Who are they?
Hampstead and Frognal Tutors Ltd
We have met with Hampstead and Frognal’s staff. In addition, 22 clients and 20 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 186 clients and 60 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Hampstead and Frognal staff
Run by Mark Taylor (40s), who taught maths at Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School and South Hampstead High School prior to founding the company in 2010. His efficiency comes in for high praise. ‘Everything is very speedy, straightforward and streamlined with Mark – I work for other tutor agencies and his definitely compares favourably,’ a tutor told us, while a parent said, ‘When I rang Mark, he really listened to what we wanted and found us an incredible tutor very quickly and continued to check in to make sure everything was going to plan – it couldn’t have been easier.’
It was when Mark took time out of his 12-year teaching career to do a postgraduate diploma at King’s College London that he first caught the tutoring bug. Initially a handy way to make some extra dosh, he quickly found himself inundated with requests – not just for his subject (maths), but for English too – so he set up a tutoring agency, taking on three tutor acquaintances. A year later, he decided ‘to get more organised’ and the business has grown from there.
Mark (BSc in maths, PGCE and PgDip in maths education) has always worked from home in his top-floor Frognal flat, though he also uses hot desk space in Marylebone, mainly to interview tutors and occasionally for tutoring. Not one to beat around the bush or put up a front (rarer than you might think in the world of tutor agencies), he admitted, ‘Me personally, I panicked at the start of the pandemic. Only 10 per cent of our tutors were online at that time. But working with them we put together a pack of resources on how to online tutor and most got on board very quickly.’ Still keeps a hand in tutoring - ‘essential in understanding where tutors are coming from,’ he believes.
What do they offer?
Brace yourself, it’s a long list. Entrance exams include 4+, 7+, 11+, 13+, 16+. Just about every subject you can think of at GCSE and A level including the more obscure, such as ancient Greek and theatre studies (Mark headhunts if necessary). Languages include Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, German, Latin, Spanish and EAL. GMAT/GRE, SAT/ACT. Medical school admissions (BMAT, UCAT) and university admissions for law (LNAT). Plus general help with homework and confidence building. Last time we reviewed the company 11+ was by far the most sought after, but GCSE support is on an even footing now, especially maths and sciences. ‘Excellent at science, even for my daughter who despises science. They explain complicated topics easily,’ said a parent.
They’ve got more SEN specialist tutors on board since our last review. ‘And even if they’re not specially trained in SEN, we have some tutors with a good understanding of how to adapt their teaching accordingly,’ claims Mark. Support is mainly for mild dyslexia, dyspraxia and ASD. Home schooling is available – usually involves students who have been excluded from school or who are in between schools. Residentials on offer, with tutors travelling to parents’ homes for a day or longer in the UK and overseas, especially during holidays. Webinars support students and parents preparing for the LNAT assessments.
In-person tutoring is popular again after Covid, and the split between this and online tutoring is about 50/50. Online tutoring tends to be more popular with older students at GCSE and A level, although they do have some very young students (age just 4 upwards) ‘who enjoy online lessons with their tutor.’ Some tutors providing in-person tutoring deliver online lessons when the families are on holiday. For in-person tutoring, clients are based in NW3 right up to the North Circular, down to Belgravia and some even further south towards Twickenham. Lots in central London and growing numbers in east London too. Geographical areas irrelevant for online tutoring, though - means locations are now right across the UK, as well as overseas especially Dubai, China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Nigeria and Monaco.
The agency does some work in schools. One local primary school was so impressed the company that they brought Mark on board to provide 11+ tutoring to all their year 6s.
Background and basics
Mark advertises for tutors online, as well as on the website, although the majority get his attention via word of mouth (with existing tutors receiving financial incentives for referrals). Any interested tutors (and there are plenty of them) complete an online application after which Mark does some probing by email, followed by an interview (in-person or online) – but only once they have applied for a job and are a match for a candidate. A couple of tutors told us their interview was by phone (‘only during the pandemic or if I knew them already,’ he insists). All the usual ID, qualification and enhanced DBS checks. References from at least two parents of previous student are also taken up.
