Who are they?
Griffin and Bell Education Ltd
117 George Street
We have visited Griffin and Bell’s offices. In addition, 41 clients and 19 tutors have completed an on-line survey. For an explanation of the different tutor sections in the Good Schools Guide see which tutor agency?
Griffin and Bell staff
Husband and wife team Victoria and Matthew (known as Matt) Smith run a very personal and personalised service (no switchboard here), with the help of Rosh Mahtani and Laurie Stevens, all of whom work from a nice, bright room at the very top of an upscale Marylebone townhouse, which has been converted into modern offices with shared meeting space downstairs. All are Oxbridge graduates and experienced tutors (they still keep up tutoring now). We found them all calm, measured, knowledgeable and judicious – just the kind of people you’d want on your side if you were highly anxious about your offspring’s educational outcomes.
The ‘small is beautiful’ ethos goes down a treat with parents, many of whom told us things like, ‘This small company is easy to deal with, efficient and professional,’ and ‘It’s great to deal with Victoria and Matt – they really get to know you, and because they also really get to know their tutors, they only send good quality people that are right for you.’ Indeed, we were left in no doubt as to Victoria and Matt’s impassioned dedication to clients – with parent after parent raving about how pleasant and helpful they are and how they keep in close contact at all times. Likewise, tutors told us that they felt really cared for by this couple. ‘It’s my favourite tuition company to work for’ soon seemed like the mantra for this agency.
What do Griffin and Bell offer?
All academic subjects from primary to degree level, including the IB and Pre-U syllabus. School entrance exams (7+, 11+, 13+, 16+ to independent and selective grammar schools). Oxbridge preparation, preparation for the BMAT and Medical School Applications, UCAS mentoring and study skills. Languages, including French, Spanish, German, Italian, Hebrew, Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, Latin, Greek, Farsi and EFL. There’s a strong creative slant to this agency too, with tuition offered in drama, instrumental music, singing, public speaking, photography, film-making and fine art. ‘I’m a writer and Victoria used to be a professional actress, so we come at life from quite a cultural perspective,’ explains Matthew. They also work with adult learners, with recent examples of tutoring provision including history of art, literature, languages, Latin, Greek and philosophy.
Fear not if there’s a subject you think might be too obscure, as Griffin and Bell regularly go out of their way to search for tutors to fulfil more unusual requirements. ‘For instance, we have recently found tutors to teach chess, computer-programming, nature drawing and business Ethics,’ says Matt.’ In fact, we got the strong impression this was their favourite bit, with Victoria and Matt’s eyes lighting up at the prospect of a challenge. They’re open to suggestions for courses too, with potential plans for new classes including creating writing, public speaking and GCSE revision – all at the request of clients.
A number of tutors are experienced with SEN, and Griffin and Bell also collaborate with an education psychology and speech and language therapist, where required. ‘We can work in tandem with SEN departments in schools,’ adds Victoria. In reality, most students are at the mild to moderate end, but Victoria reeled off a few examples of more severe cases, particularly with dyslexia.
They cover all boroughs of London (although heartlands are North London and Chelsea), as well as providing tutoring to families in Oxford (the new London, it seems, when it comes to tutoring) and the home counties. Almost all tutorials take place in the client’s home, with one or two teaching from their own accommodation (except for adult learners, who usually arrange lessons in neutral venues like cafés and libraries). Griffin and Bell also suggest tutors for residential placements throughout the UK and worldwide. ‘And recently, we’ve started to arrange some ‘tutor-nannies’ and governors/governesses for families looking for more regular support too,’ adds Victoria. In addition, many of the tutors on their books offer Skype lessons for international students
Their 11+ courses (which currently run six times per year) generally sell out, with an impressive track record of results, with recent participants having won places at St Paul’s, Westminster, UCS, Highgate, NLCS, SHHS, Latymer Upper, City of London (Boys and Girls), Channing, Habs’, Merchant Taylors’, Winchester, Wycombe Abbey and Eton. Then, there’s the consultancy, which Victoria provides, and assessments - both chargeable by the hour. When we visited, Griffin and Bell were also about to launch a new digital learning platform for kids who want to learn online, consisting of a series of online videos initially focusing on English language and English literature. Parents we spoke to praise the comprehensive offerings of this company, although a couple said they’d like to see more mock tests offered for different year groups.
Griffin and Bell background and basics
The business started life in 2011 as Hampstead Village Tutors Ltd, which was set up from Victoria and Matt’s home. They had each worked as tutors for agencies for five years, since they were 21, and felt they could bring together the best bits of the best agencies in a whole new offering for Hampstead families. Three years later, in 2014, they were getting client requests from all over London and they decided to move to Marylebone, as well as widening their provision to include the likes of courses, consultancy and tutor nanny work – hence the need for the name change.
