Who are they?
Harrison Allen Education Services Ltd
13 Earlsfield Rd
Tel 0208 874 0233
We have met with Harrison Allen’s staff. In addition, 20 clients and 33 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 143 clients and 198 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Harrison Allen staff
Sheila Allen and Julie Harrison began Harrison Allen way back in 1989. Both have since stepped back and the key members of the team are now Nicola Smith (all client services), Karen Abbott (finance and compliance), Rosa Coakley (client services, part-time) and Pippa Harris (tutor manager, part-time), who together run the show from the top floor of a large Victorian house, five minutes from Wandsworth Common. Nicola’s background was ‘the university of life’, setting up an advertising agency ‘after a good grounding with the Saatchi’s’; she came across HA ‘entirely by accident when my children were tiny’ and quickly fell in love with the ‘caring, family feel’. Karen comes from a legal background, while Rosa and Pippa both previously worked in client services – Rosa at Wandsworth Borough Council and Pippa at The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The team’s energy, enthusiasm and clear pleasure in their work shines through and there’s real camaraderie, all helped by the addition of Nicola’s adorable dog, Minnie, and the fact that the team are all in clear sight of each other (the grand tour takes less than 30 seconds). If you’re dropping by, we’d strongly suggest going in the morning – Rosa often turns up with a warm loaf of her husband’s sourdough, arguably the best bread south (and quite possibly north) of the river.
‘They are the best employers I’ve had – and I’ve been a teacher and tutor for a very long time,’ said a tutor. ‘So helpful, respectful and efficient, while never losing sight of their main goal – to help the children,’ voiced another. Parents describe them as ‘very helpful and accommodating,’ ‘very knowledgeable and understood exactly what I was looking for’ and ‘just the loveliest most helpful people’.
What do they offer?
Biggest demand is for English, maths and science at all levels. But they offer almost all subjects from primary through to GCSE, A level, IB, Pre-U and university. They cover 7+, 11+ (particularly popular) and 13+, specific secondary school entrance exams and university/Oxbridge applications. They also offer less obvious subjects, eg modern and ancient Greek, Mandarin, photography, film and media studies and will endeavour to recruit to order if needs be – the week we visited they’d sourced a keyboard tutor.
But tutoring for individual children paid for by their own families is a modest percentage of what they do. The other three-quarters involves providing tuition for children funded by local authorities including children in care or who have been excluded from schools. This means Harrison Allen is ‘quality assured inspected’ by local authorities - good reassurance for parents on all aspects of the business. This side of the business includes everything from supplementary lessons for those children who, for some reason, have missed some of their education, to providing alternative schooling for those few who simply cannot go to school.
This has huge benefits for private clients. Whereas other agencies turn pale at the thought of children with behavioural problems or who have gone adrift in the system, Harrison Allen don’t and indeed their tutors excel at providing high class education often in difficult circumstances. It also means they have an extensive team of SEN tutors with a wide variety of qualifications and/or experience to take on children with mild difficulties through to EHCP status. They have a particularly good reputation in supporting students with ASD and ADHD and help a growing number of students not in school due to anxiety. They also have access to educational and child psychologists who can undertake assessments. ‘My child has a rare medical condition and I rang HA demented, looking for tuition when everything was falling apart and a very kind woman found me two gems of tutors that really matched my child and both have added so much to his life and confidence,’ said a parent. ‘They were very knowledgeable and understood exactly what I was looking for in a tutor for my daughter who has additional needs,’ voiced another.
In addition to hourly, after-school tutoring in the home, HA supports home schooled students and although they have historically stayed clear of online tutoring (‘our offering is bespoke face-to-face in-person tutoring’), they are flexible when need arises eg Covid 19.
Age-wise, they gladdened our hearts by saying they refuse to take on children under the age of six unless there are exceptional circumstances, there needs to have been ‘a difficult start or potential diagnosis for us to consider it’. At the other end of the spectrum, they tutor some adults for eg language learning.
Geographically, they mainly cover south-west London including Wandsworth, Merton, Kingston, New Malden, Wimbledon, Putney, Richmond, Twickenham and Teddington, Barnes, Chelsea, Dulwich, Streatham, Croydon and Tooting. Also other parts of London including Ealing, Harrow, Isleworth, Camden and Hounslow.
