Who are they?
4 Watling Street
We have met with Watling Tutors staff. In addition, 33 clients and 20 tutors have completed an on-line survey.
Watling Tutors staff
Founded in 2010 by laidback yet super-efficient Leah Warren BA (English, Uni of Leeds) PGCE (Secondary English, UCL Institute of Education), who has 18 years’ teaching and tutoring experience and is still going strong on both fronts, working on a supply basis in at least one local school per term (including JFS and Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys). Later joined by admin assistant Ruanne Sher, a South African who cut her teeth at Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse and is a local mum to three children, and Nicola Price who looks after social media.
Leah, mother of three, is refreshingly transparent, while parents told us she’s ‘responsive’ and ‘quick’ – with plenty of tales about how she hooked them up with a tutor ‘almost immediately’. We heard how she’s ‘friendly, ‘kind and understanding’, ‘always willing to listen’ and the agency’s adaptability is also considered a strength, with one mother telling how her child with SEN needed to move around within lessons (‘Skype was the solution’) and another who had very limited time slots (‘But they still found someone for us’). Ditto with tutors, who unanimously agree this agency cares as much about them as the clients (over half we spoke to don’t bother working for other agencies because of this), with all reporting that the agency answers queries ‘usually on the same day’. ‘She understands the demands of teaching’, said one more than one tutor of Leah, gratefully.
Still too small to warrant its own offices, Watling Tutors is nevertheless growing and they’re in talks with local premises about potentially leasing space to use both as an office and for private tuition and revision workshops.
What do theyTutors do?
Most tutoring is by trained teachers for GCSEs and A levels, with tuition also available in school entrance (7+, 11+, 13+ and 16+ including interview guidance) although the agency does not (music to our ears) take on students younger than six for school assessments. Primary aged children can get tuition in English, maths and science and the agency also offers support with key stage 3, IGCSE, Cambridge Pre-U, IB (in some subjects) and BTEC in business studies, among others. Increasingly, they provide university applications guidance such as personal statement drafting, proofreading service, EPQ support and tutoring for some subject-specific university entrance exams eg ELAT exam for Cambridge.
Based in Herts, with 80 per cent of clients living within 10 miles of St Albans, Watling has a particularly strong presence in the Hertsmere area, although they are increasingly stretching into north and central London (NW11, NW3, N6, N2, NW4) and occasionally further afield. Tuition mainly in client’s home, although some tutors only work from their own homes. Plus, there’s Skype. Most tuition is hourly, although shorter sessions are sometimes recommended for SEN, for which the agency has four specialist tutors – ‘they were brilliantly patient and helpful with our child with ADHD,’ said one parent.
Home schooling is increasingly on their radar. So far, they have two students who have opted out of education temporarily and they hope to grow this number and include those who don’t plan to return to a school environment. The agency recently provided, for the first time, GCSE revision courses in English and maths and hopes to add other subjects. Watling also works with a network of local specialists in areas such as American university applications and educational psychologists.
Unusually, Watling has close links with local schools, some of whose teachers recommend them to pupils – they are working on formalising this and to hope to also provide parenting talks in schools around topics such as emotional wellbeing, study skills and parenting during exam season.
Background and basics
Leah had come to the end of her maternity leave with her first child when she decided to combine her experience as a teacher and her more recent stint in advertising. Spotting a gap in the market for local tutor agencies that specialise in qualified teachers, she called on willing colleagues who jumped at the chance to take on this flexible work.
They now have 55 tutors, 80 per cent of whom have a teaching qualification which relates to the subject which they tutor. The remainder all have a degree in the subject they tutor, plus ideally prior tutoring experience and at the very least evidence of having worked with young people – ‘We just didn’t want to miss out on those exceptional tutors that don’t happen to be teachers’, explains Leah, citing one reference she got from UCL of a PhD student ‘that said he was the most able and hard-working student they’d had in 30 years – he’s been an absolutely amazing tutor’. There’s no average age - ‘The youngest are recent graduates while the oldest are recently retired classroom teachers, then there’s everything in between,’ says Leah.
