Who are they?
487 Fulham Road
Tel: 0207 3856795 / 07732 371880
We have visited Bespoke Tuition’s offices. In addition, 28 clients and 16 tutors have completed an on-line survey.
Bespoke Tuition staff
Clients and tutors don’t talk about ‘Bespoke Tuition’ – they just talk about ‘Emma.’ ‘Emma is always at the end of the phone and nothing is too much trouble,’ says one parent. ‘Emma is helpful, efficient and thoroughly on your side,’ a tutor told us.
No wonder Emma Storey believes the fact that she runs the client and tutor facing sides of the business single-handedly is one of its key strengths (she calls on a team of specialists as and when to deal with issues such as SEN, mindfulness, study skills, billing and workshops). ‘This is a highly personal service, in which I know every single tutor and family,’ she explains. ‘It also means there’s only one point of contact, which saves people having to explain their needs every time they call.’
Youthful, energetic, bubbly and loquacious, Emma is passionate about putting ‘learning how to learn’ at the heart of tutoring sessions. ‘What I hate is over-tutoring a child to get a place at a school where they won’t fit in anyway. What I love is providing tutoring that fosters a can-do attitude, builds confidence and shifts a negative mentality from, “I can’t do this” to ‘I can do this” to “I want to do this and I’m actually pretty good at it!”
What do they offer?
From Arabic to zoology, there’s no subject that Bespoke Tuition won’t teach. ‘From anthropology to Nepalese, media studies to IB Theory of Knowledge, I have never had a request for a subject for which I have not been able to find a tutor – either a tutor already on my books or, if needs be, via bespoke headhunting,’ says Emma.
It’s rare for tutors to see children under 7, although there’s no upper age limit (in fact, Emma increasingly has adults requesting a tutor to, say, learn a new language). ‘However, we also recognise that some circumstances may require earlier intervention, such as helping a child to adjust to a new country or school, SEN, English as a second language or 7+ exam preparation – so we wouldn’t rule out under-7s,’ she says. Many of the tutors have SEN training and experience (often because they are trained teachers), including in ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and memory processing issues.
There are four main services - hourly tuition in London (mainly 7+, 11+ and 13+); hourly tuition in Hong Kong (mainly UK exam preparation for expat children at international schools); overseas residentials where a tutor accompanies a family abroad; and full time homeschooling. Hourly tuition can either be in person or online. Mindfulness courses and study skills programmes are also popular with the latter incorporating key life skills: critical thinking, problem-solving time management, revision skills and exam technique. Tuition almost exclusively takes place in family homes. Speed is of the essence, when it’s required – indeed, some tuition requests are settled on the very same day the client calls.
‘I’d single out the overseas residentials as a major specialism,’ says Emma, explaining that these consist of intensive, daily tuition that require customised solutions and which can last anywhere from one week to a whole academic year. 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. ‘Having personally spent three years travelling the world with families as their live-in tutor, delivering tutorials on First Class flights, islands off the Great Barrier Reef and villas in France and Switzerland, I understand the importance of the right fit and am passionate about working out the best match of tutor for each family dynamic,’ enthuses Emma. ‘The residential tutors are of an extraordinary calibre,’ one parent told us. ‘A now-children’s author came and filled my child’s head with imaginative ways to learn and took her off to things like pottery when we were busy. She was quite honestly the most inspiring person I’ve ever met and she influenced my child so much that we still talk about her.’
More recently, Emma has added three extras – one to two hour skill-building masterclasses (from problem-solving to essay structure to app development and Chinese calligraphy); a university applications programme; and language homestays (for students who missed out on trips to Europe during COVID to improve their language skills).
Background and basics
When she graduated from Durham University in 2006, Emma went straight into legal recruitment, taking up extra work as a private tutor. ‘I completely fell in love with tutoring and eventually wound up living in Hong Kong, doing residentials,’ she says. After five years of being a tutor, homeschooler and mentor, it dawned on her that her great contacts, her skill set from her recruitment days, and her personal experience of tutoring put her in a great position to set up her own agency, which she did in 2010, establishing the Hong Kong side of the business two years later.
Since then, Bespoke Tuition – which has always had an air of exclusivity about it - has grown organically via internal referrals, with Emma having personally met and selected over 500 tutors, with around between 30-50 working for her at any one time. When we visited, all current tutors had been with her for at least a year, and a good proportion since the business was set up. Most are in their 20s, with an average age of 25 and there’s a good balance of male and female. There were 60 active families on her books.
