Who are they?
Bonas MacFarlane Tuition
1a Gertrude Street
We have met with Bonas MacFarlane Tuition’s staff. In addition, 29 clients and 30 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 300 clients and 75 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Bonas MacFarlane staff
BM, now based in Chelsea (accessible with parking and with quiet rooms for assessment), is directed by Charles Bonas, Will Petty and David Wellesley-Wesley, although it’s Harry Cobb who is in the driving seat, managing the business, with two assistants to help him place and select tutors. The rest of the business is made up of 18 employees, mainly based in London, the remainder spread across international offices including in Dubai and Almaty. Charles - ex-Harrow and Oxford (history), and a qualified teacher - started tutoring when he was studying law and has since clocked up nearly three decades of tutoring experience. Although he now only tutors and mentors a handful of children, he remains hands-on when it comes to client involvement more generally. Will, also an experienced tutor, worked and trained at The Dyslexia Teaching Centre, and is now the company's chief assessor and lead consultant on school placements. David founded The Independent Schools Show and British Boarding Schools Show (their sister companies, that have enabled them to build up relationships with hundreds of schools) and works on relationship-building with schools. Harry was a full-time tutor for nearly three years before joining BM in 2013. Three of the staff are recent Teach First teachers and another three have been senior university consultants at schools. They also have 10 school placement consultants (including an ex Harrow housemaster).
You instantly feel you’re in safe hands with BM, whether it’s with razor-sharp yet laidback Harry or more loquacious Charles who has arguably changed the face of British tutoring. Both are deeply knowledgeable about all things education related. Definitely a company you would want on your side if yours is not a straightforward, ‘Please, daddy, may I have a little help with probability?’ need, although routine, uncomplicated tutor requests have always formed the bulk of their work. They are strong advocates of mentoring (‘an under-rated aspect of tutoring,’ says Charles) and have a genuine commitment to public benefit work (they do more of on this front than any other tutor company we know). Clients range from middle-class professionals to the super-rich.
‘I’ve worked for many of the big agencies and can tell you BM is exemplary in every way – they are forward thinking, ultra-slick and they have the personal touch and very big hearts,’ said a tutor. A parent told us, ‘These guys are easily the best in class – the level of customer service and attention to detail right from the very first call is like no other and that means you get the very best tutor, including if, like me, you have a very particular request.’
What do they offer?
They cover every aspect of educational need from weekly or residential tutoring to school and university applications and were the first UK company to support students through US university admissions. If they don’t have the right person for the subject you’re after, they’ll find one, and they are not averse to offering tutoring in ‘softer’ subjects including life skills and art. Although not as hot on group courses as some other big agencies, they do run them for university preparation, as well as an all-new Camp Bonas summer course including adventure themed leadership training ‘to rewild the mind’. They have built a strong reputation around helping overseas pupils to adapt to British schools – with Charles himself taking on the guardianship of overseas children at school here. They work with children from reception up to university age, and some adults too (‘We help clients with masters or MBA applications and recently tutored a Harvard business school applicant’).
Mentoring, though part of every tutoring assignment, can be booked as a stand-alone offering, again weekly or residential. It has three goals (academic, pastoral and extra-curricular), with the mentor working with the whole family, often overseas, to focus exclusively on confidence building, enhancing study skills and the pupil's approach to learning. ‘Can be the make or break of them getting into the school of their choice, where admissions processes increasingly focus on softer skills,’ believes Charles. BM says many parents approach them for tutoring, only to realise that what their child actually needs is mentoring.
SEN is a strength, largely thanks to BM’s in-house educational psychologist, who is on hand (and usually available within a few days) to identify gaps between executive functioning and IQ. ‘You wouldn’t take a Formula One car to a local mechanic for an MOT – with education, it’s the same, in that you need a full evaluation for a child’s educational profile,’ says Charles. SEN trained tutors also available.
For ordinary hourly lessons, they cover central London and increasingly the home counties. For day-long assignments they cover a circumference of 100 miles around the capital. For weekly assignments or longer, literally anywhere, with recent examples including Mumbai and Sardinia. Unlike some other agencies, which perceive online tutoring as a stopgap in the pandemic, BM predicts it will become the norm, at least in part: ‘Before Covid, there was lots of resistance, but I think we’ll see far more blended learning in future – so there’ll be times when only face-to-face will do and then online will come in, for example, when you need to go through essay corrections,’ says Harry. When we last reviewed BM, demand for 11+ dominated, but this time round we found 7+, 11+ and CE all took the top spots on the popularity stakes.
