Who are they?
Bright Heart Education
20-22 Wenlock Road
Tel: 0208 064 3800
We have met with Bright Heart Education’s staff. In addition, 49 clients and 41 tutors have completed an online survey (sent to 300 clients and 102 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Bright Heart Education staff
Launched in 2018, this company is run by a three-man band: Dr Ryan Stevenson, Simon McQueen and John Salmon – all thoroughly dedicated to whole-person tutoring rather than pushing youngsters through entrance exams.
Originally the brainchild of Ryan (BSc in politics and international relations from LSE; BSc and PhD in chemical engineering from University of Cape Town), who built up a name for himself around SEN while working for other tutor agencies. ‘I could see what was missing in standard approaches and how a more holistic form of tuition was needed.’ It helped that he was also working as a therapist for a charity at the time – ‘The active listening in particular formed a backdrop to my approach.’
The more he specialised in SEN and mental health, the keener he became to set up a tutor agency that focuses on the ‘proper psychological grounding of the softer aspects of tuition.’ ‘These students don’t always feel good about themselves and need tutoring that focuses on the whole person and is also tailored to that individual’s specific needs,’ he explains.
His friend Simon (chartered accountant and CFA charterholder, also from South Africa) took no persuading to join him as a co-founder. Following a career in private equity, he was excited to do something more meaningful. Having done stints of tutoring himself over the years, this was just the opportunity he’d been after.
John (MA in education from Framingham State University; BA in literature and linguistics from Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica) – who was one of their earliest tutors - has since become the third director. A qualified teacher and previous head, he had become ‘increasingly impressed by the difference good SEN provision can make.’
These days, Simon manages operations, finances and strategy, Ryan oversees clients and tutors, and John is responsible for overseeing tuition, training and safeguarding. They are supported by five team members (two of whom are qualified teachers) covering client and tutor provision, management and support.
‘Everyone at Bright Heart is wonderful – it’s a very efficient and organised company,’ said a tutor, while parents praise the ‘excellent communication’ and ‘customer service that’s second-to-none.’ Nearly everyone we spoke to commended the personal approach – ‘They don’t just tick the box, they are empathetic every step of the way,’ said one parent.
What do Bright Heart Education offer?
If you’re after a tutor to get your naturally bright spark into a top name school - or ensure a sweep of A*s at GCSE or A level - forget it. ‘Too much focus on short-term academic goals can be especially problematic for students with SEN and those lacking in confidence or motivation,’ believes Ryan. Instead, you get tutoring that’s nurturing, holistic (including life skills where relevant) and highly attuned to the very specific challenges the student has. The benefits speak for themselves when it comes to the improved engagement, motivation for learning and exam results listed by parent after parent we spoke to: ‘Our tutor quickly formed a fun and positive relationship with our son who responded to his encouraging tutoring.’ ‘Well-planned sessions prepared our son for each set of school assessments throughout the year and he has gone into his GCSE maths exams with confidence in his ability to succeed.’ ‘My son has become a real history buff at a deep intellectual level as a direct result of his tutor.’ Etc.
Tuition for English and maths is most popular, closely followed by science - all offered at primary and secondary levels, with a minimum age of four. They can also help with humanities, languages, PE, business studies, accounting and coding – and they even supported a student doing photography GCSE recently, so it’s worth asking about any subject. Undergraduate and even postgraduate support also available. Functional skills (1-3) are on the menu, as is CE/11+ exam preparation. And for more vocational based tuition, they cover BTEC, UAS (AQA Unit Award Scheme) and ASDAN courses.
Students have a massive range of needs including ADD/ADHD, autism, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, eating disorders, gender identity challenges, general learning difficulties, physical health challenges, sensory processing challenges and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) needs.
Geographically, they mainly cover London (SW, S, W and central) and NE Surrey for in-person tutoring – naturally more popular among these students. Online tutoring is also available throughout the UK and internationally.
Home schooling is a key strength (many of these students can’t cope with school either temporarily or longer), and they have provided residential tutoring in Dubai and US. Perhaps not surprisingly, they work regularly in schools (one-to-one and group tutoring) and with LAs and Bright Heart is also an approved tuition partner for the National Tutoring Programme.
