Who are they?
We have met with Education Boutique’s staff. In addition, 28 clients and 22 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 148 clients and 45 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed. For an explanation of the different tutor sections in the Good Schools Guide see tutor agency?
Education Boutique Tutoring staff
‘I want to change the world,’ said founder Lucy Spencer BA QTS (early 30s) within five minutes of meeting us. Having done her teacher training at Oxford Brookes and clocking up class teacher experience in both UK and Dubai, she initially hoped her first head of year role would satisfy her desire to make a difference. But disappointment struck as she realised her teaching team didn’t seem to have anything like the fire in their bellies that she did. Moreover, she started to realise that ‘the current education system just isn’t fit for purpose for some children and by working in a school, I couldn’t do anything to address that.’ Consequently decided to leave teaching altogether and set up a tutoring company (‘not agency, please, as that has money grabbing connotations’) in 2016 with the aim of ‘gaining a platform from which to really impact the education of children.’ It was either that, she says, ‘or a career in politics’.
Has since tutored children of celebrities, diplomats and company CEOs, travelling all round the world, while more worthy endeavours have seen her developing specialisms in both ASD (‘I have personal experience,’ she says). Has since brought on others like her to make ASD and eg PDA tutoring more available, and where necessary more affordable. Another specialism is home schooling, she has published a book for home schoolers, set up a network which organises free events including parent workshops for home educating families and she supports families who have been forced into home education, including helping them to lobby councils.
The company is a registered alternative provision provider for Bracknell Forest Borough Council, with 14 other borough councils likely to be brought on board by the end of 2020. Plus, the company has partnerships with College Hall, BM Active, Get Active Football Academy and Brakenhale. Lucy has also become a regional hub leader for The Tutors’ Association, a role which involves organising tutoring networking events and championing the wider industry. No wonder she’s managed to get Carly Jones MBE on board as the company’s ambassador and that Lucy was recently invited to the Forbes 30 Under 30 event after her profile caught the attention of organisers.
‘Lucy really has her finger on the pulse – it’s quite a company,’ said a parent, while another told us, ‘It’s obviously much more than a job to Lucy – she really cares about young people and their futures.’ Tutors like her ethos too – ‘it’s what drove me to them,’ voiced one, with another commenting, ‘As a tutor, you feel supported at all times and part of something much bigger than just bums on seats’. Lucy, whose office is in the Regus building in Bracknell, still runs the company single-handedly, outsourcing marketing, admin, IT, accounting and initial call answering.
What do they offer?
A surprisingly traditional core offering, considering Lucy’s big picture goals, with support for entrance exams, especially ISEB 11+, bringing in most of the business. Parents also speak highly of the company’s provision for ‘general confidence boosting in pretty much any subject’ and ‘for support with GCSEs’. Will tutor children as young as three (‘it’s more like educational childcare,’ insists Lucy, although The Good Schools Guide cautions against any kind of tutoring at this young age), while their oldest tutees are adults, mainly for EAL (Lucy has worked with international royal families to provide this service). No A level or university support, though. Autism is a growth area, as is home schooling – the two, not surprisingly, are often linked, with a number of families currently receiving provision from teams of tutors for over 25 hours a week, all meticulously timetabled to suit the family’s individual needs. This company is also worth trying if your child is eg dyslexic or suffers from anxiety, with several such specialists on their books.
Education Boutique had 43 active tutors (including Lucy, though where she finds the time is anyone’s guess) out of a total of 82 on their books when we reviewed them, working with around 150 families a year, in addition to three business and two schools. For hourly tutoring (which takes place at the family’s home, school or alternative provision setting), they cover Berkshire, West London, Surrey and Bucks, with most of the children attending Lambrook, Hall Grove and Papplewick, aspiring to attend schools including Wellington College, Brighton College, Charter House, Eton, Harrow, Lady Eleanor Holles, Hampton, St George’s Weybridge, reading Blue Coat, SWPS, RGS, St Paul’s, Reeds, Halliford and Heathfield. Online tutoring is popular, particularly for clients in Dubai, Bahamas and Monaco. Residentials also available.
