Who are they?
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors Ltd
020 7584 7987
We have met with Kensington and Chelsea Tutors’ staff. In addition, 20 clients and 20 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 32 clients and 35 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors staff
Any number of tutor companies have come and gone since Nevil Chiles founded this one back in 2002 and its long-standing is one of the main reasons people choose it. ‘They’re experienced and it shows – Nevil knows exactly what he’s doing largely because he’s been doing it so long,’ said a parent. For many clients, Nevil – who was born and bred in the Midlands and has a friendly, laid back manner - found tutors for their oldest offspring way back when they were tots, having since seen them and their younger siblings through eg 11+, GCSEs, A levels and even applying for university. ‘You just know he’ll take the time to understand what you need and find you the right person every time – why go elsewhere?’ said one.
The seeds of the company stretch back to the 1990s when Nevil graduated in history from King’s College London. Having wound up tutoring in exotic locations such as the Philippines before settling into a teaching role for six years, it increasingly struck him that he’d be much happier working for himself. ‘Knowing there were a lot of local families wanting tutoring, I decided to start up the agency from home,’ he explains.
Slightly confusingly, given the company name, Nevil is based in Gloucestershire. ’Twas not always thus – when we met him last time he was working mainly out of a Kensington office, his base since the beginning and formerly the Chiles family home. But three children and two Covid lockdowns later, the family’s country home beckoned as a far more appealing place to work, though he still comes back to the smoke as and when necessary, usually hiring meeting rooms.
Nevil’s tutoring days may (mainly) be over but he remains solely responsible for the rest of the business – interviewing tutors, talking to clients, matching the two, the finances, the housekeeping, you name it. ‘I’ve had several administrative employees over the years, but now I prefer to run things exclusively, just as it was in the beginning.’ So, does he have time for anything else? Well, yes, as it happens – football, flying planes and helicopters and dabbling with carpentry among them. ‘Oh, and playing LEGO with the kids and pretending it’s for them,’ he adds.
Parents and tutors alike rate Nevil’s quick response time, personal approach and understanding of the sector. ‘Nevil knows what he’s talking about in every aspect of the tutor industry,’ said one tutor. ‘I’ve been teaching for over 25 years, so I appreciate that.’
What do they do?
It used to be all about GCSE and A level tuition, but 20 years is a long time and the remit has expanded to include primary school age (though rarely lower than 5 or 6 years-old), 7+, 8+, 11+ (particularly popular) and 13+, and they also have specialists in Oxbridge and Ivy League entrance. And while they used to deal exclusively with academic tutors, they now also provide mentors, sports coaches and music tutors, among others.
Increasingly popular is the specialist service for sitting GCSEs and A levels [as individual entrants?]– KC covers everything from exam entries, admin headaches and mentoring and tutoring the student throughout. Not surprisingly, it’s especially popular among overseas students who can be taught almost entirely remotely before sitting their exams in the UK.
The company is not afraid of obscure requests – we were impressed they’d found tutors for water polo and for chemistry taught in an Eastern European language. Turns out it takes a lot for Nevil to say no – although he did have to recently when asked to provide a tutor to pick up a girl from school, take her to a coffee shop some distance away to tutor her and later meet the mother. ‘A stretch too far,’ admits Nevil.
For in-person tutoring (the norm until Covid) they cover all of London. For on-line tutoring (the new normal) the sky’s the limit, with students all over the world (though three-quarters remain London based). Nevil predicts a combination of both in the future – ‘the bulk of the nuts and bolts of learning online, with occasional meetings to talk about, for example, essay structure.’ For younger children, who benefit from an actual presence in the room, he expects to see a return to mostly, if not all, face-to-face.
SEN is not a specialism, but KC do have some tutors with experience (and increasingly qualifications) in everything from attention deficit to dyslexia. Home schooling is also on the rise, particularly among foreign students – KC either provides the whole package or fills in the missing bits of the jigsaw with tutors for certain subjects. We heard a heart-warming story of one such student, now studying medicine, who had dropped out of school for mental health reasons. Residentials are few and far between, especially since Covid.
