Who are they?
487 Fulham Road
Tel: 0207 3856795 / 07732 371880
We have met with Bespoke Tuition’s staff. In addition, 41 clients and 47 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 102 clients and 97 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Bespoke Tuition staff
Clients and tutors don’t talk about ‘Bespoke Tuition’ – they just talk about ‘Emma.’ ‘Emma is always dependable and extremely helpful.’ ‘Emma’s service is just amazing.’ ‘Emma provided me with the best tutor ever.’ All the more impressive when you consider that she’s taken on a whole team (all freelance) since we last reviewed this higher end agency, so there are now services specialists in travelling tutors, home schooling, mindfulness and speech and language. There are also club, course and masterclass leaders in study skills, critical thinking, writing club, Shakespeare workshop, debating and book and poetry club. Then there’s Bespoke’s accounts manager, plus specialists for the consultancy arm. Despite this small army (which must make for a jolly interesting dinner party), Emma remains the first and main point of contact throughout and does all the hand picking of tutors for clients. ‘I know every tutor and every family,’ says Emma, her sparkly, polished manner rarely failing to win them over.
Bespoke, which was founded in 2010, grew organically from Emma’s own tutoring and was doubtless helped by her spell in legal recruitment which followed her natural sciences degree from Durham. No wonder she fell in love with tutoring – much of her five-year stint was spent tutoring youngsters on glamorous yachts in Hong Kong, where she specialised in home schooling and mentoring. And so it was that she set her sights on creating her own ‘small, yet distinguished’ company whose ‘personal touch, attention to detail and focus on truly tailored tuition would set it apart from the rest.’ A husband and two children later, she is still true to her original aims, agree both tutors and clients, with 95 per cent of the former and 100 per cent of the latter saying they’d recommend Bespoke to others.
What do they offer?
From Arabic to zoology, there’s no subject that Bespoke Tuition says it can’t provide a tutor for. It’s not that Emma doesn’t have her ‘pigs might fly’ moments (remember when Gwyneth Paltrow sought an Oxbridge-educated ancient Greek tutor who was fluent in several languages including Japanese, able to play tennis, play two instruments and was youthful and vegan – or did we imagine the last bit?), but so far she has managed to nail every single request, no matter how obscure (Nepalese tutor based in London, boat-schooling astrophysicist to sail around the world and a native Danish speaker required to relocate to Georgia among them), headhunting for the right tutor when needed. ‘She calls you straight back too, even in an evening, to make sure she understands exactly what you’re looking for,’ said a parent.
Youngest age of tutees is three-and-a-half (if, like ours, your eyebrows reached the ceiling, rest assured it’s ‘more a case of creative play and Montessori style learning due to a learning challenge or language requirement than pandering to dragon parents,’ says Emma) and oldest is currently 67 (adult learners tend to opt for a language or personal interest). Most are somewhere in between and after support in some aspect or other of primary or secondary education from 7+ to A level (CE, 14+ and 16+ are most popular, according to our survey). Milder end SEN catered for via two SEN specialists and some SEN trained tutors.
Hourly tuition takes place in both central London and Hong Kong; the latter is mainly UK exam preparation for expat children at international schools. Home schooling is on the up, especially since Covid – ‘More parents are thinking, “Yes, we can do this,”’ says Emma; this includes a package of tutors to cover everything from core subjects only to the whole shebang. And then there’s the part that Bespoke are probably best known for - the residentials, which consist of intensive, daily tuition lasting anywhere from a week to a year. For tutors that get lucky, this can mean a life of island or yacht hopping in far-flung places, though the reality for others is more like a wet half term spent in a three-bed semi where the family has saved up to ensure their child gets through that all-important entrance exam. Bar Antarctica, she says, they’ve placed tutors in every continent, with some of the more unusual locations including a tiger reserve in Northern India, a lakeside cabin in Whistler and a villa in Bali.
Online tutoring – which Emma expects to retain popularity post-pandemic – usually takes place on Zoom with shared whiteboard. Bespoke has responded to Covid in other ways too, having developed all manner of clubs from book club to debating, as well as a pen pal initiative. In more normal times, there are also one or two hour skill-building masterclasses in everything from essay structure to app development to Chinese calligraphy. ‘I am seeing an increasing shift towards such creative outlets,’ she says. Study skills programmes are also popular, incorporating key life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving time management, revision skills and exam technique. Bespoke also runs summer school courses in the UK, as well as language homestays in Europe.
