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Figtree LearningWho are they? 

Figtree Learning Ltd
28 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3SS

Tel: 0207 244 1130

Email: [email protected]
Web: www.figtreelearning.com

We have met with Figtree Learning’s staff. In addition, 23 clients and 28 tutors have completed an online survey (sent to 75 clients and 65 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with at least eight of those surveyed.

Figtree Learning staff

We’ve reviewed some responsive tutor agencies in our time, but we’d barely hit ‘send’ on our emails before we got replies from Figtree - and really useful ones at that. Clients and tutors agree, describing this agency’s ‘efficiency,’ ‘professionalism’ and ‘helpfulness’ as second-to-none.

Founder Ariana Azad’s eight years as a lawyer helps explain why she runs such a tight ship. Following her academic degrees in law (including master’s in corporate and commercial law from UCL and LLB in economics and law from Keele University), she qualified as a solicitor at Allen & Overy. ‘But I realised law wasn’t my passion,’ she admits. ‘That only came when I started mentoring for a charity alongside my lawyer work. I loved the work in education so much that I decided to set up my own tutoring business.’

Ever the lawyer, she didn’t leave any stone unturned before launching Figtree in 2016. ‘I worked for a year as a tutor across different agencies to work out what works and what doesn’t,’ she explains. Her biggest lessons? ‘That we need to be transparent and honest,’ she says, ‘so we’ll be completely upfront if we don’t think a client’s child will get into, say, St Paul’s, but we’d always help them think about some backups.’ The responsiveness factor is, as mentioned, also high on her list of priorities. And the agency is praised by clients as being ‘genuinely caring,’ while tutors love that it is highly collaborative: ‘You really feel part of a community and that makes it a very attractive agency to work for.’

Ariana is joined by three core team members – an operations officer, operations executive and strategy director.

What do they offer?

Well over half (63 per cent) of parents who completed our survey turned to Figtree for help with entrance exams – and this, agrees Ariana, is very much their bread and butter: 4+ (only play based apparently, which begs the question, do you really need it?), 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+, 16+. In most cases, we’re talking entrance into top London (though also elsewhere) schools – the likes of St Paul’s, Godolphin & Latymer, Latymer Upper, King’s College Wimbledon, Dulwich College, South Hampstead etc.

Figtree also offers tutoring in all subjects right up to A level and IB (the latter is worth noting as not all tutor agencies specialise in this), spanning common subjects (eg history, English, art) to more niche ones (eg Farsi, Turkish, history of art, environmental science). University entrance prep is popular – OLAT, STEP, LNAT, MAT, BMAT, PAT, MLAT, HAT (UK) and SAT/ACT (US). Again, this is a standout point in the world of tutoring – ‘I thought, how on earth will I find anyone for OLAT preparation, but Figtree found me someone who had studied Arabic at Cambridge and was familiar with OLAT and was absolutely brilliant,’ said one delighted parent. Plus, there’s interview prep for schools and universities, and undergraduate and postgraduate support in eg maths, history, French, philosophy, law and engineering.

Figtree have worked with residential clients (mainly for 11+ and 13+) in France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland and Qatar. And home schooling gets rave reviews from parents – one told us Figtree sorted out the whole curriculum for her son’s three A levels, which he wanted to do in a single year, and he bagged two A* and an A: ‘They understood his character, they created support for UCAS applications and they were extremely flexible, knowledgeable, competent and compassionate.’

Around 70 per cent of tutoring is online – about half of these families are UK based, the rest live across Europe, Africa, Asia and the US, particularly Italy, France, Belgium, Nigeria, Indonesia, China and the Middle East. The remaining 30 per cent of tutoring is in-person across London, mainly in students’ homes. In addition, Figtree runs workshops (in-person in local London primary schools) in 7+/8+, 11+/13+, creative writing and BMAT.

Probably not an agency that should be top of your list for SEN, although they do have specialists working with the five per cent of clients who have ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism.

Background and basics

The vast majority of Figtree’s 250+ tutors work as bankers, engineers, lawyers, surgeons, doctors, actors, writers and academics – and tutor on the side. Only 10 per cent are teachers, for which Ariana makes no apology: ‘What we are offering is additional support, so the approach needs to be different - more mentoring than traditional teaching, which the kids are already getting at school and don’t want any more of.’ She admits this is not always an easy sell to parents: ‘They get hung up on the teacher side of things but once I explain the benefits, they usually get it.’

