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Keystone TutorsWho are they?

Keystone Tutors
5 Blythe Mews
W14 0HW

Tel: 0207 602 5310

Email: [email protected]

We have met with Keystone’s staff. In addition, 160 clients and 46 tutors have completed an online survey (sent to 2,952 clients and 237 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with at least eight of those surveyed.

Keystone Tutors staff

Founder Will Orr-Ewing is something of a legend in the tutoring industry. The old Harrovian and Oxford graduate was just 21 when he founded Keystone in 2007 and was the first to publish the names and biographies of his tutors on the website. It was to be the first of many endeavours aimed at professionalising the world of tutoring.

Among these endeavours, two are of note. First, Will’s involvement in setting up The Tutors’ Association (as a founding board member, he helped to write TTA’s tutoring standards). And second, his introduction of ‘career tutors’ who work exclusively for Keystone. To this day, Keystone remains the only UK tutor agency to employ their own tutors.

In 2022, both Will and Josh Pull (who joined as his business partner in 2009) stepped back to become directors. In their place – and the big cheese, as far as clients and tutors are concerned – is Ed Richardson, managing director (who was also involved in establishing TTA’s tutoring standards). Fresh-faced and plain-speaking, he holds a BA in zoology from St Andrews, plus QTS and a master’s in teaching and learning from Oxford – in addition to teaching and tutoring experience.

Ed runs a tight ship – and a big one, at that, with 21 staff across three offices (London, Hong Kong and Singapore), along with 65 employed tutors and a further 240 self-employed ones. HQ is a converted mews office in Brook Green, London, complete with classrooms, open-plan ground control, a tutors’ staff room and a young and buzzy vibe.

Parents repeatedly told us Keystone is unlike other tutor agencies – and many have gone through a fair few. ‘Others are like dating agencies – they match you, then disappear – but Keystone continue to check in, and provide clear goals and updates.’ Others told us they are ‘responsive’, ‘friendly’, ‘really listen to what my son needed’ and ‘literally scooped up my daughter in such a way that I knew from the first conversation we were going to be very well looked after’. ‘It’s run by really decent people and that permeates,’ said one.

We were struck by how many tutors told us Keystone was ‘by far the best agency’ they’d worked for, particularly approving of their ‘professionalism’, ‘support behind the scenes’, ‘fair pay’ and that ‘they give us feedback from the clients’. A small minority felt they were ‘sycophantic to the client at all costs’, but the vast majority felt ‘it would be hard to criticise them’.

Parents like that ‘you talk to real people who know and remember you’, although a few grumbled about the ‘turnover of people taking the calls’ (Keystone assure us their current employees are keepers).

What do they offer?

A slick and established service, providing some of the best tutors in the business: ‘They built an amazing rapport with my son’; ‘incredibly reliable, good quality tutors’; ‘tutors that get the job done and make the topics interesting’.

Around two-thirds of the tutoring is in English, maths and science, but they cover the whole UK curriculum, including MFL, Latin, classics etc – although they tend to shy away from more practical subjects like PE and food tech. Entrance test preparation accounts for around half their work, with the rest mainly covering GCSEs, A levels and IB. University entrance is a growth area, including Oxbridge and some of the newer exams often not covered in schools (eg ESaT). At the younger age, they won’t tutor anyone under 6 – more evidence of their ethical stance that remains worryingly rare in the Wild West of tutoring.

This is a global company, with clients dotted across 100 countries. So it will come as no surprise that 90 per cent of their tutoring is online (nearer 70 per cent if you only count the UK). But Keystone is not anti in-person tutoring – we spoke to their clients in Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham who love it, and the company was recruiting for more in-person tutors when we reviewed them.

Tutoring is by the hour – and not just after-school, with Keystone supporting around 50 home-schooled students at any one time. Some have SEMH or SEN, others have simply made a lifestyle choice. Keystone has its own department for this – complete with home-schooling ‘headmistress’ in charge of timetabling, matching and keeping in close contact with the family. ‘There’s a lot more of a support structure than purely academic,’ we heard.

Online workshops and courses are on the rise. These focus on skills such as creative writing or interview technique, 11+ and specific subjects for I/GCSE and A levels.

Keystone has also expanded its direct links with schools via its ‘Elective’ service, whereby they provide big hitters such as Radley and Repton with support for their students in areas such as Oxbridge prep or niche curriculum subjects (eg A level in computer science).

Keystone don’t claim to be SEN specialists, but it’s worth noting that they have some really good SEN-trained tutors, and some of their other tutors work wonders with milder needs too, eg patient, engaging and wacky ways of teaching to help a child with dyslexia. One parent told us, ‘They understood our son’s quite complex needs, including ADHD, and married us up with very capable and competent tutors whom I was able to interview before introducing them to our son. Once we’d appointed one, with his approval, they hit the ground running and our son, who has a clear aptitude for sciences, was coaxed gently out of his shell and was able to shine and feel confident.’

