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Referral is a central aspect of the role of the Personal Tutor. Although a Tutor should feel free to Undergraduate students on campus 5contact a colleague to make a referral, by and large it is best to encourage the tutee to do this themselves, thereby taking responsibility for it.

Many of the problems which Tutors come across can be due to various possible causes. Typical problems such as loss of concentration and motivation could be due to no clear sense of identity, depression, a viral illness, anxiety or a range of disorders which range from eating problems to obsessiveness etc. Equally, academic underachievement could be due to poor study skills or dyslexia or to doubts about whether they have chosen the right programme and its relevance in career terms. 

Tutors should also be aware of their own limitations and the boundaries of the Tutor / tutee relationship. A student may come to their Tutor with very difficult and complex problems and the Tutor should not hesitate to seek advice and support for themselves if they feel unsure about how best to proceed.

Referral to others

Students may approach their Tutors about problems which have a number of different causes, some of which may not be obvious or straightforward. Typical problems could include:

  • Academic difficulties, such as frequent failure to meet deadlines, uncertainty about the course they have chosen, or a Specific Learning Disability, (e.g. Dyslexia)
  • Emotional and social problems, such as persisting homesickness, relationship problems, a lack of confidence, or a feeling of isolation
  • Physical illness like a long-term sickness or injury
  • Traumatic life events, such as the death of a friend or relative.

Many problems will be interlinked, for example: an ongoing illness may result in missing lectures, falling behind in work and then losing confidence. Or an apparent lack of motivation, resulting in not meeting deadlines and being uncooperative in seminars, may be due to a condition such as Asperger Syndrome.

There is a wide range of support services available to help students manage these problems:

Good communication between the Tutor, student and across the various support services will help the student get the kinds of support they need most. Each service is in contact with the others and they will cross-refer with the student's permission and as appropriate. What matters most is that the student is helped to start the process of sorting out their problem and that respect for their privacy is maintained.

When might a Tutor refer?

Tutors may feel they are able to support students with various problems up to a certain level but they should not feel they have to take on the burden of a student's problems alone; this is often not best for the student and goes beyond the Tutor's remit.

A Tutor should refer a student to a support service when they feel that the student's problems would best be addressed by seeking specialist advice and support. This advice may be in parallel with continuing contact with the Tutor.

The tutee should be clear about why they are being referred. In addition each tutee should be clear whether contact with the Tutor on that topic is expected to continue in parallel or not and also clear about whether the Tutor and the support specialist have consent to disclose information to each other.

Although a Tutor should feel free to telephone the support service to make the referral, by and large it is best to encourage the tutee to do this themselves, thereby taking responsibility for it. This helps to reduce the number of student 'no shows', as the student is able to be in control of their own situation. Consequently, the most effective referrals often involve encouraging the student to get in touch with the service, giving them the relevant contact details and if appropriate, some follow-up.

However special situations arise when a Tutor knows it to be important to make the contact for the tutee or even to give detailed information to the specialist prior to the appointment. The Tutor should explain to the student who they are contacting on the student's behalf, why and for what purpose. The student's consent may be needed.

A Tutor will sometimes feel that they are struggling to deal with a particular student's problems. Although referral is often appropriate in such situations, Tutors should consider whether it might be possible to continue personally to help the student provided supportive consultation was available in the background. Even when a referral is made, it is usually best if the Tutor continues to offer support to the student. Support service staff, such as the Counsellors or Study Advisers, are always pleased to spend time, either in person, by telephone or by email, giving consultative support to any Tutor when dealing with tutees. However on occasion a Tutor will know that their own strongly felt attitudes or their own problems of the moment, are almost bound to interfere in the helping relationship and in these circumstances the sensible ethical precaution is to refer the tutee elsewhere.

If despite consultation a Tutor is in doubt about whether or not they should refer a student, it is better to make an unnecessary referral than to leave it and risk the problems escalating.

Referral for what?

Referral can be:

  • For information and advice
  • For assessment (often with a Counsellor)
  • For assessment plus consultation with the Tutor before a course of action is agreed upon
  • For assessment plus verbal or written report to the Tutor
  • For assessment plus treatment or other appropriate help.

A Tutor may feel safer in continuing to see a tutee where an assessment with a Counsellor has taken place or where assessment has been able to indicate what may be, on balance, the most productive strategies for a particular case.

Things to do now

The Directory contains useful information on services and resources that are available to you and your tutees.

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