It always feels reassuring when a tutor company works with schools – you just know schools will have done their homework to come up with the best tutor agency that doesn’t charge the earth. KC has links with Lady Margaret’s in Fulham among others. As for private clients, around three-quarters have children in independent schools, the rest in the state sector.
Background and basics
Tutors are mostly made up of current and retired teachers and postgraduates. Most are in their mid 20s to mid 30s, though not exclusively. There’s the occasional undergraduate too but only when it comes to something niche like tennis coaching, where a degree isn’t key. At least a year’s tutoring experience is a prerequisite, whatever the tutor’s subject and for academic subjects a degree is a must.
Nevil rarely advertises as he has such a steady stream of potential tutors contacting him via his website, although he has occasionally recruited through the websites of Oxbridge and London universities. If he thinks the candidate looks promising from their CV and qualifications, he organises a virtual (used to be face-to-face) interview – this, he says, is what takes up the majority of his time. With 4,000 tutors now on his books, it’s easy to see how (though we have to admit wondering how on earth he manages this vast number). Successful candidates send in all the usual admin – qualifications, identification, DBS and references. ‘I work for quite a few of the big tutor agencies and would say he’s on par when it comes to the rigour of the recruitment process – I definitely felt reassured,’ said one tutor.
It’s not too often that tutor agencies talk us through the fine detail of what made recent candidates successful, but Nevil took us through the last six interviews he did, giving us precious insight into the kind of person he takes on. There was the lawyer who studied at Berkeley, the Oxbridge chemist, the languages tutor who studied at Cambridge, the violinist who did his maths degree at Imperial, the professional conductor who is a current music teacher at North London Collegiate and the full-time history tutor who studied history at Bristol.
Matching is, as with everything else, down to Nevil. ‘Sometimes a match is obvious – for example, where a certain tutor fits the bill perfectly. On other occasions we may send requests to multiple tutors and then make a decision based on the response. Sometimes clients want to see CVs and have input into who we provide.’ However it happens, it rarely takes more than a few days (bear with him if your time slots are narrow).
‘The two tutors we used were absolutely brilliant,’ said a parent, ‘and Nevil found them in super-quick time as we were up against it with exams.’ Another parent told how he was ‘super sensitive about online tutoring’ but that Nevil’s processes completely reassured him. Another told us how her music tutor decided to move on, ‘but the company didn’t contact me until they’d got a viable alternative to offer us – they didn’t have to do that, I was so impressed.’ We heard of countless improved exam grades, re-engagement of youngsters in subjects they’d grown to hate and keeping parents in the loop about progression after each session.
No training for tutors, who also tend to sort out their own teaching resources, though Nevil is happy to dig out relevant 11+ papers etc when requested. Feedback from tutor to client ranges from informal chats after each lesson to written monthly reports, depending on what the client wants, and KC checks in with clients after the first lesson to ensure everyone is happy, then periodically thereafter. Some of the tutors we spoke to would like more work – a few had only had a single client – an inevitable downside of thousands of them on the books, we suppose.
KC does not belong to the The Tutors' Association – ‘they started out more than a decade after us,’ says Nevil – and does not do any charitable or pro bono work.
Money and small print
No registration or placement fee. Hourly prices from £60-£90 depending on the level and experience of the tutor. Travel costs included unless you get into the realms of planes, trains and automobiles. Invoices sent to clients at the end of each month in arrears. Tutors get paid £40-£70 of that, again depending on level and experience. A few tutors felt they should be offered more money, but said Nevil was receptive when they asked, and a few felt the payment system could be quicker and more streamlined, though parents raved about it. Tutors sign a contract (‘to try to stop people stealing our clients’) and clients agree to T&Cs. The usual 24-hour cancellation policy applies, although parents report ‘plenty of flexibility.’
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors say
‘From the very beginning our ethos has been to provide the best possible tutor to fulfil the tutee’s needs. To start with the academics and then move swiftly to personalities. That’s as true 20 years on as it was on day one.’
For two decades KC has been providing good value, high quality tutors for subjects and activities ranging from mainstream to pretty niche. Notable for the personal touch too, despite having access to a remarkable number of tutors. The fact that it’s been going for two decades is also reassuring.