Emma told us she’s never had to advertise, with an average of 10 applications per week coming her way from ‘experienced, high-achieving tutors,’ all through word-of-mouth. Her discerning client base means most get turned away, with approximately 80 per cent of those who do make the cut to interview stage having clocked up at least two years’ tutoring experience - and most are Oxbridge, with others having attended other Ivy League/Russell Group universities. The interview 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 explains. If Emma is still impressed, there are all the usual qualifications, references and DBS checks and tutors are expected to compile a 4-page, detailed profile (with Emma’s support) that she presents to prospective families.
There’s no in-house training – Emma feels it would be inappropriate since she purposefully recruits tutors with a range of teaching styles and methods – but tutors do have access to extensive teaching resources (some of which we saw) and which contain the likes of past papers, websites, learning apps, study skills evaluation tools, brain training exercises etc – all of which is regularly updated. There’s also in-depth overviews of the selection criteria and entry process of the most competitive schools both in and out of London, as well as a set of guidelines to ensure good practice and core values.
Matching is taken seriously here, and takes into consideration students’ objectives, level, learning style and interests. ‘With the bigger agencies, it doesn’t really feel like they care – and they often give you someone half-hearted and not very interested, but we wanted someone exceptional for our children and Emma listened attentively to exactly what we wanted and got us a perfect match,’ said one parent. ‘It’s a bit like running a dating agency, in many ways – the match is everything,’ says Emma.
Emma requests feedback from both client and tutor after the first session to ensure both are happy, thereafter each tutor has to write a detailed monthly report, which is sent to the client with their invoice. ‘I then catch up either via phone or in person with clients and tutors every quarter – although often more often - to acquire more detailed feedback and request testimonials that can be added to a tutor’s profile,’ she says. ‘Emma will often invite me for coffee – we are not left out on a limb,’ one London tutor told us.
Emma flies to Hong Kong each term for a fortnight to catch up in person with her Hong Kong families and tutors. She also finds the time to meet tutors off flights, provide orientation packages to help them adjust to a new country etc. ‘There were quite a few cases in which I felt I was not matched well with families when I tutored, and then I was just left to get on with it,’ she says. ‘It was fine as I’m an adaptable creature and rose to the challenges, but there was never really any effort, which made me all the more keen to make sure the chemistry between tutor and student isn’t just good but great, so that we can bring out the full potential of each child.’
Money and small print
No contracts for tutors or clients, except for overseas residentials. Registration fee of £50 for UK clients and 720 HKD for Hong Kong clients. Clients pay from £45 per hour (up to £90 for the most experienced) and from 650 HKD per hour in Hong Kong. Overseas from £1,100 per week. An additional £15 is charged for an extra student sharing a lesson (although this is rare, not least because Emma discourages it, even among identical twins – ‘Everyone has different learning styles,’ she explains). Travel expenses only apply for out-of-London families. Tutors assess the learning style of each child in the first tutorial before tailoring an ongoing programme.
Bespoke Tuition say
‘As our name suggests, we offer customised packages shaped around family preferences, objectives and location. Whether it’s for a dog-friendly chess addict or a trampoline-loving, Oxbridge vegan, we will find the right person,’ says Emma.
The bottom line is that education must be enjoyed, she insists. ‘We do not ever want students dreading their tutorials.’
Tutoring, she continues (visibly wincing at the thought), must never be about sucking the joy out of a subject to make sure it’s drilled into you. ‘It’s about getting to the crux of how a child thinks, nurturing curiosity, advancing intellectual growth and developing students into confident, independent thinkers using tools that will stand them in good stead for life.’
One tutor told us that whilst ‘Emma is extremely well-organised, efficient and competent, there’s not much warmth or sense of belonging within the company. Also, tutors don’t really get offered opportunities for development or training unless we have to ask for it.’ But that was the extent of the negative comments and even this tutor raved about Emma’s helpfulness and commitment to the families on her books.
Families certainly had no complaints. ‘This is not just an introductory service – Emma builds close relationships with families and tutors over time in a way I haven’t seen with any other agency,’ one parent told us.
‘I was let down by a tutor who kept cancelling and Emma made sure she found me a brilliant replacement. My daughter’s favourite lesson is now maths, having really struggled in this subject previously. This agency is second-to-none,’ says another.
Meanwhile, one tutor said, ‘Emma is so efficient that I dropped my other agencies, once I started working for her.’
This, said more than one parent, is London’s best kept secret.