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Students are shoehorned into tiny classrooms, reminiscent of the dormouse being stuffed into the teapot at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and there is definitely an element of the unusual in the workings of this place but there is also an academic wizard at play here. Each student has an individual timetable and the system is immensely flexible, making it a logistics nightmare for the smiley, hugely competent college secretary, who has been struggling with spreadsheets for over 10 years. The school may be diminutive in terms of pupil numbers but in the quality of its staff it rates as a Titan. The teachers tend to be stars...

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What the school says...

Established in 1934, Westminster Tutors is one of the oldest tutorial colleges in the country, and is rated as 'Outstanding' in all areas by Ofsted. We are also at the top of the DfE Performance Tables for A levels in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

Since 1934 we have built our reputation on our tutors and they remain our greatest asset today. Our student-teacher ratio is 1:1 and it is our policy to offer a balance of the brightest and best graduates from the top universities with highly qualified teachers who have many years of experience.

What sets us apart from other independent sixth form colleges is that we remain true to our tutorial college origins. Every student's programme of study is individually designed and classes are either one-to-one or in very small groups.

We offer GCSE, A level and retake courses, as well as private tuition and revision for a very wide range of subjects in almost all examination boards. We also offer Oxbridge preparation and are able to draw upon the expertise of our own teachers, many of whom are Oxbridge graduates.

Our students' results are impressive and almost all students go on to university, with over well over half of them going on to the top Russell Group universities each year.
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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since September 2020, former vice principal Joe Mattei. Joined Westminster Tutors in 2014 as an English tutor and SEND mentor. Recently completed a master's in special and inclusive education (Institute of Education UCL), his research project was on using a novel interventionary method (network analysis) to reduce anxiety for autistic students. Enjoys live theatre and music, cinema, literature, sports and travel.

Entrance

This is a totally non-selective school but the majority of the intake are above average academically. They may have found it difficult to succeed in the competitive world of a large, hothouse London day school or have come from another educational system. The head interviews parents and potential students and considers whether they would be suited to this very individual environment as well as their previous academic performance. They do not take students who have been expelled for serious breaches but are sympathetic to anyone who might have struggled to stay afloat in a larger pond.

Exit

The school tries to give very personalised university and career advice and is proud that they publish the destinations in full rather than just choosing the highlights. Around three-quarters to Russell Group. One student to Oxbridge in 2020, and one to study dentistry. The majority of people choose the school because they want to make a successful transition from A levels to a top university but this is not always the case, and recently one student left to do a BTec in mechanical engineering and one to a retail apprenticeship because it was agreed that this was a better route for them. Parents agree that they are 'on the money' about university choices and come up with good suggestions to add to their children’s ideas.

Latest results

In 2020, 68 per cent A*/A at A level (92 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 64 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

There is a maximum capacity of 45 students of whom, in any given year, there are likely to be about five doing GCSEs (including retakes), about 20 taking A levels and 15-20 doing A level retakes. Occasionally, they enrol people in their 20s who need to take different or extra qualifications for career or further study.

Occasionally the students are taught in a group (three maximum) if their target levels are the same, but almost all the teaching is one-to-one. They offer a wide range of subjects from classical Greek to physics and psychology and the school prides itself on being able to cater for obscure requests. For the more obvious subjects there is a pool of tutors and the head personally makes the match between pupil and teacher. One parent asked if the tutor could be changed if the relationship didn’t work and believed it when she was told that it wouldn’t be a problem, although luckily the situation never arose.

The school may be diminutive in terms of pupil numbers but in the quality of its staff it rates as a Titan. The teachers tend to be stars in their fields with a level of letters after their names that would make most of their profession blush. School recruits mainly by word of mouth and from direct applications, mixing very high-powered people close to retirement or only wanting to work part-time with younger artists, musicians, writers and PhD candidates. The only rule is that they must have a 2:1 or first in their first degree; however this year, 40 per cent have Oxbridge degrees, 70 per cent masters and 35 per cent already have PhDs. The average period that they work here is three or four years but they often come back at different points in their careers.

Each student has an individual timetable and the system is immensely flexible, making it a logistics nightmare for the smiley, hugely competent college secretary, who has been struggling with spreadsheets for over 10 years. The students all praised the teaching and describe the tutors as being 'really on top of it' and one parent described it as 'brilliant across the board, all A*s'. Parents liked the 'old-fashioned, comprehensive reports that offer an accurate assessment with no false promises' and felt 'confident that we know where we are'. A pupil agreed that the report was fair and highlighted the areas where she needed to progress. One girl described a teacher as 'she knows what she’s doing' (presumably a relief to her parents…) and other students talked about great personal attention such as being emailed in the holidays if they voiced a worry.

