At first one might think that, with everything these days being so readily searchable on the Internet, -identifying good resources for tutoring should be quite straightforward.
But that has not been my experience.
Most of the resources I use - and certainly the most important - have come to my notice, not from online searches (useful though these can be), but from other tutors and independent centre owners in the UK, who have tried various programs and pinpointed ones that work well and are value for money.
Take the case of Maths - one of my ongoing successes in the provision of this subject at Tuition Canterbury is PARadise Academy - which comes from New Zealand.
Unless you are on the inside of the tutoring profession - or informed by someone who is - PARadise Academy is not going to come easily to your notice. Like Lucy in Wordsworth's poem, it 'dwells among the untrodden ways'. The casual or occasional surfer for materials (perhaps a parent or an older student) is unlikely to stumble upon PAR in a search. The creators do not trumpet their work with exclamatory advertising or attention-grabbing devices.
Not that there is anything lacking in confidence about the product - go to www.parmaths.com and you will see. It simply presents an unadorned, functional screen for the already initiated.
So what is it particularly about PAR (derived from Phil's Affordable Resources) which marks it out as different from more competitively-marketed software?
First and foremost, its author and progenitor, Phil Scowen, is an experienced tutor, with a long career of Maths school-teaching behind him. From the outset he has developed programs for, and in, a thriving tuition centre - Invercargill, South Island - and therefore has the benefit of extensive first person feedback, past and present. This also importantly informs his judgment of feedback from clients further afield (like myself).
Furthermore, he has asked the right questions, and found, by patient trial over the last decade, effective answers: What is going to work for the various students of Maths who come to tuition? What challenge and presentation do they want - the primary and the secondary student, the faster learner and the slower? What is going to be most supportive, most helpful?
The answers permeate the resources - in the arrangement of topics, in the simplicity of formats, in the smoothness of gradient from early to advanced, and in the sheer depth, quantity and range of coverage.
Finally, to answer what makes PAR distinctive, there is the exceptional responsiveness of Phil and Karl (his son, who does the programming) to requests and editorial suggestions from tuition centres abroad.
For instance, no sooner is an imperfection or minor error in content pointed out - sometimes by a student, who may take great pride in the discovery, as errors are in fact few and far between -than it is put right, and the update despatched. The same welcome reception is given to new ideas for exercises: they are promptly developed and added to the repertoire. Clients have a direct line by email to Phil, who is scrupulous in his replies.
Taken altogether then, PARadise Academy's Maths resources are in the true sense tailored. This is why tuition centres are increasingly investing in them - over 70 in New Zealand, Australia and the UK at a recent count. It has taken thousands of hours of work (so far) on the part of the Scowen family - but then good tailoring must.
It is also serviceable, wears comfortably and well, and outlasts the fashions.