There are 180 tutors on his books – all have a degree in their subject specialism and at least two years’ tutoring experience. Around 20 per cent are teachers, the rest a mix of retired teachers (some with examination experience), PGCE students and PGCE graduates who have decided on a career in tutoring not teaching (‘more lucrative’). Most are in their 20s or early 30s, although some are much older, even in their 70s. ‘I was happy to have the tutors in my home and delighted with the results,’ said a parent, while another told us, ‘They have a good understanding of the level to be reached and a good manner with the student.’ ‘Not only did she get into the schools she wanted but with scholarship offers,’ said another.
Matching, which takes one to two days in most cases, is as rigorous as it gets – often including another tutor interview ‘especially if it’s one of the tutor’s first jobs with us.’ All tutors get a chance to apply for new jobs which are advertised on their jobs board, with around five applications per role. And if information arises from further conversations with the client, they may re-post until they find the best match. ‘They listened to me and understood what I was looking for – they chose well with the tutor,’ said one parent, and even a parent who didn’t think the match was right was satisfied: ‘Our first tutor was incredible - really good but very serious and we needed someone with a different approach, which Mark found us as soon as we mentioned it.’
Tutors don’t get training, but they do get a handbook (‘I thought it was useful but it does need updating,’ said one tutor), plus regular bulletins with advice and a shared folder for tutors to access resources and exam papers. ‘Mark sends me advice and once every couple of weeks I call to discuss things – I couldn’t rate them more,’ said one tutor, although another told us, ‘I’d like more robust provision of resources and more uniform approach to learning strategies’ (the company points out this would be tricky ‘as there are so many students of different levels, learning styles, subjects and abilities’). Tutors also go for drinks three times a year where they discuss topics such as reviewing changes to exams or how to teach online - ‘It’s great to exchange ideas and hear what other tutors are doing,’ said one.
Contact is maintained with all families and once a year Mark contacts all clients for comprehensive feedback on issues including punctuality, conduct, teaching ability and quality of tutors’ work – all of which is fed back to the tutors. Meanwhile, tutors themselves provide written feedback to clients at the end of each lesson. We heard one complaint about a tutor failing to show up to a critical tutoring session – ‘Extremely disappointed to have to give a review like this,’ she told us, though far more typical was the parent who said, ‘The tutors are reliable, flexible and really take time to build good relationships with their students.’ (Mark says tutors who are not reliable are ‘unsuccessful in securing additional work with us and in some cases we have let them go as result’.)
The company does bits and pieces of charitable work eg providing volunteer tutor led writing sessions in local bookshops via a local charity. Hampstead and Frognal is a member of The Tutors’ Association.
Money and small print
One-off registration fee (for life and all siblings) of £96. Home tuition is £90-100 per hour. Online tutoring fees are cheaper at £50-80 per hour. Tutors get around 70 per cent of this. Signed contracts for both tutors and clients, with a four-week notice agreement for both.
Hampstead and Frognal say
‘We stand out for our high success rate for school admissions, as well as GCSE, A level and other exam results. We also pride ourselves on our long-term relationships with our clients – sometimes we might not get a call for several years but when the need for another tutor in the family comes up, they know they can count on us.’
Parents and tutors rate the professionalism and personal touch of this agency which stands out for 11+ and GCSE provision, among other areas. ‘I have recommended Hampstead and Frognal to many parents – they really understand the exam process for the schools in my area and my daughter did absolutely brilliantly as a result,’ said a parent. ‘I have recommended them multiple times because my sons have quite different needs and they supplied tutors to match those needs,’ remarked another. Tutors like Mark’s loyalty to his staff (provided they reach his high expectations). ‘I have nothing but praise for this agency – flexible work, supportive management, well organised and forward thinking,’ said one.