Approximately 130 families now use their service on a regular basis, with 125 active tutors when we visited. Most approach Griffin and Bell via word-of-mouth recommendations from other tutors and clients. ‘We constantly get applications,’ says Victoria, although most go by the wayside as they’ll only consider tutors with a II.i or higher degree from a top university (two thirds are Oxbridge and the rest come from Russell Group universities or other top international universities), and who have exceptional academic grades throughout their secondary education, as well as proven experience in educational roles. ‘We prioritise finding experienced tutors and professional teachers – that’s what we’re known for,’ says Matthew. ‘In fact, we’ve toyed with the idea of never accepting any less experienced tutors, but it would wipe out a whole price bracket for parents – and anyway, we know from our own experiences that it is possible to give good tutoring when you’re a recent graduate - so we do take some tutors for some families, as young as 22 and 23.’
All tutors have a face-to-face interview with Matt or Victoria, as well as having to teach them a prepared lesson in a role-play situation. ‘This ascertains their planning skills, teaching methods and inspirational qualities,’ explains Victoria. Once references, DBS checks etc are completed, extremely detailed, regularly updated profiles of each tutor are drawn up to assist with matching. Not for Griffin and Bell the regular mail-outs for tutors to reply to if they’re interested in a particular placement. ‘Instead, we individually phone the tutor we feel is most suited to the client, according to their character and experience,’ says Victoria. ‘Victoria listens very carefully and tries to deliver what clients want. She’s always given us very high calibre, appropriate tutors,’ one parent told us. ‘This company clearly takes great care to pair students with the right tutor,’ a maths tutor added. ‘For example, I’m better at working with more advanced students and am not great at working with much simpler concepts. So Griffin and Bell send me people who aren’t struggling, but want to be stretched. Moreover, they give me detailed descriptions of clients – including exactly their strengths and weaknesses lie and what they are looking for in a tutor so I can go in ready to give them exactly what they need.’
Griffin and Bell don’t provide training for tutors (legally, if there’s any suggestion that tutors are employed, rather than self-employed, Matt and Victoria would have to stump up, tax-wise – a industry-wide issue), but the tutors we spoke to didn’t seem to mind one iota. ‘I can’t imagine what kind of training they could give me – you’d need someone equally qualified in the maths I’m teaching and that’s rare,’ said one. And the tutors vouched for the fact that Victoria and Matt are always on hand to offer advice and guidance, if they ask for it e.g. text books, exam papers etc.
Victoria and Matthew get feedback from the client after the first session, and then initiate ongoing casual contact with clients thereafter to make sure it’s all going ticketyboo (with a definite call every three months). The level and frequency of the tutor’s feedback to clients is, however, left up to them. ‘Some families might prefer a weekly chat after the lesson, whilst others want a formal written assessment every month,’ says Matt.
No shortage of references from parents to the ‘youthfulness’ of the tutors (average age 29), who include teachers, writers, playwrights and city workers. ‘They are a young, vibrant, engaged group of tutors,’ said one. ‘They are great, young and committed tutors – very impressed,’ said another.
Griffin and Bell – money and small print
New clients are charged a one-off registration fee of £90, but this is only charged once you’ve met and vetted the tutor. After don’t worry about a double whammy as clients can request more/replacement tutors without incurring further introduction costs. Tutors write up their own contracts, with Griffin and Bell claiming ‘it empowers tutors’, with most stipulating a two week notice period. Tutors also set their own fees (with a bit of advice from Victoria and Matt), which Griffin and Bell then top up to result in an hourly rate that ranges from £55-£85 per hour for clients. No cut or commission, says the firm. Instead, tutors pay them an admin fee based on earnings, ranging from £15 to £20 per hour. No extras for travel. Courses are £285 (4 mornings); assessments and consultancy is £120 per hour.
Griffin and Bell say
‘We don’t believe in a top down approach,’ says Matt. ‘We bring in tutors that are brilliant at what they do and we trust them to manage client relationships, calling on us for any resources they need.’ But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a mere introduction service. Matt and Victoria are the beating heart of this agency, which specialises in tailoring tutoring to client needs.
Not that Victoria and Matt are averse to talk of business growth. It means there’s a buzz and vibrancy about the agency going forward, which is balanced by a sense of any potential risks to the business being meticulously calculated.
‘They are honest, professional and provide very high quality tutors,’ summed up one parent. Another commented, ‘They are rigorous, professional, reliable and understand needs and can set clear targets and make sensible suggestions. Flexible in their attitude, and approachable.’
We heard a few instances of things going wrong – usually where a tutor placement didn’t work out – but parents told us that Victoria and Matt were on the case to rectify it quickly. Others told us the couple are good at going the extra mile. ‘I wanted something between a nanny and a tutor – someone to oversee homework – and they found me just the right person,’ one parent told us.
‘It’s on the more expensive side, particularly for more experienced tutors, but it’s absolutely my favourite. They’re honest, on the ball and have the best quality tutors,’ concluded another parent.