would give parents a much greater sense of security.

So where does this review leave parents? Well, no better off, lets hope that the Government conclude the review quickly so that we can give families that extra piece of information they need to keep their children safe.

Online Tutoring

Beanbag was set-up back in 2007 to assist parents / guardians in finding face to face tutors for their children. Why – because as parents we struggled to find tutors for our children, and because we believe that this is an area where new technology solutions to old problems can make a real and lasting difference.

Our objective was always to increase the accessibility of tutoring, and as a technology business we have been thinking long and hard about other ways in which we could make this happen.

The problem as we see it, is that it’s not always possible to find a tutor when you need one, particularly if you live in geographically remote areas for example. It can also be a problem finding one to one support when your child needs help with an assignment or piece of homework. Formal tutoring arrangements whilst valuable are not always the answer. Online tutoring could provide a more cost effective way of tutoring, or provide that bit of supplementary support just when it’s required.

Yes there are alternatives. You can join a study programme online, e.g. themathsfactor.com, but this will not necessarily address the specific problems your children have when they need one to one support. Individual tutors sometimes offer skype (internet phone-call) based tutoring as well, but how do you know that they are who they say they are, and how does the tutor get paid?

Some of you may recall that Tutorvista.com entered the UK market in 2007, with a technology based offer providing unlimited online tutoring support by tutors based in India, but for a number of reasons this did not take off here. Why? Based on feedback from my children who used the service, there were dialect, and technology problems, this combined with low customer service levels made it unattractive to us. In spite of these issues, online tutoring is we believe a good idea, all you have to do is to see the number of online tutoring services in the USA, such as Tutor.com to understand the potential of online tutoring to address a wide variety of learning needs.

My belief is that online tutoring would be attractive to parents in the UK, if it were delivered properly, using technology that children prefer combined with professional customer service. What if we could provide online tutoring direct to parents, using the large number of CRB / ISA checked tutors that we already have listed on Beanbag? Would this be a winner – I think so.

Watch this space.

Panorama look at child safety and the ISA

Some of you may have seen the thought provoking BBC Panorama programme last night entitled ‘are you a danger to kids’.

With more than nine million people potentially effected by the vetting and barring scheme, it is something that will touch many people’s lives. Certainly those who come into regular contact (more than once a week) with children and vulnerable adults will be expected to obtain ISA registration. I explained the impact on tutors in a previous blog post.
Inevitably the programme touched upon issues around how the ISA will evaluate people – they will be expected to cover not only criminal records but allegations, complaints, tip-offs and suspicions (whether proven or not). An interview with John Pinnington highlighted the distress that unproven allegations can have on an individual, their family and their career.
We will be very much in the hands of the ISA’s two hundred strong team of case workers to make the right decisions. We will also be expecting them to safeguard potentially damaging personal data – no computers to be left on trains, please.
So what’s our view at Beanbag? Well as parents we welcome anything that reduces the risk that those with evil intentions ever get access to our children. As individuals, we are equally concerned about the human rights issues posed.
The debate will run and run, and I am sure that I will be writing about this again.

Every child a reader

Evidence if any were needed on the effectiveness of one to one tuition was reported in the Times last week.

Research by the Institute of Education, London University has analysed the performance of children with the lowest level of achievement at the end of Year One (aged six) at ten schools. Children that received one to one reading recovery support under the £10m Every Child a Reader programme found that they are now on track to reach the expected level by the end of primary school.

Institute of Education

They found evidence that these children made momentous progress within a few months of intensive tuition, and were ahead of their peers by about half a level in reading and a third of a level in writing by the end of year four.

What was interesting about the IOE’s research was that it focused on economically disadvantaged children, with just over half taking free school meals, often with English as a second language.

We are pleased to see this initiative opening up the opportunity of private tutoring to all – and would love to see private tutoring make more of an impact in the public sector.

Monitoring progress at School

Something that caught my eye today was the news that parents in Bristol, at Brislington Enterprise College (BEC), were to be amongst the first in the country to be able to track their children’s progress at school online.