Staff (all parents themselves, ‘so we know what it’s like to be in a pickle’) spend much time talking with parents and, unlike many agencies (which count the minutes they spend speaking to you and then bill you), they feel it to be part of the close personal relationship they build with clients and an essential side of their commitment to the work:. ‘Listening and supporting is our raison d'être - no egg timers here.’
Background and basics
Around 250 tutors (150 of whom are active at any one time) serve approximately 200 families. Half are qualified teachers (ranging from newly qualified to retired), while the rest have a degree in the subject they’re teaching plus demonstrable experience of successful tutoring in this subject. Most are mid-20s upwards, several are taking further degrees and some are quite eminent in their own fields. ‘But it’s not just their knowledge and ability to teach that makes the tutors stand out – the whole thing is built on relationships, which was the making of my daughter,’ said a parent.
With the constant threat of a local inspection hot on their heels, it’s no wonder their recruitment process is as rigorous as we’ve seen. The DBS and references that some other agencies require is just the start here, with HA also insisting on originals of qualifications, a teaching CV and a long, detailed and intense interview, including a mock lesson and quizzing on everything from safeguarding (not just knowledge, but what would you do in such-and-such scenario) to how they keep up with their own CPD.
Tutors are monitored once assignments begin and are encouraged to see themselves as a community, with twice yearly get-togethers. ‘Tutoring is a terribly isolating occupation and it really helps them to feel part of a team’. We noted a genuine sense of care – HA recently fed and watered a tutor who broke her arm, for example. Ad hoc training is given where needed especially on matters to do with the children in local authority care, but some tutors told us they’d like ‘more training,’ ‘more support around finding appropriate teaching resources’ and ‘perhaps a regular discussion group to discuss complicated cases’.
Clients are a mixed bunch, with offspring in both independent and state schools – ‘none are gold plated’. Most of their tuition requests come in by phone or by email, though they’re welcome to drop in and many do. A tutor is usually found within a week, often quicker – ‘we’d rather take a couple of extra days to settle on the right person if needs be.’ Parents praise ongoing feedback from tutors – ‘they do really good reports – the detail was there so I could see what they had covered and where she needed to focus.’
HA has good relationships with a number of schools in the area (and further afield) and these schools will often refer pupils for extra help. Examples include Emanuel, JAPS, Alleyns, Wimbledon, Putney and Streatham & Clapham Highs, Canbury, Burntwood, Dulwich College and Francis Holland. This tends to mean that tutors can, if required, attend parents’ evenings and meetings, liaise with schools on student attainment and progress and they are even employed by some schools for ‘top up’ tuition to small groups.
Money and small print
Both clients and tutors have a contract. Individual lesson fees start from £59 for up to GCSE, from £66 for A level/Pre-U, from £75 for Oxbridge interview practice and from £87 per hour for university level tutoring – all plus a nominal travel fee for each visit to the client’s home. There are no ‘hidden’ charges, for example no registration fee, and all their rates are published clearly on their website. Tutors receive £34 for GCSE, £43 for A level/Pre-U work, £50 for Oxbridge interviews and £61 for university level tutoring – all with £6 travel. Strict 24-hour cancellation policy, only waivered under exceptional circumstances, which didn’t please one parent we spoke to – ‘I’m not the type of person to ever cancel everything but when my son was sick, it was dealt with very badly and I was told I have to give 24 hours’ notice.’
Harrison Allen say
‘We are an unusual agency as we have a spread of private clients and local authority work which extends not only the type of work we do and the tutors who choose to register with us, but our geographical spread within London as well. We believe we provide a genuinely bespoke service to all our clients and have high professional standards in all that we do.’
Small but mighty, this dedicated, infectiously enthusiastic and unpretentious team are like a family firm without actually being related. Many tutors we spoke to were attracted by its ethics – ‘I feel very lucky to work as part of the team and am very proud of the company and its ethics.’ ‘They care about each individual child and get to know their tutors and students very well.’ ‘I gave up working with all other agencies seven years ago because I like and respect the way HA works with parents, children and tutors.’ Parents concur: ‘I am happier with them than other previous companies.’ ‘They have always provided a positive learning experience at a difficult stage.’ One told us, ‘I don’t want to sound like a sycophant, but I actually can’t think of anything they could do better.’