They efficiently combat the lure of Xbox and Netflix by constant communication with parents so that even potentially wayward students switch from sci-fi movies to science homework. GCSE pupils have homework diaries and if necessary A level students have study slots built into their timetables. The net result of this highly individual (in every sense) and carefully monitored approach is results that exceed those of their competitors in the tutorial field and are impressive by any measure. Recently rated outstanding in all categories by Ofsted.

The arts and extracurricular

All art, music, English and humanities students have tutorial guides who often include lessons in the real world of art galleries, concerts and stage performances.

Sport

Bearing in mind that the school is above a row of shops in central London with no outside space and that the 40 odd students are not all here on a daily basis, it will not come as a surprise that sports do not feature as a significant part of the curriculum. There is a circuit training session once a week but almost all other outdoor activities are organised by the parents or the children themselves, with a staff versus students bowling outing as the only competitive event that we found.

Ethos and heritage

Although it has the legal status of a school and has to abide by the same rules as its much larger competitors, head is happy that there is not a 'schooly atmosphere'. This is hardly surprising given the nature and appearance of its founder. Miss Freeston inhabited a smoke-filled den in Victoria, giving the distinct impression that there might be a bed hidden under either the piles of books launching an attack on the ceiling or the ancient, smelly dogs on the hairy sofa. You might have thought she was just a parody of a mid-20th century female academic, particularly as she always wore a mid-calf, much sat-in tweed skirt and layers of doubtful moth-eaten cardigans. However, you would have been foolish to underestimate her ability to understand people as well as texts. The exterior may have presented the unmistakable combination of erudition and dottiness, but under the holey woollens was a sensitive, thoughtful woman with a formidable understanding of bright, if lost, teenage girls. It was for this reason as much as her belief in the value of education that she started Westminster Tutors in 1934.

The school has kept the same ethos and atmosphere despite its move to South Kensington and the current building is still more of a rabbit warren than a conventional educational space. It might not impress parents or students looking for a polished, modern environment and it is not for teenagers needing wide open spaces. It is quite clear that the money goes on the staff and not on the classrooms: for instance, chemistry experiments take place in a galley kitchen. This slightly unusual classroom surprisingly passed an inspection from the A level boards with flying colours and without any culinary or chemical disasters. Orchids, a guitar and a chess set might not be what you expect in a tiny maths classroom but you probably would not expect a teacher who is also finishing a doctorate, either.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The pastoral care is described by Ofsted as excellent in 'spiritual, moral, social and cultural' areas. Several parents remarked on the quick response they received if they contacted the school. The only hard and fast rules are attendance and safety, both of which are seldom a problem. The school reserves the right not to enter students for exams but says that the threat has always been sufficient so far. The only odd rule that it is enforcing at the moment is banning them from sitting on the strange red sofa outside the café opposite, presumably due to the smokey nature of its usual occupants.

There is an elected head boy and head girl but they admit that their duties are mainly social, including that 'we have enough milk for tea'.

Pupils and parents

Over 50 per cent of the enrolments are by word of mouth, including a large number of alumni who want their children to have the same experience. A parent told us that they had chosen the school over similar options because the alternatives felt like 'crammers and were run on military lines'. He also said that he was 'happy coming into a place covered in modern art, and it just felt right'.

The intake tends to come from a mixture of top public schools and London state schools with a fair sprinkling from abroad as the transition can be handled more easily in an operation where teaching provision is adaptable. One student told us that it suited her better than her previous school because 'you can’t just hide at the back'.

There is no obvious archetypal parent although most tend to be successful in their fields or professions. It can be an option for parents of fairly modest means as some pupils only need to attend for a year to get back on track or be helped into a top university.

Money matters

Inevitably not a cheap option but compared to alternatives with larger classes it offers value for money.

The last word

Students are shoehorned into tiny classrooms, reminiscent of the dormouse being stuffed into the teapot at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and there is definitely an element of the unusual in the workings of this place but there is also an academic wizard at play here. Some may hanker after a swimming pool but the students lack for nothing in the level of teaching or encouragement in learning how to learn.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Special Education Needs

We have a long history of being able to help students who need extra attention and they achieve remarkable results with us. Groups are very small, often one to-one-tuition, and specialist SEND mentoring is available. Our approach, and the dedication and experience of our tutors, means our students make rapid and significant progress as well as successful transitions to higher education. We are also dedicated to the principles of inclusion and diversity, with each and every one of our students being welcomed and valued. We have been able to accommodate students with neurological differences (such as autism and ADHD), learning difficulties (SpLD), or mental health issues, which may mean they have found mainstream school a challenge. Wherever possible we will also make adjustments for physical disabilities. Please note that we have a maximum of 4 spaces each year for students with more complex needs who will need a higher level of support.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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