The parents we spoke to certainly did. ‘The tutor is so good that our daughter went from hating French to loving it so much that she’s thinking of doing it for GCSE.’ ‘The whole approach is not teaching you how to do something but, have you tried this or that? It’s very much joint problem solving as a way of introducing new strategies of learning.’ Several clients told us they had ‘very ambitious goals’ that were ‘well and truly’ met, and we heard a few examples of tutors using unpaid time to assist a child just before an exam or to really drill down a tricky concept.

All tutors must have an undergrad degree from a top UK or US university and need to have either mentored or tutored children at a school or university, ideally as a private tutor with at least three tutees. Upshot is some wow-factor CVs, say parents. All tutors are interviewed face-to-face and some asked to do a lesson plan to prove their worth. Non-negotiables include DBS, proof of qualifications and ID, plus the ‘likability factor’ – ‘The single most important quality in a tutor,’ reckons Ariana. Unusually, no references sought (Figtree say they keep a close eye on client satisfaction and progress instead).

Once taken on (and many are rejected), tutors are offered far more training than in most agencies, some of it one-to-one – in everything from entrance and interview prep to simply how to be a good tutor, how to interact with families, how to use on-line tools etc. They get an online forum to communicate with each other, Q&A sessions with the founder and key tutors, plus regular social events. ‘You just don’t get that sense of isolation you do in other agencies – you feel part of something and you learn more,’ said one (although a few tutors felt the platform used by the agency could be easier and quicker).

The commitment to keeping the tutors happy is not lost on parents – ‘That they think so much of their tutors, and it really shows,’ said one. The matching of student to tutor is spot on too, according to parents – ‘I think it’s because they take the time to dig deep into what each child needs.’ But if the chemistry isn’t quite right, they’ll instantly swap. ‘They always follow up – it’s not just, “Here’s your tutor, off you go,”’ we also heard. Praise too for tutors’ feedback – in any format you want (verbal, written etc). ‘Our tutor always gave brilliant self-esteem boosting feedback to our son,’ said one parent.

Figtree is a member of The Tutors’ Association, and Ariana’s commitment to pro bono work hasn’t waned, with the Figtree Foundation providing weekly sessions to year 4, 5 and 6 pupil premium students at Fox Primary School in maths. Figtree also provides mentoring to GCSE students via the Adnan Jaffery Educational Trust, and ad-hoc free sessions to some students ‘that contact us but can’t afford our services.’

Money and small print

Registration fee (per tutor) is £96 – due once the client is happy to continue with the tutor after the first session. Families who use three or more tutors are also landed with a monthly admin fee of £96 for schedule management. Hourly rate for one-to-one tutoring is usually between £88-108 up to A level and IB, then for undergraduate, and university admissions prep, it’s £98-198. For 11+ workshops, the cost is £96 per child for 1.5 hour session; BMAT workshops are £85 per student for an hour; creative writing workshops are £50 per child for an hour. Commission rates are between 30-50 per cent of the total fee, with tutors paid a minimum of £40 and maximum of £65 per hour, though some tutors teaching at postgraduate level are paid up to £110 per hour. Travel included; 24 hour cancellation charge applied bar exceptional circumstances.While fees are at the higher end, parents we spoke to felt it was, as one put it, ‘worth every penny.’ Many had tried cheaper agencies and regretted it: ‘I knew I was paying more for Figtree but my goodness, these tutors are so good that you do get what you pay for.’

Figtree Learning say

‘Figtree was founded on the belief that our tutors have the tools to shape futures. Our values are rooted in the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their potential, in their own way.’

Remarks

Not cheap, but Figtree comprises a first-rate pool of looked-after tutors whose combo of mentoring and tutoring get children up to a standard that exceeds even their expectations. Our top three favourite things about them? That the agency itself is run professionally and stays involved throughout; that tutors really, really like working for this agency; and that parents say the tutors genuinely care, never missing an opportunity to go the extra mile. ‘If you were comparing Figtree to a hotel, it’s that extra five star service of going above and beyond that you get every single time,’ summed up one parent. Unusually, they cover IB and a wide range of university entrance exams too.

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