Background and Basics
The vast majority of tutors are qualified teachers (some still practising, others not); the rest are eg Oxbridge graduates and ‘science masters’. All are interviewed face to face by Lucy for 40+ minutes (‘all very informal, but certainly thorough,’ said one) after they’ve had their CV, enhanced DBS and two references approved and answered some basic questions by phone. ‘By the interview, I know their academic profile and now I want to know what drives them, what they can do for kids and whether they’ve got the right personality,’ says Lucy. It doesn’t have to mean they’re extrovert, she insists – ‘but if they bore me, they’re going to bore a kid, so I need to see a glint in their eye.’ No mock lesson, but Lucy looks for considered answers to questions such as, ‘What would you do if a child told you they hated your lesson?’ ‘How would you manage a difficult parent?’
If the tutor lacks training in entrance exams, they get booked in for a half-day’s training, and all are invited to tutoring networking events eg with visiting speakers, and courses on eg mental health first aid level 2. ‘I went to one last month – it was good not just to meet other tutors, but because it provides public recognition that tutoring is a career in its own right, not just a bit of pocket money,’ said one tutor. Tutors also appreciate the incentives eg ‘different vouchers,’ ‘free coffee for a month.’
Around three-quarters of clients have offspring in the private school system; the rest are a real mix, including those on benefits. Don’t expect quite the personal service that some other small agencies offer at the start – an outsourced company (albeit in the same office block as Lucy’s) will take your initial call, only passing you onto Lucy for more complex cases. ‘It’s because we get 15 to 20 calls a day and taking every one of them wouldn’t leave me time for much else,’ explains Lucy, although you can count on her to do every match, all supported by clients’ answers to questions such as, ‘What’s the child’s favourite teacher like?’ ‘Do they respond better to gentle personalities or more firm?’ etc. And if they can’t find the right match? ‘I would rather say so than fill a gap just to make money and look bad in the long run,’ says Lucy.
Parents praise the ‘extensive verbal feedback at the end of each lesson’ – ‘they always keep you in the loop,’ said one, while another told us their tutor ‘rarely left before an hour and a half, despite only being paid for an hour’. Some grumbles from tutors on the written feedback being non-negotiable, but Lucy is resolute – ‘even if it’s one line, it’s a point of reference for both the family and tutor’. The company keeps in regular contact with both client and tutor and they are the only tutor company we know of to have invited public feedback via Trustpilot (4.5 out of 5 stars so far, but only because you have to reach 25 to get 5, says Lucy).
Plenty of praise from parents for the tutors being flexible; even more for them achieving their goals, sometimes against the odds. ‘They completely transformed both my children, turning one around from being a child with no friends, a nightmare at home and not wanting to go to school into a confident child who integrates with other children, is happy to go to school and a delight at home.’ ‘Our tutor was able to put our very shy son at ease and you could see him making visible progress every week.’ ‘Explains things in a way that makes the penny drop and is just a really lovely person.’ One who’d had a child in home education said, ‘Having been helped by Education Boutique’s tutors for two years, he is now thriving back in mainstream school,’ while several made reference to their children ‘really looking forward’ to their tutoring sessions.
Money and small print
Clients pay a one-off registration fee of £50 once they are matched with a tutor. They can then choose to pay a block upfront (no discount, just for ease) or to save card details and pay after each session. Fees, which include travel, range from £48 to £70 per hour, depending on the tutors’ experience, with tutors receiving between £30 and £50. Day rates cheaper for clients than evenings. For residential placements, a finders’ fee structure is charged, which includes a 15 per cent fee to client, based on the pro-rata annual salary. T&Cs for clients and tutors; contracts for residential placements. Usual rules apply for cancellations – a 24 hour notice period, although one tutor told us, ‘it could be clearer’.
Education Boutique say
‘I want to significantly develop the business in the next two years, with the support of a team of investor clients who have offered their time for free to support us in our goals, especially when it comes to autistic learners and innovation in teaching them. Not only will that allow us a platform to get into political discussions and raise the profile of how we can all best support these learners, but it will hopefully lead to us opening a centre of excellence for autistic learners in Berkshire.’
A Berkshire based company with huge ambition and a keen interest in the bigger educational picture, especially when it comes to ethics and inclusivity. Main bread and butter is still getting privately educated kids through entrance tests – something it does very well. Also stands out for autistic children and those who need home schooling. One to watch.