Recruitment comes primarily from word of mouth, otherwise social media. Prospective tutors register on an online form and those that pass muster provide their DBS number and two references, one of which must relate directly to teaching experience (or where this isn’t relevant, work with young people), both of which are followed up. Leah now interviews all tutors either via Skype or face-to-face, although this wasn’t always the case, with 50 per cent of tutors we spoke to telling us they were recruited informally, 30 per cent by phone and just 20 per cent face-to-face. That said, nobody was unhappy with the process and many commented on how ‘thorough and professional’ it was.
With client enquiries (there’s a 50:50 split of those using private or state education), Leah takes detailed information, then hand-picks the right tutor (often having one in mind immediately) depending on preference, location and logistics. ‘It’s not enough that a client wants a history tutor and I have a history teacher – I ask what period the student is studying, such as the Russian Revolution, and then find someone that has taught that,’ she says.
Clients have an initial (paid for) trial session, which Leah follows up and then verbal feedback is given by the tutor to parents at the end of each session, if they want it, along with written feedback every four weeks via TutorCruncher. Tutors are described as being ‘an absolute inspiration’, ‘incredibly helpful and impressive’ and ‘very adaptable in meeting my daughter’s needs’ by clients. ‘The tutors are very structured in their approach to teaching – that is the biggest plus point’, said one parent, with most struggling to find any negatives, although one was upset to have her lessons ‘terminated with no discussion or negotiation when we said we weren’t sure if it was working’ (the agency has since offered a replacement).
No training offered to teacher-trained tutors (‘Why would we need it?’ was a typical tutor comment), although resources are available for unqualified teachers (‘Very useful,’ said one). All tutors adhere to the Tutors Association’s code of ethics.
Money and small print
No introductory/registration fees and no minimum number of sessions (we spoke to some parents who had opted for just one or two sessions, for example for help with a particular essay or choosing an EPQ topic – ‘it was brilliant how much they covered in the short time so it was money very well spent,’ said one), but both tutors and clients sign a contract with standard T&Cs, including 24-hour cancellation notice (carried out at the tutor’s discretion). Tutors set their own rates, sometimes with guidance from the agency, which Watling then adds on £15 commission. For primary tuition, clients pay £40-£55 per hour; for secondary school and GCSE tuition, it’s £45-£65; and A level tuition costs £50-£80. Home schooling, revision workshops, personal statement support etc are priced individually. Clients are billed at the end of the month and travel expenses are included. Besides the odd grumble from parents that ‘it’s quite pricey – but that’s how it is with good tuition’, most feel fees are fair.
Watling Tutors say
‘We are proud to run an ethical and transparent operation that places the needs of both tutors and clients at the heart of our work. We have a low rate of commission and tutors are able to set their own hourly rates, which means we’re able to attract some of the best and most sought-after tutors in the area.’
‘We’re seen as a community resource. Parents pass our details to their friends and students recommend us to each other. A particular highlight last year was the recruitment of a wonderful tutor who had actually been tutored by the agency herself.’
It’s the speed at which tutors get their charges rising through their grades that struck us. ‘They did an amazing job with my capable but a little lazy son – the tutor knew her subject well and what was required to succeed and within five to seven sessions he went from a B to an A*,’ was a typical parental comment. ‘My daughter’s grades were improved by a large margin in a short space of time – I can’t recommend this tutor agency highly enough,’ said another. Parents also talked about how intuitive the tutors are at knowing the right learning style to use. ‘She understood instantly how to communicate with my son,’ said one.
Tutors praise the matching process – ‘you don’t feel any obligation to take on work you don’t want to and they think through why they are choosing you for a particular student,’ said one. ‘They are not money grabbing like some agencies,’ said another – again a recurring theme among tutors. The words ‘honesty’, ‘respect’, ‘transparency’ and ‘professionalism’ came up time and time again with this satisfied bunch. ‘There’s much less micromanagement than with other agencies I’ve worked for – always a winner for experienced teachers,’ one tutor added.
Watling Tutors stands out for its unparalleled knowledge of local parents, schools and community, as well as its caring, professional, goal-oriented and speedy approach. A good choice if you don’t want tutoring for tutoring’s sake.