Who are they?
Bonas MacFarlane Tuition
1a Gertrude Street
We have visited Bonas MacFarlane’s offices. In addition, 22 clients and 21 tutors have completed an on-line survey.
Bonas MacFarlane staff
BM 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 around 20 staff, based in offices in London, Dubai and Almaty (Charles’ wife is from Kazakhstan) and representatives in Edinburgh, Moscow, Lagos, Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur. Charles - ex-Harrow and Oxford (history), and a qualified teacher - started tutoring when he was studying law and has since clocked up 24 years 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. And 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).
We found Charles determined, loquacious and deeply knowledgeable and savvy about all things education related. Definitely a man you would want on your side if yours is not a straightforward, ‘Please, daddy, may I have a little help with probability?’ need. He’s particularly voluble about mentoring (which they provide as a separate offering), confidence-building, study skills, his tutors and his clients: ‘It’s all about getting to know the child in their family environment.’ Clients range from middle-class professionals to the super-rich – some using the neighbouring helicopter landing pad just to visit BM. But Charles is no snob and talks with missionary fervour about all his work, including charitable.
‘They strike the perfect balance of friendliness, efficiency and professionalism and are always willing to go the extra mile,’ a tutor told us, while parents praise the ‘unpushy,’ ‘highly professional’ and ‘responsive’ team, whom they also refer to as ‘really friendly.’
What do they offer?
They cover every aspect of educational need from weekly or residential tutoring to mentoring, as well as school and university placement. If they don’t have a 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. In fact, one tutor told us how he suggested building up a BM art programme to Charles. ‘He allowed me to bring in a small team of really well-qualified art tutors and it’s going really well,’ he says. Although not as hot on group courses as some other big agencies, they do run them for university preparation and they join forces with TeamCamp to run summer camp courses for 7+ and 8+. 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. Children as young as four are tutored by BM (‘more structured play, really’), right up to university age, but rarely adults. They are expert in USA college admissions – very much a growth area and they are employed directly by schools in Epsom and Elysee to provide this.
Mentoring – which can be weekly or residential - has three goals (academic, pastoral and extra-curricular), with the mentor working with the whole family, often overseas. ‘It’s unusual to find a teenager who is so intrinsically driven that they get the maximum out of their school, with no extra help,’ explains Charles. ‘So our mentoring programme involves a detailed assessment, then focuses on confidence building, enhancing study skills and the pupil's approach to learning and guiding the student to ensure his or her goals are achieved.’ Often, he says, parents approach them for tutoring, but realise their child will benefit more from mentoring.
A particular strength is their partnerships eg Dyslexia Teaching Centre and educational psychologists. ‘We often act as an educational GP, referring people onto these professionals,’ explains Charles. Some tutors have SEN training.
For ordinary hourly lessons, they cover central and inner London. 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. Online tutoring also available. Greatest demand, surprise, surprise, for maths and English and mostly at 11+, though they are finding a growing call for help at 7+ and 8+ as everyone tries to beat the all-change scrum later on.
BM works more collaboratively with schools than most agencies we’ve visited, some of which approach him for holiday tuition and some of which he’s formed joint enterprises with.
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 50 - all come by recommendation and are then selected by interview and a proven track record. ‘Some are people we’ve tutored ourselves,’ says Charles. ‘We have liked and been impressed with every tutor BM has supplied. It is very pleasant to have them in the house. They have been kind, intelligent, helpful and punctual and they have all been positive and encouraging to my children,’ said one parent.
As part of the interview process, BM discusses their expectations and systems, meanwhile the tutor prepares an hour’s tutorial. For more specialised assignments, they will hunt heads if necessary. References are scrupulously taken up and DBS required. Tutors are mainly 25-35 – all have degrees from a Russell Group uni (60 per cent are Oxbridge) and most were privately educated. 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 training manual. ‘For tax reasons, we can’t insist on training, but it’s on tap, and there’s good take-up,’ says Charles, pointing to their regular workshops run by an educational psychologist. ‘I did an all-day one a few weeks ago and we were exposed to things you just wouldn’t get in other agencies – it was brilliant,’ one tutor told us.
Tutoring mainly in student’s home, with the first session 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 an eclectic mix of ex or current opera singers, city types, doctors, writers, actors and even teachers, many from top schools and with lots of impressive experience – the common denominator being an enjoyment of teaching one-to-one and watching the startling improvements this can make. Very little active recruitment of clients or tutors happens – it’s mostly word of mouth, and many stay with BM for years on end. Tutors put in monthly reports, are regularly coffeed and lunched. Clients can expect to hear from BM directly after the first tutorial and regular follow-ups after that.
There’s an impressive amount of pro bono and charitable work going on behind the scenes – including sponsoring St Cuthbert’s School in Fulham £20,000 to help their high achievers and after-school clubs; building a school in Northern Cambodia to the tune of £30,000; and supporting aspirational students through A-levels and university guidance at the Harris academy and Barking Abbey School.
Money and small print
Right at the top end, as you’d expect, although a substantial proportion of the hefty fee may well be travel if the tutor for Tarquina happens to teach in Fulham and you live in Weybridge. Standard hourly rate ranges from £75 to £120, depending on the tutor’s 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, size dependent on circs. 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. ‘Yes, it’s expensive, but like most things, you get what you pay for,’ one parent summed up.
Bonas MacFarlane say
‘Well over a dozen tutoring companies have been born out of Bonas MacFarlane, many of whom sell themselves as “small scale,” insisting that it’s better,’ says Charles. ‘But we have found that by growing, we have the benefit of employing over 20 consultants, including trained teachers. As such, we are able to integrate our services, which offers greater value. Four out of five candidates who applied to Stanford won a place in 2016. Only 12 were accepted in the whole of the UK. If we were small, this would simply not be possible.’
Parents pay tribute to the professionalism and care taken. ‘BM plans tutorials with meticulous detail, yet let the child dictate the pace – it’s a delicate balance, but one they get just right,’ says one. ‘The tutors never talk at the children – they work with them, using the same techniques as experienced teachers,’ says another. One family told us BM were ‘extremely accommodating of their son’s hectic sports schedule,’ while another told us they ‘helped us at extremely short notice’. A particularly nice story comes from one woman who asked BM to tutor her daughter in Italian, ‘so she could communicate better with her grandparents. It was for fun, really, but they taught her so well that she wound up taking her Italian GCSE. She even did it a year early and got A*. That was from an hour a week.’
Tutors are similarly keen, stressing Bonas MacFarlane’s loyalty and commitment to their staff. ‘BM have greatly expanded my horizons as a tutor, offering me roles and opportunities that would simply not have been possible other than through them,’ says one. ‘From my experience, this agency is the best in London,’ is a typical observation.
This is the Savile Row end of things – tailored, elegant, cut to your measure from the best materials. In the end it may still not suit but, if it does, it will be a perfect, hard-wearing and an excellent fit.