Who are they?
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors Ltd
52 Queen's Gate Terrace
020 7584 7987
We have met with Kensington & Chelsea Tutors. In addition, 20 clients and 10 tutors have completed an on-line survey.
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors staff
Founded in 2002 by the easy-going and affable Nevil Chiles (a Kings College, London grad), after he’d done a stint of tutoring overseas, followed by teaching at an independent school. He shares the day-to-day running of the company with Paul Caffell (MA Philosophy from University of Aberdeen/MSc Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies from UCL) – both liase with clients and students and carry out tutor interviews.
Their sparsely decorated but welcoming Kensington office, located just off the Gloucester Road, has been their base from the beginning - formerly the Chiles family home until arrival of second child prompted rethink. ‘We were bursting at the seams,’ says Nevil who splits his time between the office and his Gloucestershire home.
Parents say they’re friendly, efficient, knowledgeable and professional and ultimately provide tutors who get results. ‘Nothing is too much trouble,’ one told us. Tutors are generally content too. ‘They respond quickly and in a friendly way,’ was a typical remark, although a few felt tutors aren’t dealt with in quite the same affable manner as clients: ‘They give me great work, but I do find them quite unfriendly and unengaging. They can be a bit abrupt,’ said one.
What do they do?
Tutoring in all academic (and some non-academic) subjects from two years old (yes, really – although K&C say they discourage it) through to adulthood, although as usual, the bulk of tutoring is general subject support, exam preparation (7+, 8+, 11+, 13+, GCSEs, A levels) and some university tutoring and language teaching. They’re happy to take niche requests too, most of which they say they can meet, thanks to their 3,000+ strong database of tutors. ‘My favourite was the Russian family who wanted a water polo tutor for six-year-old triplets,’ laughs Nevil. ‘We managed it – in fact, we got the former Croatian water polo coach.’ With several SEN specialists on their books, they also work with mild to moderate learning disabilities.
For ordinary hourly lessons, they cover London (mainly central, but some Greater London) and pockets of the south-east including Surrey and Herts if tutors are available. Almost all face-to-face tuition takes place at students’ homes, although occasionally at a third party location such as a café or library. Both online tutoring and home schooling are both on the rise and sometimes, tutors travel to other countries for a holiday job or residential placement for a family that splits its time between UK and abroad. K&C also works with a few schools, providing them with teachers.
Background and basics
After graduating, Nevil tutored in exotic locations such as the Philippines before settling into a teaching role for six years. ‘Increasingly, I yearned to do something for myself and knowing there were a lot of local families wanting tutoring, I started up the agency from home,’ he explains. The industry, he reports, is ‘unrecognisable from what it was then. It’s moved from a dark art – when nobody admitted to tutoring because it was seen as existing to help struggling kids to pass exams – to becoming a mainstream pursuit. In fact it’s morphed into a badge of honour, particularly among the affluent - a staple coffee morning conversation.’ For K&C, he says, this has been good and bad – good because there’s more demand; bad because there’s so much competition.
So where does K&C fit in among all this competition? Their main stand-out point is undoubtedly their experience and volume of tutors, although their core is 50 tutors, serving around 100 families. ‘The rest are for more specialist requests or available if the demand is there.’
Most tutors are in their mid to late twenties because ‘initially I wanted young people who were both close to the academic learning they are teaching and close enough in age to the kids they were tutoring for them to have empathy with them.’ And while most are still graduates or postgraduates in this age group, K&C have also picked up some retired teachers and people taking a break from work. ‘We also get language tutors who are travelling.’ All are graduates in the subject they teach (‘or a closely related one – for example, a physics MSc student could easily tutor in maths’), though not necessarily from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, and K&C doesn’t require them to have prior tutoring experience. ‘We’ve all got to start somewhere,’ shrugs Nevil (and as the industry has expanded, they are increasingly recruiting tutors with long-standing experience who are looking for extra work). Parents aren’t fussed – in fact, they rave about the quality of the tutoring: ‘They are both competent and fun – what more could you ask for?,’ said one.