Background and basics

Most tutors work across a range of agencies, but a unique feature of Keystone is that its tutor team works primarily with them. In fact, around half the tutoring is delivered by their 65 salaried employees. They still use freelancers (240 at last count) – particularly for more niche subjects – but even then, most of them work mainly, or even exclusively, for Keystone (helped by the fact that they have to commit to at least six hours’ tutoring a week). The resulting tutor dedication and focus is a major distinguishing strength, believe clients.

The career tutor profiles are varied, but mainly fall into three categories – ex-teachers (including heads of departments at top schools) who loved teaching but hated the politics, all-weekend marking or the sheer number of kids; academics who’ve done their master’s or PhD but don’t want a career in academia; and graduates from top universities who are attracted by the flexibility, autonomy and non-hierarchical and non-corporate structure that Keystone promises. As for the freelance tutors, they tend to be a mix of current teachers, writers, academics etc. Most have an impressive academic track record and significant tutoring experience.

Keystone is one of the most transparent tutor agencies we review – its website even outlines its recruitment process, which around 30-40 tutors make it through every year (out of 800 applicants). Tutors go through an initial discussion, teacher practice lessons and academic testing in their subject, and finally a character interview (including scores on eg professional, likeable, inspiring, exam-savvy, organised), along with checks for DBS (and overseas check if relevant), teacher barred list, qualifications, ID and two references (both followed up). ‘They are very selective and far more thorough than anywhere else I’ve worked,’ lauded one tutor. Another really liked that ‘they have a really clear expectation of what a good tutor looks like’.

Career tutors get ongoing training – ‘second-to-none’, we heard (curriculum, teaching methods etc). And while it’s more complicated with freelancers (legally, an agency is not allowed to train freelancers, says Keystone), they are encouraged to take personal membership with TTA and undergo their training. Still, a few tutors we spoke to felt this was an area that could be improved: ‘I haven’t had any training in eight years and desperately need a refresh, especially around online teaching. I don’t think clients would be best pleased if they knew this.’

Clients say Keystone excels in finding the right tutor – usually within 48-72 hours: ‘They really drill what you want, then they present you with these dream CVs to pick from.’ Behind the scenes, the job spec will have gone out to all relevant tutors who are ultimately picked on temperament and availability. Everyone knows their onions subject-wise, but will the child suit a zippy extrovert or more of an introvert? Of the clients we spoke to that needed to switch tutors, the majority said Keystone ‘remedied the issue promptly’, although a couple were surprised that they ‘didn’t propose a solution’.

Prepare to be asked for a lot of feedback – after the first hour, after the 15th hour and then on a monthly basis when they send out their report. Most clients rave about this, telling Keystone what they told us – that the tutors are ‘unparalleled in quality’ and are ‘flexible to different ways of learning’. ‘The difference between an excellent tutor and an average one is huge – what you get at Keystone is the sort of teacher you wish your child could get at school: super keen, super smart, super caring and absolutely on it,’ said one. Lots of tales too about improved grades and ‘skyrocketing confidence’, as well as Keystone being able to ‘achieve incredible results in a very short time’.

An impressively long list of charitable and pro-bono work includes supporting exceptional students who may lack the know-how and support to win places at the UK’s most competitive schools and universities.

Money and small print

A registration fee of £96 is charged once the placement goes ahead (and is for the whole family). Tutoring fees are £85-£168 an hour (travel, if relevant, included). Keystone takes 25 per cent of this and the rest goes to the tutor, who is paid between £35 and £90 per hour. ‘Not cheap,’ say clients, ‘but well worth it.’ Tutors and clients sign T&Cs, including a 48-hour cancellation policy (they’re not sticklers in reasonable circumstances, they just want to stop repeat offenders).

Keystone Tutors says

‘Full-time career tutors enable us to make good on our hope of professionalising tutoring – we are the only organisation we know that offers proper full-time career tutors.’

‘Our commitment to ethics means we hold ourselves up to the same standards as other professions, such as law or teaching – we turn down inappropriate work, such as work with very young children or an inappropriate amount of focus (eg homework) and like to think a headteacher would approve of every lesson we deliver.’


An innovator and authority in the industry. And a disruptor too – having re-invented the usual model of how tutors are employed to ultimately give the client a better experience. Expect highly polished, wow-factor quality, impressive transparency, an emphasis on pedagogy and a genuine commitment to ethics and professionalising the industry. Can manage a wide range of different needs, but never overpromises.

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