Who are they?
43 Berkeley Square
We have visited Bruton Lloyd’s offices. In addition, 33 clients and 35 tutors have completed an on-line survey.
Bruton Lloyd staff
Back in the early noughties, friends Ekaterina Ametistova and Anna Kunitsyna (who met at Moscow State University, where Ekaterina did an MSc in maths and Anna an MSc in physics) spotted a growing demand for tailored tutoring services among local Russian families. ‘Anna has two children and was increasingly hearing about the shortage of tutors available,’ says Ametistova.
With Ametistova’s experience as investment banker in the City and Kunitsyna’s in management consulting, they reckoned they’d make a good business team. Having launched Bruton Lloyd in 2006, they have grown organically but quickly and are now joined by Anatoly Reeves (head of tuition); Pavel Novichkov (tutor manager); Francesca Sollohub (educational consultant), Lily Lanskaya (guardianship officer/office manager), Anrei Andreichuck (accountant) and Anna Ostrovsky (communications/office manager). All are fluent in Russian – relevant as half the clients are Russian.
We met them in their plush third and fourth floor Mayfair offices and while they didn’t strike us as the most dynamic of teams (you could hear a pin drop in the office), they are both pleasant and efficient - and for their clients and tutors, that’s what counts. ‘Very professional, but with a very personalised approach.’ ‘Company is efficient and supportive to tutors.’ Always at the end of the phone if you need them – even at 6pm or on a Sunday.’
What do Bruton Lloyd offer?
All mainstream academic subjects for 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+, GCSE, A-Levels, IB, EFL, IELTS, GMAT, ACT/SAT, Oxbridge interviews and undergraduate degrees (mainly humanities and business/management at this stage) - with EFL, 13+ and 16+ forming the bulk of their work. ‘Occasionally, we get unusual requests such as dancing tuition, but we refer elsewhere for those,’ says Ametistova.
‘As a rule, we don’t work with children younger than three, although we have had requests for as young as newborns,’ she admits. ‘In the past we tried it, but Oxbridge educated nannies aren’t all that easy to find,’ she laughs. Even three is young by our reckoning, but Ametistova says it’s mainly for EFL. ‘Some schools, such as Bute House, expect some English.’ No upper age limit, although no more than 10 adults in the past decade (‘usually to improve their English, including for business’).
Initially, all clients were Russian, but half are now made up of other Europeans and British. Around half the Russians reside in London, along with a third of the international clients and all British ones. Inevitably, this international focus has shaped services, with residential tuition high up the list. This can be anything from a week to four years, but usually lasts a complete school holiday. Tutors have travelled to France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Spain, Greece, USA, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Bespoke and intensive residential programmes also on offer in Norfolk and Dorset, where lots of different high-calibre tutors are brought into one of Bruton Lloyd’s wealthy connections’ homes, usually for exam preparation.
Hourly tuition mainly in central London, Surrey and Berkshire – either in clients’ homes or Bruton Lloyd’s offices. ‘The offices are in a handy location, which makes all the difference,’ one client told us. Online tutoring via Skype on the up - ‘I prefer it,’ several clients said. A small amount of home schooling (from two to six months) has also been carried out, generally for children who have been excluded from school, who are off sick or who are settling into a new country.
For many, these services are not seen as separate entities to pick from, but as part of a wider, long-term package, says Ametistova. ‘These clients ask us to undertake a two, three or four-year project that involves a clear end goal – usually getting into a particular school or university - then settling them in. And while a big part of that may be tutoring, they’ll also turn to us for consultancy and guardianship, for example.’ Clients generally pleased: ‘The whole package was so tailor-made and my daughter has now reached her educational goals.’
SEN not a strength, although you might be ok if it’s mild dyslexia. ‘Every year, we get one or two children with problems and we have one teacher who is well qualified in SEN. For more serious cases, we refer.’
‘We don’t really like providing tutoring for the sake of tutoring because young people can become dependent on it,’ says Ametistova, although she says she wouldn’t try to put a family off. ‘Some clients listen to my warning, some don’t, and some compromise – agreeing to start with a tutor and see how they respond.’