Having sent in their CV by email, applicants deemed to have potential are interviewed face-to-face. ‘It’s an opportunity for us to check they’re personable, nice and the kind of people who’ll have a rapport with young people, as well as to give an explanation of how the lessons work and how our payment system operates.’ DBS checks are validated and tutors provide one reference. ‘I was reassured that they personally check every single tutor and aren’t just a middle man,’ one happy customer told us.
‘Expansion of the industry has given empowerment to the customer,’ remarks Nevil – doubtless a polite way of saying that some of these largely upwardly mobile, affluent families are extremely demanding. ‘We’ve had clients asking for 14 CVs of tutors to consider or, if they want their child to get into St Paul’s, they might ask for a tutor who went to St Paul’s, then Oxbridge and with a track record of getting other children into the school,’ he says. But, for the most part, clients see the sense of leaving the match up to K&C, whose years of experience means ‘we usually get it right.’ Clients we spoke to concur. ‘We’ve used them a few times with our children – each with different needs and personalities – and they’ve got the match right every time.’ ‘I’ve got one child who’s bright and the other who isn’t, and they got tutors to cope well with both.’ Not that Nevil is complacent. ‘If the match isn’t right – and it does happen occasionally – we ask clients to tell us quickly and we will just change them.’ As with many other agencies, we found some tutors who complain that they’re never given enough time to respond to new placement requests. ‘They only use email – I wish they’d use the phone or text,’ complained one.
No training for tutors, who also tend to sort out their own teaching resources. Feedback from tutor to client ranges from informal chats after each lesson to written monthly reports, depending on what the client wants, and K&C checks in with clients after the first lesson to ensure everyone is happy, then periodically thereafter. ‘I loved that we could adjust and tailor the tutoring objectives as a result of the feedback – it was all very easy,’ one parent told us.
Money and small print
No registration or placement fee. Hourly prices from £70 per hour, peaking at around £90 for tutors who are particularly experienced or sought after, and for undergraduate level tutoring upwards. Charges for groups dealt with individually. Travel costs are included unless you live outside London. Invoices sent to clients at the end of each month in arrears. Tutors get paid £30 per hour ‘to start with’, which increases over time, with higher rates for some specialists or very experienced tutors. 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 we were impressed with K&C’s flexibility around this. ‘If someone phones up to cancel at 5pm for a tutor session the following morning, we wouldn’t quibble,’ says Nevil.
Kensington & Chelsea Tutors say
‘We want to develop a close relationships with our clients so that we understand their wants and needs and provide them with the tutor that suits them best. Our 14 years of experience means we rarely can’t find the right tutor for them.’
‘I have recommended K&C to at least five other families,’ one parent told us, with their friendliness making finding a tutor ‘very easy, personable and unscary.’ ‘They’re very easy to talk to and they understand the different situations that our family has needed a tutor for.’ ‘They listened to our brief and were very good at matching for our son and daughter, both of whom have different learning styles.’ Tutors themselves are described as being ‘outstanding quality,’ ‘fun’ and ‘smiley.’ ‘They were a real pleasure to have around,’ said one.
Tutors mainly feel valued by K&C and many say it’s streets above other agencies they’re signed up with. ‘The others I work with have pretentious forms of bureaucracy, which seem totally unproductive and they expect you to be so perfectly polished that it is sometimes bordering on ridiculous,’ one tutor told us. ‘With K&C, if they see that you can teach, communicate and get on with people, they give you good jobs and trust you to get on with it.’ Another said, ‘It’s a wonderful agency and 99 per cent of the clients are wonderful too.’
This is an agency that does what it says on the tin – offering good value, high quality tutors for a wide range of requirements. Don’t expect anything too warm and cuddly, but do expect a flexible, friendly enough service that ultimately gets you the tutoring you need. ‘My son, who is studying for his A levels, went from a low C to a high A over several months. This was solely due to the competence and easy manner of the tutor supplied by K&C. He really enjoys the subject now, thanks to this tuition,’ said one parent.