Stork, A. and Walker, B. (2015) Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor: Critical Publishing

Published under Critical Publishing Further Education Series the series editor is Susan Wallace

‘The diverse backgrounds of today’s students mean that the role of the personal tutor is more important than ever’ (Swain, 2008)

The complexities of supporting the learning needs of students in the 21st century be they in further education, sixth form colleges or schools requires a fresh perspective on how those needs can be met. Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor explores how though changes in the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) in 2015 and the National Occupational Standards for Personal Tutoring requires teachers and lecturers to develop, enhance utilise the skills in their role. The subtitle of the book indicates it is about supporting learners through personal tutoring and coaching. Whilst tutoring is an important aspect to explore it is the impact of that work on the learner that is of prime importance and this book addresses that requirement. It also highlights that across an institution a more strategic approach is required. One that focuses on the individual learners’ needs alongside their social needs within an effective pastoral care system so that all learners are supported especially those who are vulnerable or in danger on non completion of their programmes.

Whilst the book is written for those in teacher training and pre service the authors suggest is also suitable for those newly qualified or experienced teachers wishing to review and update their practice.

Written as a practitioner guide the practical examples are all drawn from the further education sector. Whilst the authors say the skills are transferable to other phases I feel the focus on further education is pertinent and needed. There are elements of practice that need to be explored in that context and this book offers that perspective.

The first three chapters in the book begin by exploring the definition of a personal tutor, what it means in terms of core values and skills and how the boundaries need to be established between the learner and the personal tutor and even the learners themselves.

The central chapters of the book offer a ‘toolkit’ to enable the reader to provide outstanding support to the learner. The basics of personal tutoring are covered through the lens of the student experiences in terms of activities and procedures. Topics such as tracking and monitoring, individual and group tutorials, a positive disciplinary approach, course review are explored with some practical suggestions to aid a good outcome for the student and the personal tutor.

Chapters 6 to 9 build on the toolkit in terms of how a personal tutor can give higher level support to the learners through solution focused coaching, observation, reflective practice and measuring impact. The closing chapter extends the role of the personal tutor even further by looking at the bigger picture with the context of effecting change and making a difference within the institution.

At the start of each chapter the aims are clearly given, followed by case studies drawn from further education and critical thinking activities. Much of the commentary relates to the authors personal experiences, conversations and perceptions giving a practitioner perspective that new teachers can learn from. There are useful grids and tables that simplify aspects of the topics being covered.  Each chapter finishes with a useful summary, learning checklist and some critical reflection activities. The authors liken the book to a lesson that you can dip in and out of, however, in reviewing the book I feel it would be best read sequentially.

It is possible to use link the content of the book to the new inspection demands and the occupational standards so that individuals can review their practice and enable them to focus on ‘gaps’ in their practice as a personal tutor. The authors provide a self assessment system so that the reviews at the end of each chapter can be scored to give a cumulative score as an individual and institution.

Reading the content and following the activities would undoubtedly support those preparing to teach in further education. Emphasising the importance of the role alongside a subject based role completes the quality learning experience of students.

Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor is a worthwhile read for anyone embarking on a future career in the further education sector.

Dr Coleen R Jackson, Co-Chair, Hon Treasurer IPDA

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