Background and basics
‘Caring’ and ‘passionate’ are the top describing words used by parents about this company. Empathy, active listening and the ability to build rapport are all must-haves in the tutors they take on, according to Ryan, as well as being subject specialists. No tutor gets a look-in unless they share the company’s ethos and have at least a year’s tutoring experience (usually it’s more), as well as being prepared to work with the whole family.
Beyond that, they’re an eclectic bunch - SENCos, actors, retired teachers, people studying at university and specialists in eg dyslexia. ‘Our tutor is incredibly bright and because she’s a trained actress, she has a huge capacity for different learning styles and gauging when my son, who has ADHD, needs to move from sitting at a desk to learning in a more practical way,’ said one mother.
Recruitment - which involves a screening call followed by a face-to-face interview - is demanding, as well as painstaking in detail and consistency. But that’s just the way tutors like it. ‘You can tell they really care about who they take on,’ commented one. Includes a review of CV and references (with follow-ups where necessary), scenarios for handling a particular type of student ‘to determine if they demonstrate the experience claimed in their CV,’ a discussion of any gaps in their CV, a review of relevant qualifications, assessment of their motivation around SEN, legal checks, DBS etc. Bright Heart provides detailed info on their philosophy, safeguarding policy, expectations, requirements for induction and ongoing refresher training, as well as for monitoring of tutor performance. Nothing is left to chance.
Because the agency spends so long talking to each client to understand the student’s unique learning needs – ‘it’s amazing the detail they go into,’ remarked one parent – the team has a lot to go on when it comes to matching students with the right tutor. Unlike with many mainstream tutor agencies, it’s not just a case of finding the first free tutor in that subject – it’s all about finding the right personality, background and tutoring approach. Clients are usually given a choice of one or two, then get their refundable trial lesson, with an alternative tutor offered if they don’t click. Parents say they get plenty of feedback, both verbal and written – ‘these tutors are so generous with their time and the feedback is comprehensive too,’ said one. A few felt the tutoring could be more structured – ‘Our tutor came along and did fun maths and was brilliant at knowing what our child needed, but I wonder if we should have set ourselves targets,’ said one.
Bright Heart are members of The Tutors’ Association and won Tuition Business of the Year at the National Tutoring Awards 2022. In addition, a Bright Heart tutor, Wilma, won Best Special Needs Tutor at these awards.
Money and small print
One-off registration fee of £60, regardless of number of children using the service – payable when the client has been matched with the tutor. First ‘trial’ lesson fully refundable and no-quibble refunds later on too if the client is ever unhappy – ‘we’d much rather give someone back their money than leave a sour taste.’ For GCSE and below, £46-£58.50 per hour (online) and £51-£65 per hour (in-person). Slightly higher for A level and above. Volume discounts offered to schools, LAs and home schooling clients. Tutors are put on one of six tiers based on experience and qualifications – they are paid between £23-£46 per hour (online) and £25.50-£52 per hour (in-person) before a 10 per cent incentive payment for eligible tutors. There’s a 24-hour cancellation policy, left to the discretion of tutors. ‘There is a slightly confusing billing system, but they seem to be sorting that,’ said one parent.
Bright Heart Education say
‘We have witnessed first hand the lack of individual care and attention provided to students in some other agencies, which can be especially problematic for students who are struggling, have SEN or lack confidence. So we set up a company to fill the gaps – including appropriate briefing of the students’ specific needs, finding the best quality tutors to meet these needs and providing ongoing training on how to work with these students. All this, along with a focus on long-term potential, acknowledging the whole person and making students realise we genuinely care.’
A world away from tutor agencies that create dependent learners or over-teach already stressed youngsters, Bright Heart scoops up students – mainly with SEN or mental health challenges – and gets them back on the path of engagement via its nurturing, high-quality and person-centred approach. While other agencies focus on getting that one better grade, this one transforms lives. ‘They helped us out of a very difficult situation and we will be forever grateful for their hard work and patience,’ said one parent.