Who are they?
Hampstead and Frognal Tutors Ltd
We have visited and had extensive consultation with Hampstead and Frognal Tutors.
Hampstead and Frognal staff
Run by Mark Taylor, who taught maths at Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School and South Hampstead High School prior to founding the company. Liked by parents and tutors alike. ‘Whilst other agencies don’t have a clue and match anyone to a job, Mark sticks with a smaller tutor base, whom he knows he can trust and whom he will only place with a family if the match is right. What’s more, he encourages us to develop professionally, using his own educational knowledge to support us in doing so,’ one tutor told us.
We met Mark in his modern, bijou office, located in his top-floor Frognal flat. He is both affable and refreshingly honest. ‘At one time, some parents were disappointed that some tutors weren’t being consistent with turning up at the set time, so we acted on it and now provide a schedule of agreed times at the outset of each term – that seems to have solved the problem,’ he says, providing several examples of his dedication to constantly improving the service (for example, a blog which is regularly updated with useful educational information and insights), as well as instances that have gone wrong and which he’s learned from.
This transparency is by no means lost on parents. ‘Mark will tell parents how it is – for instance, if their child isn’t St Paul’s material – and they appreciate that,’ one tutor told us, whilst one parent commented, ‘You get so many agencies that tell you, “Oh this tutor went to Cambridge, so he’s obviously great,” and then it doesn’t work out. Mark, on the other hand, is very good at saying, “I have fantastic tutors, but they wouldn’t be great for you, so hold out while I find you the right one – and he does.’ ‘Mark taught our son himself for three months while he found the right person,’ another parent commented.
Clients won’t meet Mark if their needs are routine – it’ll all be fixed by phone – but he will visit clients if parents specifically request it or their needs are more complex and he’s very much at the forefront of the agency, and is at the end of the phone for tutors and parents, including outside office hours.
There are two other directors behind the scenes: Patricia Heaps was a bursar in two schools – Watford Grammar School for Girls and St Clement Danes, while Brian Heaps was a Head of Year at Bushey Academy.
What do they offer?
Brace yourself, it’s a long list, starting with 4+ consultations, 7+, 11+ and 13+, 13+ Scholarship plus just about every subject you can think of up to A level, including the more obscure, such as Ancient Greek, politics, psychology and theatre studies. Languages include Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), English as a Foreign Language, French, German, Latin and Spanish. By far the most popular among these are 11+ in English and maths, followed by 13+, then GCSE English and maths, and GCSE science and finally French 13+ and GCSE. But Mark is adept at tracking down teachers of most subjects in response to a request. Also on offer are two-day 11+ booster classes (5 students maximum), held at weekends or during holidays seven or eight times a year, and which focus on English, maths and reasoning. Plus, more recently, home schooling.
Tutors are not specifically SEN trained (and Mark doesn’t pretend otherwise) but many have experience with mild to moderate cases, with children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and mild autism on their books. ‘Our son is on the Autistic Spectrum and his tutor really gets how the tutoring needs to be adapted accordingly, as well as recommending great books and being flexible, working around us if we have other appointment for him,’ says one parent.
Most tutoring takes place in the family’s home, with the main areas covered including NW3, SW7, and surrounding postcodes, with a few exceptions, such as Ilford and Elstree. That said, some tutees, particularly at 7+ and 8+, are tutored in the company’s office on Saturdays, at the request of parents. Online tutoring is increasingly popular, with clients as far afield as France, San Francisco, Washington and Dubai.
Background and basics
When Mark took time out of his 12-year teaching career to do a postgraduate diploma at Kings College in 2010, he did some private tutoring to help with living expenses. Quickly finding himself inundated with requests – not just in his subject of maths, but English too - he decided to set up a tutoring agency, taking on three tutor acquaintances. A year later, he decided ‘to get more organised’ and it has grown organically ever since.
Nowadays, he advertises online, as well as on the website, although the majority of tutors get his attention via word of mouth (with existing tutors receiving financial incentives for tutor referrals). Any interested tutors (and there are plenty of them) complete their online application together with a CV, and if it looks promising, Mark does some probing by email, with the next stage being a face-to-face interview to test suitability, communication and carry out ID, qualification and DBS checks. References from at least two parents of previous student are also taken up. ‘I treat the recruitment process as if I were at a school, taking on a new teacher,’ says Mark, although he admits some haven’t worked out. ‘We took one tutor on, who had just returned from New York. She was good, but I worried that she really wanted a more permanent job. I decided to take a chance on her, but I should have trusted my instincts as she dropped out. I learned from it.’
The vast majority of tutors – 300 currently - have a degree and teaching experience, with the exception of a handful still studying for a degree. ‘I’ve reluctantly taken them on when they’ve shown huge keenness and communication skills,’ explains Mark, who adds that all tutors must have experience of working with young people. Most are in their 20s (although some are much older, even in their 70s) and there’s a fair chance you’ll wind up with a tutor from South Hampstead High School, where Mark used to teach. ‘A number of the girls I taught know I run the agency and have moved into the West Hampstead, Kilburn or Kentish town area,’ he says.
Tutors don’t get training, but they do get a handbook (including detail on ideal tutor lesson, FAQs for tutors etc – all much praised by the tutors we spoke to), plus advice on access to wider resources and help with resolving any issues with parents or students. ‘Because of Mark’s background, he has a huge bank of knowledge and is keen to provide guidance and support to help you go the extra mile,’ said one tutor. Contact is maintained casually 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. Tutors also go for drinks twice a year, and in the year we visited, they attended an 11+ resource day.
A job board goes out daily to all tutors and they put their names forward if they’re interested. ‘I then take on the person with the most experience within the given budget,’ says Mark. Around a third of tutees come from state schools.
Money and small print
There is a one-off registration fee (for life and all siblings) of £96. Home tuition is £60-£90 per hour. Skype costs £60+ per hour. Academic assessments (which parents who have never embarked on tuition before often go for, whereas those who are used to the tutoring system don’t) are £349; interview coaching starts at £85 per hour and 11+ booster courses are £399. Residential and overseas tutoring is £300 per day. Signed contracts for both tutors and clients, with a four-week notice agreement for both.
Not all consultancy is chargeable – Mark often winds up helping clients FOC. ‘If I have a loyal customer who is stressed out about the 7+ and needs 20 minutes of advice that will really calm them down, of course I’ll do it – and we’re often praised for that,’ he says.
Hampstead and Frognal say
‘Our USP is experience. Having worked with hundreds of families over the years, we are very familiar with the entry requirements and standards that students need to gain success at different levels, and this helps us provide the best tutors for the schools and exams the students are preparing for,’ he says. ‘It also helps us provide useful feedback to parents on school choices.’
‘We offer regular free tuition to schools. We are aware that not every family can afford tutors, so it feels the right thing to do.’
Parents and tutors alike laud about the professionalism, efficiency and personal touch. ‘This agency doesn’t feel money grabbing – it’s not a babysitting service for the super-rich, like so many are. Mark really cares,’ one parent told us.
Tutors are equally keen, stressing Mark’s loyalty to their staff, provided they reach his high – but reasonable – expectations. ‘Of the three agencies I work for, Mark’s is easily the best,’ one tutor told us. ‘Because he was a teacher, he knows the schools inside out, as well as the best resources for tutors and he gives us access to them. He’s also excellent at matching families to the right tutors and he’s a great problem solver. He bothers with the fine detail to give an outstanding service.’