BM works more collaboratively with schools, as well as doing more charitable works, than most agencies put together. They sponsor St Cuthbert’s school in Fulham to help their high achievers and after-school clubs. They’ve built a school in Northern Cambodia. They support aspirational students through A levels and university guidance at the Harris academy and Barking Abbey School. And BM’s foundation supports over 80 students on the widening participation scheme through a 10-month university preparation programme. They also partner with over 15 schools across the UK including Liverpool, Isle of Wight and Newcastle through the Tutor the Nation campaign, of which Charles is a trustee. ‘It’s one of the main attractions for me,’ said one tutor, who had mentored vulnerable children through one of the BM programmes.
Background and basics
Established in 1998 by Charles, this is the upper crust of the consultancy and tutoring industry, blended, kneaded and done to a crisp according to the precise educational recipe for your privileged progeny. Tutors –a core team of around 75, working with around 300 families a year - all come by recommendation and are then selected by interview and a proven track record. ‘I’m constantly amazed at the quality of their tutors,’ said a parent. ‘They send you through these CVs and you literally can’t believe it – my daughter’s one went to Columbia, then Yale and is now at RADA and he’s still only 27,’ voiced another. Tutors (60 per cent Oxbridge educated and all of whom have at least two years’ tutoring experience) attend an interview where expectations and systems are discussed, along with the tutor preparing an hour’s tutorial of a subject and level of their choice where critical feedback is provided. For more specialised assignments, they will hunt heads if necessary. Two written references are scrupulously taken up and DBS required. BM then trains them up for the specific job they’re assigned for, all backed up with carefully tailored packs of appropriate material/syllabuses, etc, plus everyone gets a personalised training manual and the opportunity to attend workshops to develop knowledge in eg lesson planning, the increasingly competitive 7+, 8+, 11+ and pre-test. ‘It’s not just a case of, “Go off and get their maths grade up,” so much as, “This is what their home environment is like, this is why we think you’re the best person to light a spark and improve their confidence,”’ said a tutor. ‘Perhaps not the quickest at matching, but you have to accept that what they’re doing takes time,’ said a parent. Must be worth the wait given that every parent we spoke to was confident their child would succeed, with nobody reporting anything other than a good or very good tutoring service. For hourly tutoring, the first session is considered an assessment. ‘By the end, we should be clear about the tutoring objectives,’ says Charles. BM keeps in close touch with their select tutorial stable – which includes a growing number of qualified teachers, many from top schools and with lots of impressive experience – and many stay with BM for years on end, with 70 per cent of the tutors we surveyed having been with them for over three years (and not just for a few sessions here or there, with a quarter of the tutors we surveyed doing over 20 sessions a week). Tutors are regularly coffeed and lunched and all of them, bar none, said they’d recommend BM. Clients can expect to hear from BM directly after the first tutorial and regular follow-ups after that. Meanwhile, their tutors provide monthly reports. ‘Some tutors provide more feedback on top of that, some don’t - but as long as my kids are fine, then I’m happy, and you just know you’re getting quality with this company,’ said a parent. Charles is an honorary and founding member of The Tutors’ Association.
Money and small print
By no means cheap, but not the most expensive either – in fact, one tutor told us one of the reasons he loved working for BM is that ‘they could charge so much more, given how many high net worth individuals they have on their books, but they don’t.’ Standard hourly rate is set by the tutor and ranges from £75 to £120, depending on their experience, and there’s a daily rate of £300 based on a minimum of five hours of tuition, spread over the day. Tutors remit a percentage to BM which ‘varies on the brief, tutor’s experience and assignment’ – typically the tutor keeps 70 per cent and, on longer assignments, 80 per cent. No contract and there’s a one-off arrangement fee of £192. Where an assignment is complicated and requires a client visit to make an assessment, a discretionary fee of £480 may be charged. ‘The cost of a BM tutor is more than the standard rate, but you don’t get a standard tutor – they pinpoint exactly what is required and hit the target bullseye every single time,’ said parent.
Bonas MacFarlane say
‘Our integrated approach is unrivalled. We have pioneered many services which are now replicated by others. Our tutoring success often results in tutors becoming life-long mentors. And our tailored approach, with advanced assessments including working with educational psychologists, allows us to ensure the best outcome for our students by creating bespoke programmes of study with clearly defined aims.’
This is the Savile Row end of things – tailored, elegant, cut to your measure from the best materials. If you can afford it, it will be a perfect, hard-wearing and an excellent fit.