Who are they?
251/253 Chiswick High Rd
Tel: 0333 920 2545
The Old Library
Tel: 0333 920 2545
We have visited Fleet Tutor’s offices. In addition, 59 clients and 71 tutors have completed an on-line survey. For an explanation of the different tutor sections in the Good Schools Guide see which tutor agency?
Fleet Tutors staff
Owner and MD Mylène Curtis bought Fleet in 2003. Glamorous, go-getting and half-American, she has so successfully injected the company, founded in 1977, with energy and ambition that it has become the only national agency of its scale in the UK. Mylène’s entrepreneurial background, passion for education and experiences as a mother of children with dyslexia, make her a very safe pair of hands for this ever-growing empire, which is as much about providing tutoring to children in the care system as private clients. She regularly appears in the media as a spokesperson for this huge industry and was a founder of the Tutors’ Association.
She splits her time between the company’s small offices in Chiswick (home to three staff including head of education and former head teacher Nikki Shephard – it’s also used for 11+ workshops) and Farnborough, a buzzing hub manned by 23 headset-equipped staff who speak to clients and tutors. A school and LA liaison team and assorted accounting, quality vetting and admin bods also based there.
Friendly’ and ‘efficient’ are common descriptions. ‘I don’t mind dealing with different people when I call as everyone is so pleasant and professional,’ says a tutor. That said, some tutors report a lack of domain knowledge and communications skills among admin staff (‘they should know more about the exam system’ ‘there needs to be more communication if placements do not materialise’ etc), while some parents gave examples of tutors leaving unannounced, followed by quite a wait while a new one was found. ‘My daughter seemed to be making progress, when suddenly the tutoring came to a halt, and the work lost its momentum as they tried to find us a replacement tutor.’
What do Fleet Tutors offer?
Around 80 subjects – yes, 80 - and they can find tutors for every school and university stage. However, most demand is for GCSE and A level maths, English and the sciences. The remaining 20 per cent of work is focused on school entrance exams. A few adults are tutored too – a couple who’d moved to Spain were using Fleet to improve their conversational Spanish when we carried out our review. All pupils have individual education plans – copies kept by clients, teachers and pupils, serving as a target and achievement record – useful to all. And refreshingly in our opinion, Mylène discourages the tutoring of pre-schoolers, ‘unless they are foreign parents wanting to improve their young child’s English with a tutor coming in to play games in the company of the mother.’
With 1,000 tutors in London and over 5,000 nationally, there’s not many areas Fleet don’t cover – and if you do happen to be in the middle of a moor that isn’t on their radar, you can always use their online tutoring service. ‘Parents sometimes have difficulty getting their heads round the concept, but teenagers love it,’ says Mylène.
Tutors mainly visit pupils’ homes, although some schools - Wellington, Frensham Heights and Queen Anne’s School, Caversham among them – employ Fleet tutors to work on school premises. Home-schooling on offer, but less for parents who have made a philosophical choice to home-school than for those whose kids are out of school for health (including mental health) reasons. ‘Our goal is to get them back into school.’ Residential tutors are available to accompany little Octavia or Maximillian on annual yachting holiday.
Not that this tutoring agency sets its sights purely among the super-affluent. Indeed, half its business is its ‘alternative provision service,’ working with a third of UK councils and 600 schools to tutor looked-after children. ‘When I set up the company, my vision was to help people reach their potential, regardless of their background,’ explains Mylène. Relevant to private clients too – in fact, we were impressed by how hard they work to infuse their experiences of challenging educational situations (such as managing difficult behaviours) into all their tutoring. ‘In a way I never imagined, there is this synergy and cross-fertilisation between public sector and private clients,’ explains Mylène. Some of the tutors are highly trained in SEN and mental health issues, very experienced and fantastically passionate.
Fleet Tutors background and basics
It’s huge - has tutored 1,200 families (plus hundreds of looked-after children via local authorities) throughout the country in the past year alone. No surprise that tutor recruitment is a major preoccupation – though just 20 per cent of those who apply every month get through. Unusually (and we like this) Fleet don’t favour Oxbridge or Russell Group university graduates. Mylène explains, ‘Of course, we want all our tutors to have good, sound educational knowledge – that’s why all our tutors have a degree in the subject they teach – but we also want them to be able to re-engage students in the learning process, and the competencies and skills required to do this are not necessarily more likely to come from an Oxbridge graduate.’