Parents will be able to see regularly updated details of their offspring’s achievement, progress, attendance and behaviour. Designed not to replace regular interim and end of year written reports, it provides already information on children direct to parents.

Parents will be able to see their child’s timetable and details of absence including actions taken. Parent’s can see the value of this, and a parent has described this as a ‘positive step forward’, as it enables them to see good news and act upon problems quickly.

As a parent myself I think that this is a great example to what can be done to provide educational information to parents. It also opens the wider question of ‘parent voice’ in education, and the level to which parents can and should engage with the teaching profession and the school on their child’s development.

Zip it, block it, flag it

Children as young as five will be told to “zip it, block it, flag it” in a new internet safety campaign to be taught in primary schools, and a compulsory part of the national curriculum from September 2011.

“Zip it” tells them not to give out personal details online, while “block it” tells children not to open e-mails or attachments from people they have not heard of, and to block off anyone who sends hurtful messages. “Flag it” advises them to tell an adult if something unnerves or frightens them online.

Targeted directly at children, it reminds the older amongst us of the famous Green Cross Code.

Green Cross Man

So is it really necessary? Well research has found that one in five of the 99 per cent of 8 to 17-year-olds who use the internet had come across inappropriate content, and a third said their parents did not monitor their activity online. So the answer is yes.

Businesses such as Microsoft, Google and Bebo have agreed a range of new requirements, such as offering parents more rigorous privacy settings.

We at Beanbag also embrace the new code, and when its detail becomes clear we will implement it across our website.

Staying safe Online

We at Beanbag have been acutely aware of the need to protect our users online. Indeed over a year ago we commissioned and actioned a third-party Child Safety Review. We have also kept in contact with our friends at ChildSafe.

Action has also been necessary to protect our tutor community particularly from the risk of identity theft. Our secure messaging facility allows clients to contact tutors direct, without the tutor having to disclose their private email address or phone number on their tutor profile.

This is an evolving field, and Tanya Byron has been working with the government in an advisory capacity on online safety.

Around 140 companies, charities and other groups have signed up to the new standards. Measures include features such as the heralded ‘Panic Button’ allowing children to report offensive and inappropriate content. Beanbag is primarily used by adults, but recognising this risk we have added a ‘Report This’ button throughout our website.

Details of the new standards are published next week, and we will be looking closely at what we can do to make Beanbag an even safer place for tutoring.

Beanbag Article in Bristol 24-7

As promised yesterday, Bristol 24-7 published a news story about tutoring in Bristol and the success of our beanbag website.

In a well researched article, Chris Brown took time to research the market statistics – the Sutton Trust research is extensive and current.

Not so sure that I agree with the Headmaster of Bristol Grammar that it’s an indictment of the State education system that parents are willing to pay for private tuition. It’s parents doing the best they can for their children pure and simple, and he overlooks the fact that many private school students are privately tutored too.

Nevertheless, no publicity is bad publicity and we thank Chris for his article.

Tutorhub: a new Q&A website for tutors

The new website is called Tutorhub and is a place where tutors, old and new, can post and answer questions, with the aim of resolving their issues and problems. The website has been going a couple of weeks, and questions about CRB checking and ISA registration have already been posted. A quick visit will show the latest questions and answers.

Tutorhub Screenshot

New tutors are telling us that they would like to understand more about how they go about setting up in business and attract students. Existing tutors can help them, as well as having issues of their own. This website is designed to let tutors benefit from the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. We are firm believers in the power of collaboration, and are offering this service as it aligns with our aim to increase the supply of tutors across the UK.

Like Beanbag we are making this website free of charge to use. It is not a place for tutors to advertise their services, as this can be done via Beanbag and a variety of other tutoring websites. This is a place where tutors can go to give and receive assistance and support.
We hope that tutors find it useful. If you have any suggestions on how to improve Tutorhub, please contact me!