Bruton Lloyd background and basics
‘We both felt something was missing from our lives,’ says Ametistova about her and Kunitsyna’s high-flying business careers – hence the leap into the educational sector, using their wealthy connections as their first clients. A year later, the pair got an office just off Berkeley Square, moving to their current premises in 2011.
Today, there remains a whiff of exclusivity about the agency, which continues to grow, mainly from internal referrals, but also recommendations from London schools and other agencies, notably The Profs and Keystone, as well as occasional Oxbridge job adverts. There are around 150 tutors on the books, with roughly 45 regulars, working for around 160 clients at any one time. Average age of tutors is 28, mainly made up of career tutors, teachers and a few in industry. All have experience of either tutoring or teaching, or both.
Recruitment process is standard – review of CV may lead to an interview with at least two Bruton Lloyd staff, plus mock lesson ‘so we can see their style – which really helps us when handpicking and matching tutors to clients.’ DBS checks for all tutors and copies of all qualifications and references requested (although the latter not always followed up – ‘if Keystone has recommended someone, we wouldn’t usually bother with following up references, for instance’). ‘We take roughly 80 per cent of the tutors who come to us through referrals and/or Oxbridge job adverts, but only 30 per cent of those potential tutors who come to us without any referral whatsoever.’ Tutors report process as ‘reassuringly thorough’ and ‘very professional.’
Matching, says Ametistova, is the best bit. ‘Knowing both our clients and tutors very well, we typically approach specific tutors knowing that they would be a good match for a particular child,’ she says, although during busy times, they email out to all tutors. Two to three tutors are then presented to the client (in person – they may even request a trial lesson from all of them) and it’s then up to the family to decide on one.’ Matching for tutors sent overseas is even more painstaking, says Ametistova. ‘For instance, some of our clients live in what I call gold cages just outside Moscow – huge homes that are quite isolated. Some say, “I’m working on my PhD, so that suits me well,” whereas for others, that would be uncomfortable.’ Only four or five poor matches in total, claims Bruton Lloyd, although a couple of tutors feel the matching could be improved. ‘I’d like to see some expectation management with parents, particularly those who are based overseas – and perhaps better matching of my skills with tutees,’ said one.
No tutor training on offer for tutors (‘a shame as CPD is always welcome,’ said one), but they praise the extensive teaching resources available, and welcome the social events (one or two per year). Feedback from tutors to clients is tailored towards clients’ wishes (‘the best way – it avoids unnecessary form filling,’ said one client), as is communications between Bruton Lloyd and clients. ‘Some people like sharing their thoughts; others prefer to be left alone,’ says Ametistova.
Bruton Lloyd recently joined The Tutors' Association. They have also participated in the National Tutors Conference.
Bruton Lloyd - money and small print
No introductory/registration fees and no contract for tutor and client unless it’s a residential placement – although tutors are asked to sign their code of conduct. To their delight, tutors set their own rates (‘which only reinforces their model of attracting the highest quality tutors,’ said one) - sometimes with a bit of guidance from Bruton Lloyd, but typically tutors get £30-£100 per hour ‘and the customer is charged an extra £10-£25 per hour as commission to us.’ Travel expenses usually included. ‘I’d like an automated booking system – typing up a monthly invoice is a bit outdated, although they are processed very quickly,’ one tutor told us, to which Bruton Lloyd responded, ‘We are currently updating our payment system.’ Clients describe costs as ‘expensive – but they all are.’
Bruton Lloyd say
‘We are a boutique agency and provide bespoke services. We have the advantage of knowing our families and tutors well, having met all tutors and most clients in person.’
‘Some clients stay with us for years, working with us to get every one of their children into the best schools.’
Clients like the tailored approach and efficiency. ‘Bruton Lloyd are experienced professionals, understanding your needs and always ready to resolve problems.’ ‘There’s a real willingness to deliver an individualised programme, with an understanding of specific needs.’
Praise for the calibre of tutors is also evident. ‘A couple of other agencies I’ve used kept sending me students, who just wanted a bit of extra money but really weren’t strong in their subjects. But this company really listened to what we needed.’
For tutors, acclaim is mainly around the lack of bureaucracy and ‘providing exactly the right amount of support a tutor needs, ensuring that the tutor’s job runs smoothly with no distractions. This in turn provides a better service to clients who benefit equally from their expertise and professional approach.’