While it is important that, as a tutor, you are available and willing to assist students, it would be unprofessional, unethical and impossible to assist students with everything. A simple example of this is while you want your students to perform well on the course and are willing to provide guidance on assignments, providing too much guidance, essentially doing the assignment for them, would be unprofessional. It is also important to note while providing guiding on assignments, it is likely the lecturer is in a better position to provide guidance and you are likely to know less about the subject than them so it’s possible you may give the wrong advice.

In a similar manner to being a lecturer, but even more delicate, is ensuring that professional distance is maintained. This is more challenging as a tutor due to needing to build a suitable rapport but it is essential that the boundary is not crossed, for example, “giving your personal telephone to learners could be seen as encouraging informal contact”. (Gravells, 2014, p. 7) Another example of a boundary that again applies to lecturers, but it is more common to be tempted to cross, is being “able to work within the limits of that role”, not referring a student that requires a referral is unethical. Students will encounter a wide variety of experiences and feelings while learning and outside the educational setting that will be discussed with their tutor, in some matters such as safeguarding, student wellbeing, finance, etc., it is essential that tutors are able to refer students to ensure they receive the correct advice, “no matter how well intentioned, being supportive and helpful can cause more problems than it solves if it concerns matters outside of our knowledge, skills and expertise.”(Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 25)

It is possible that students will complain about other lecturers during tutorial sessions, while this is something you need to be aware of and potentially investigate, it is essential that you do not undermine the lecturer. Agreeing with a student’s complaint about a lecturer can cause tremendous problems, it is important to remain professional, record what the student is saying and then investigate further without the student present.

It is important for a student’s overall development to be honest and “demonstrate faith in pupils’ learning ability and provide honest, positive and constructive feedback” (The Tutor’s Association, 2013), saying a piece of work is good or that the student is performing well when they’re not would be unprofessional and unethical. It is important to avoid “any unhealthy dependencies by suggesting a need for tutoring where no such need exists” (The Tutor’s Association, 2013) as this would also be unethical.

The following are 4 examples of situations you may face as a tutor

Scenario 1: A learner in your tutor group is very thin. Leslie keeps going out of your lesson and you suspect anorexia nervosa might be the cause. You have a tutorial in 15 minutes with Leslie, what shall you do?

Talk to Leslie for additional information, refer to student wellbeing team who will likely refer or involve the nurse. If the suspected anorexia is so serious that you fear that Leslie is in immediate danger then a referral to the safeguarding team should also be completed. Discussing the matter with other lecturers and updating the group profile so that others can be observant in relation to her behaviour regarding the suspected anorexia. Going beyond this and offer advice on a suitable treatment would cross a boundary and be unethical.

Scenario 2: Toni wants to tell you something really serious, ground-breaking and worrying as long as you can keep a secret. Toni says, “I won’t tell anybody else in the whole world ever because I know I can trust you.”

You must explain that while Toni can trust you, it depends on what Toni says as it would be unethical and a breach of the safeguarding policy to keep it a secret in the event a safeguarding referral is required. If she won’t tell you after this was explained due to the serious, ground breaking and worrying nature of the comment a safeguarding referral will be required to investigate.

Scenario 3: Kim looks really down and wants to talk to you about the work which is being given in the Computing lesson. You look at the assignment brief and there is SO MUCH stuff on it, you cannot believe it.

Explain to Kim that you will talk to the computing lecturer in order to get some additional resources she will find useful. Then talk to the lecturer about reducing the assignment brief as students are struggling. This way you are not being unethical by undermining the lecturer, discussing that the assignment may not be fit for purpose with Kim but hopefully achieving a more straightforward assignment. If the lecturer refuses, then investigate the additional resources for Kim and provide additional 1 – 1 sessions with Kim while not crossing the boundary into providing too much assistance that Kim is not completing the work.

Scenario 4: You pick up the phone in the office and hear, “Hello this is Mr Gerald Smith, father of Sarah Smith in your class. How is she getting on with her Studies?”

As it’s a phone call you have no idea if the person on the other end of the phone is Gerald Smith, Sarah Smith, along with you, are likely to become a victim of social engineering. The best and most ethical solution is to explain to the person on the end of the phone that it is a very bad line and you will phone them back on a different phone, then phone the number associated with Sarah Smith’s father within the student details databases. This may all be arbitrary as, depending upon how old Sarah Smith is, you may not be able to speak to her father about her performance. If she is over 18, she will need to provide permission for any details to be provided to Gerald Smith and it would be unethical and illegal to provide details. Once it has been established that you are talking to Gerald Smith, Sarah’s father, and that permission has been provided then you are able to discuss her studies.

Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Gravells, A. (2014). The Award in Education and Training. Exeter: Sage Publications Inc.

The Tutor’s Association. (2013, Oct 21). Code of Ethics and Child Protection Policy. Retrieved from The Tutor’s Association: http://thetutorsassociation.org.uk/ethics

Special Thanks Lezlie for providing the image.