Background and basics
Bespoke Tuition – which has always had an air of exclusivity about it – has a core group of around 50 tutors (average age 26 and good gender balance) working with around 100 families in any single year. All have at least five years’ experience and virtually all have attended world class universities. To date, they’ve never had to advertise, with an average of 10 applications per week coming their way, all through word-of-mouth (though her discerning client base means vast majority get turned away). It’s not enough to have gone to a top university (though most have, and 70 per cent are postgrads too). ‘The brightest people are so often the poorest communicators,’ explains Emma, whose rigorous recruitment process involves in-depth discussions around the tutor’s teaching philosophy, a pre-prepared lesson plan and sometimes role-play exercises. ‘The tutor is given a blind exam question and asked to show how they would help a student to tackle it,’ she adds. If Emma is suitably wowed (‘they have to be good enough for me to think I’d use them for my own children’), there are all the usual qualifications, references and DBS checks and tutors are expected to compile a detailed profile that she is able to present to prospective families. Training is available – How do I give good feedback? How can I structure my lessons better? How can I tailor my teaching style? etc all covered – with the opportunity to gain certified teacher status via PRESET 1 tutor training.
Match making (‘utra-speedy,’ say clients) is Emma’s favourite bit. Having sounded out the client’s requirements with a fine tooth comb, she takes into consideration not just the obvious points of subject knowledge, location and age but objectives (‘is the family’s priority an entrance test guru or a brotherly study buddy?’), personality (‘a shrinking wallflower needs a nurturing confidence builder’), as does teaching approach (‘level of formality and strictness’), teaching style (‘traditional or more creative’), learning style (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic etc’) and personal interests (‘because shared interests are fantastic for bonding’). ‘Emma knows me and my strengths very well and has landed me some amazing clients,’ said a tutor, not untypically, though two tutors from our survey didn’t rate Emma’s matching. Clients were unanimous in their praise of matching, with one telling us, ‘She took time to find out what my daughter was like so that she knew what sort of tutor would be best, and it really paid off.’ If she doesn’t have someone on her books, she’ll look elsewhere. Clients get plenty of feedback from their tutor (‘including a detailed monthly report – so helpful,’ said a parent) and follow ups from Emma to make sure everything remains tickety-boo. And she looks after her tutors too: ‘I work with many agencies and Emma provides the most personal and professional service – even other agencies who start out as personal soon become anonymous and staff change so regularly that after a while the people you deal with have never met you. Emma always deals with every tutor and client herself, responds immediately and is very supportive,’ said a tutor.
Absolutely incredible at raising the confidence of my children, with the subject matter spot on,’ remarked a parent about her tutor, with similar praise from others: ‘Her service is just amazing – every single tutor as been fabulous and that’s because Emma really listens.’ ‘Went from getting 20 per cent in an end of year exam to a 9 at GCSE.’ ‘The tutor was amazing and has become our friend.’ ‘My kids loved spending time with their tutor and looked forward to their weekly classes, as well as getting accepted to all the schools they applied for.’ One parent, however, expressed disappointment that she’d received a poorer service in the UK than in Hong Kong.
Bespoke is a corporate member of The Tutors’ Association. They also encourage their tutors to volunteer for Tutor the Nation, although the company doesn’t pay them for charitable works or get involved in any pro bono work.
Money and small print
Terms of agreement for overseas residentials, otherwise no contracts to sign. Registration fee of £50 for UK clients and 720 HKD for Hong Kong clients – payable only after trial lesson. Clients pay from £45 per hour (up to £100 for the most experienced) and from 650 (usually nearer 800) HKD per hour in Hong Kong. Overseas from £1,100 per week. Agency commission ranges between 10-25 per cent depending on factors such as repeat clients, quantity of services and level of management required (one tutor felt ‘they could be clearer about how much they charge’). Travel expenses only apply for out-of-London families. Usual 24-hour cancellation policy, with an ‘element of discretion.’
Bespoke Tuition say
With the education system thrown so out of kilter in 2020, it will be those tutoring agencies who are forward thinking and adaptable who will thrive in the future. We have stayed carefully in tune with listening to and predicting what parents want from an education support service and constantly tweak our services to accommodate these ever-changing shifts.’
Say goodbye to drills, spoon feeding and rote learning - this company is all about nurturing curiosity, drawing out imaginations and fostering independent thought. A personal, customised and dynamic agency with a can do, ‘nothing’s too much trouble’ philosophy and truly global reach. Stands out for building long-term relationships with clients too – some lasting throughout their offspring’s upbringing.