Students experiencing difficulties

Students experiencing difficulties

Students are encouraged to see their Personal Academic Tutor as their first point of contact to discuss any wider issues or problems that arise during their time at university.  It is not the role of the Personal Academic Tutor themselves to try to resolve the issues raised but to listen, offer initial advice and then, as appropriate, direct the student to other suitable sources of help including the broad range of services available within the University. 
Sometimes just having a representative of the University listen to a tutee’s issues is enough.  Try to encourage the student to find their own solutions rather than you stepping in to provide your answers.  The GROW model offers a simple way of structuring a discussion and guiding the student through to their own possible actions and resolution:

  • Goals – Encourage the student to define their issue and to establish what their goals are in terms of addressing it.
  • Reality – Let the student tell their story, prompt thinking about where they are and help them to become more aware of their situation and their own role in it.
  • Options – Help the student to define possible options available to address the situation.
  • Will – Work to establish a commitment to changing the situation and a way forward to achieving their goals.  Clarify responsibilities for any actions.

Referring on

There are a range of sources of advice, guidance and support for students provided by the University Student Services through Firstpoint and through the Students’ Union.  Personal Academic Tutors are not expected to resolve all issues or problems presented by students, but to listen, offer initial advice and then, where appropriate to direct the student to other appropriate sources of help available within the University. 

When working with a student who is experiencing difficulties you will need, at some point, to decide whether they need to be referred on to more specialist services.  If you decide to do so it is a good idea to remain in touch with the student to monitor progress.  If you are uncertain about whether to refer the student on then seek confidential advice from Student Services.  You should encourage the student to take responsibility and make any appointment themselves if at all possible.  Whilst you are not bound by any professional code of ethics (unlike, say, counsellors) students will nevertheless usually assume that their private conversations with you will remain private.  Conversely some students will assume that having told you, as their Personal Academic Tutor, they have told the University.  It is therefore vital to clarify this with the student and to secure the permission of the student before you share sensitive material with the wider University or make any referral for them.  If this permission is not forthcoming and the student cannot be persuaded to make their own approach for support it is difficult to make progress but you can make an anonymous enquiry to Student Services for guidance if necessary.

There are guidelines which can make referral a positive action, one from which the student is more likely to benefit:

  • Know the resources available to you in your institution, and how access can be made to them
  • Check with the student whether or not they have seen anyone else
  • Explain what other resources are available which you think could be helpful
  • Explain why you are suggesting this. Be honest about your own limitations, and try to ensure that the student does not feel rejected by you
  • Ask the student how they feel about referral, do they feel able to go and talk to someone else about this? What would help them to do that?
  • Be aware of confidentiality, and don’t release information without the student’s express permission
  • As a general rule, it is better to enable the student to self-refer by giving them the tools to do it themselves – information about where, what, how etc.