Around half of Fleet tutors are practising or retired teachers. The rest - who must all have at least six months’ tutoring experience - are a mix of PhD students and lecturers (‘we find they’re especially good at GCSE and A level work, where they can develop critical thinking’) and those in industry, notably actors and writers (‘this group is so committed – they know they’ll need a second income for many years, in most cases’). As you might imagine, there’s a big age mix – something that Mylène values. ‘Who says you can’t be cool and dynamic when you’re retired?’ Around 800 tutors have had long relationships with Fleet and firm’s original founder – now in his 80s – still tutors.
If CV and application form pass muster, candidates are interviewed, either face-to-face (non-negotiable for any work involving SEN or looked after children), sometimes (and increasingly) Skype or phone interview. Successful candidates have additional interview before first job, and there’s all the usual rigorous background checks, including DBS.
Matching gets mixed reviews – Fleet told us that ‘eight times out of ten, we get the match right,’ and we certainly heard some touching tales from parents about the impact tutors had not just on their child’s learning, but their self-confidence. However, other parents told us things like, ‘the personality match is not as good as it could have been,’ while some tutors reported, ‘It is a very much first come first served situation when jobs are allocated, rather than the best tutor for the student. This needs to be addressed.’ Firm, however, feels strongly that this ‘first-come, first-served’ perception isn’t an accurate reflection of their business and is adamant that ‘we don’t just blanket email jobs to tutors…matching is at the heart of what we do.’ Some parents also had grumbles about tutors themselves, notably lack of knowledge. ‘I don’t think the tutor knew what was needed to pass the exam.’ ‘We had one instance when the tutor suggested they did not know enough about the syllabus to be able to help our child, although the two other tutors we have used recently were excellent.’
Once accepted, tutors get regular training opportunities (sometimes online), plus monthly newsletters covering curriculum developments, policy changes, etc – seriously useful for those who can’t keep up with every latest notion in the DfE’s noddle. But resources (eg past exam papers) don’t seem to be widely available, with some tutors complaining that some of Fleet staff ‘have little or no understanding of our education and examination system.’
Fleet certainly works hard to gain useful feedback, calling after the first session to see how it went, sending regular feedback forms and following up the tuition four to six times a year, as well as running an exam results survey and taking all comments seriously. ‘We spend a lot of time on the phone – not just in the set-up period but during the tuition.’ But the reports of tutors leaving without notice, then not being replaced quickly, did concern us.
Fleet Tutors - Money and small print
Clients pay a registration fee of £65-£107, depending on location and tuition required. This is payable as soon as Fleet has ascertained that they can provide what is needed (which they say they can in three-quarters of cases) and this fee includes the first lesson. Thereafter, lessons cost anywhere between £37-£58 (again depending on geography and level) per hour, with an average fee of £43, which includes VAT and travel – of which the tutor gets around 65-70 per cent. Tutors told us they’d like more transparency and some are under the impression Fleet charge double what they get, ‘but conceal this from tutors.’ ‘They also pay no travel expenses – they should show more respect and recognition for highly qualified tutors.’ Various discounts available eg for prepaying for 30 lessons. Workshops cost £375 for three days and £495 for five. Tutors sign a contract, which involves them agreeing to Fleet Tutors standards which are aligned with industry standards set by the Tutors’ Association and there’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy (strikes are for things like turning up late or being unprepared), although thankfully it’s rarely used. Clients don’t have to sign anything.
Fleet Tutors say
We aim to offer a reasonably priced service to be accessible to ambitious and aspirational families who are often time poor and value a personal service to find the right tutor to help their child reach their potential.’
We believe strongly that the practice of teaching, rather than just subject knowledge, is critical to supporting students in achieving their academic goals. For students, we emphasise the development of the skills and behaviours associated with learning along with the acquisition of knowledge and results.’
As outlined, both families and tutors have niggles, including around pay (tutors) matching (tutors and families) and tutors leaving unannounced (families) – but this should not detract from the huge amount of positives they point to around this well-established and well-liked agency. ‘My daughter found the tutor really helpful and they made her feel comfortable with the subject.’ ‘I wasn’t left hanging around waiting – they showed an interest and I was contacted quickly and in a caring way.’ ‘The tutor made learning fun and interesting, even with topics my daughter wasn’t keen on – it wasn’t just gruelling.’
Tutors similarly satisfied overall. ‘I find them to be a very caring agency, who make me feel like an individual.’ ‘I have been working with them for the last eight years. I never face any problems.’
This is more Waitrose than Harrods – top end but with a nod towards value for money. A hit among both public sector and private clients – and attracts families with children in both the state and private system.