The Good Schools Guide Review of Tutors International LLP, Oxford, OX1 3HJ
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Tutors International staff
Senior partner Adam Caller was a science teacher in the ‘90s when he was tempted away by the prospect of tutoring in Greece. His unsatisfactory experience there was, he realised, due to lack of back-up: ‘there was no-one the client or tutor could turn to’. He thought he could do better, and in 1997 he started placing contacts from his teaching days with friends of the international family he had tutored. ‘I had a knack for finding a good match and providing ongoing support. The chemistry between tutor and pupil must be right.’
The office manager is Victoria Gibbs who positively loves admin. She has a background which includes teaching, administration, finance and management. Victoria relishes the fussy detail involved in organising visas, flights and legal documents, which ensures that arrangements go smoothly and everyone knows where they stand. ‘I will do a job well first time, however complicated it is.’
The third member of staff is an American: Nathaniel Hannan. He does some tutoring work but also looks after job adverts, reference-checking, and interviews. Nathaniel is a graduate of Notre Dame and Oxford; he is an experienced teacher and tutor with a passion for fast cars. ‘He is extremely hard-working and endlessly patient and diplomatic.’
Supporting operations is Andrew Knight, who has been a friend of Adam’s since teacher-training days. Andrew has an understanding of tutoring along with highly-developed skills in computing. Far more than a ‘techie’, he is a fully-qualified systems architect, the ideal person to have in a company with a busy webserver. Andrew is improving many back-office functions and developing new ones, increasing efficiency and providing more online facilities for tutors.
Background and Atmosphere
Adam visits all potential clients, even if this involves flying around the world. He finds out about the family, their lifestyle and particular needs, and writes a very detailed job description. ‘It describes what a typical day will involve, all about travel and accommodation, and about the family.’ This description, which is agreed with the family, may involve some tactful wording if the job is likely to be less-than-straightforward. Then an advertisement, usually in the TES, directs applicants to the details on the Tutors International website.
They keep a register of some 16,000 tutors who have successfully completed their very detailed registration process – ‘it puts off people who are wasting time’. Once registered, the tutors are eligible to apply for jobs. ‘I might contact them if they have a great or unusual subject range, but I will still advertise the job and they have to apply for it.’
Adam selects candidates on the basis of their registered information – which include details of hobbies, interests and special skills as well as teaching experience – plus their covering letter and answers to job-specific questions. He interviews several - ‘I fill them in on the worst aspects of the job as well as the best’ - and short-lists two or three. They provide details of three referees, sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, and are screened by Kroll International risk assessment company as well as having full CRB checks.
The top two candidates meet the family members, who make the final choice. The company finalises the paperwork, including a nine-page legal contract, visas and travel arrangements. The first month is probationary on both sides. ‘If it doesn’t work then I know what has gone wrong, and who else to choose from my short-list.’
This is not a quick process: it typically takes two to three months to complete a full recruitment. The ideal time-frame from first enquiry to tutor’s start date is nine months. They can, however, often supply an emergency stop-gap tutor whilst they recruit the long-term tutor.
Adam stays in close contact with both tutor and family throughout the entire contract, no matter how long it runs. He requires weekly reports from tutors, which he will pass on to clients who request them as long as the tutor agrees.
As you would imagine, this is not a budget option. The client pays Adam’s airfare for his initial visit, and a fee of around £5000 for the recruitment process. The cost of a year’s tutoring varies. ‘I price the job by working out what I need to offer to attract the right calibre of tutor, then I add my fee.’ This tends to come out at around £80,000 - £120,000 a year, of which the agency takes 25 per cent and the tutor the rest. ‘We are totally transparent: both client and tutor know how much we are charging and who gets what.’
What do Tutors International offer?
Full time residential tutors for families all over the world, including help with school or university entrance and special needs. Most clients have explored more inexpensive options first and many have had a bad experience with another company. Families tend to call on Tutors International when local schooling options don’t work – perhaps because they are sailing round the world, because their children have very particular needs, such as someone who can offer speech therapy as well as physics, or because they need preparation for applying to Westminster School or Harvard or Cambridge.
Children of very wealthy peripatetic international families may well need a tutor who is something of a therapist as well as best friend and confidante, so Adam’s knack for choosing someone with the right social as well as academic attributes is crucial. ‘Very often the kids latch onto the tutor as their most dependable, reliable relationship.’
Tutors are mostly in their 30s – ‘we are looking for established, proven skills and professional experience as educators’ – though the ages of those on their books range from early 20s to late 60s.
Tutors International say:
‘Long term private tuition relies as much on successful personal relationships as it does on educational expertise.’ Their selling point is finding the right match and keeping in very close contact thereafter. This is a niche market – ‘but a much bigger niche than you would think. No-one else is doing exactly what we do.’ They aim to provide tutoring in virtually any subject or combination of subjects at any level. ‘Some of our clients make extraordinary demands, but one of the most rewarding parts of the job is turning around children who have been struggling.’
The Good Schools Guide say:
This is the Dom Perignon rather than the Cava end of the market. Clients – who quite likely are already employing butlers, housekeepers and cooks – are uniformly enthusiastic. ‘We know about education and we’re pretty discerning. But when we met Adam we realised he knew even more than we did.’ ‘He will never rush. He will always make sure that he finds the right match.’ ‘We had some challenges along the way and the back-up was excellent.’ ‘Our daughter was accepted by all the schools she applied for. We didn’t realise until afterwards what a coup that was.’ ‘Adam has always been the student advocate. He never compromised on what he felt was best for her – even if it wasn’t what I wanted – and I really respect him for that.' 'He’s the best there is.’