Who are they?
267 Banbury Road
We have met with Lotus Tutors’ staff. In addition, 24 clients and 28 tutors have completed an online survey (sent to 119 clients and 81 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Areas they cover: All of Oxfordshire including Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester, Didcot, Faringdon, Kidlington, Oxford and Wantage. For online tutoring, the sky’s the limit, with their tutors having worked with students in China, Dubai, France, Kenya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and Switzerland, among others.
Lotus Tutors staff
Amit Gadhia (LLB, Cardiff Uni) is a solicitor by training and his freelance legal career still forms the bulk of his income. But it’s Lotus that’s his real passion and which takes up most of his time (six + hours a day). ‘It’s a great situation to be in because my legal work gives me enough money to live on so I can offer a completely customer-focused service with Lotus – even if that sometimes means advising a family that their child doesn’t actually need tutoring,’ he says.
We found Amit earnest, business-like and reassuringly candid. Parents say his passion and professionalism shine through - we didn’t speak to a single one who didn’t use the word ‘efficient’ to describe him, with others calling him ‘sincere’, ‘reliable’, ‘friendly’ and ‘helpful’. Goes well beyond the call of duty, added some, to the point of telling clients that they could call him at midnight if it would allay a concern.
The roots of the business started in 2009 when Amit and his wife Bindi (BSc microbiology, Uni of Mumbai) arrived in the UK from Kenya with their young family. ‘Education was the primary reason for our family move from Kenya – out there, you have to pay twice as much as Eton to get a quarter of the quality. So we sold off everything and came here,’ he says. But it wasn’t quite the utopia they’d hoped for – not only did they arrive bang in the middle of a recession, but Amit discovered he was obliged to refresh his legal training because he had been out of the UK for over seven years. Having noticed that other families in Oxford were increasingly looking for tutors but rarely finding what they wanted, Amit and Bindi decided to buy into a tutoring franchise, later deciding to go it alone with their own ‘more ethical, professionally run’ agency (notably, they were the first ever corporate member of The Tutors Association).
Working partly from home and partly from their small serviced office in Summertown, north Oxford, they’ve now taken on three extra bods, all part-time – Paul Hastings, a physicist whose dramatic career change has seen him become senior consultant for North Oxfordshire; David Pope, a linguist and ex-head of languages at Abingdon School, who is senior consultant for the South Oxfordshire; and Felicity Pusey, a qualified teacher who helps with admin, mainly making sure tutorial reports are submitted on time and to the standard required. Meanwhile Bindi, who also has a part-time accounting role at the University of Oxford, is in charge of all things financial and Amit covers marketing, recruitment of tutors, personally talking to families and all matching.
‘Amit is very good to deal with – professional, responsive and helpful and the admin is very uncomplicated,’ said a tutor, not untypically.
What do they offer?
Primary, SATs, 11+, Common Entrance, GCSE/IGCSE, IB and A-Levels are all covered, with maths and sciences by far the most popular – ‘we are perpetually short of good maths and sciences teachers to meet demand,’ says Amit. The company claims to find families a tutor within seven days, usually closer to three – parents concur, although one told us she had to wait three weeks (‘I thought they’d forgotten about me’).
If Amit can’t help, he’ll say so: ‘I’d rather give you nobody than someone who won’t be right’. Most common reasons are SEN (‘we just don’t have the experts’), the parents are pushy (‘and want guarantees – we can never give guarantees’) or the family can’t afford it (‘you’d be amazed how many people try to negotiate fees’). But – and we like this - Amit is always willing to put in a good 20 minutes advising such folk on what to look out for if they try to find a tutor elsewhere (‘I want anyone who contacts us to go away feeling they’ve had good advice’).
Geographically, they cover London and all of Oxfordshire including Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester, Didcot, Faringdon, Kidlington, Oxford and Wantage. As with most agencies, most tutoring takes place in the client’s home, although they do occasionally use their Summertown offices.
For online tutoring, the sky’s the limit, with their tutors having worked with students in China, Dubai, France, Kenya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and Switzerland, among others. ‘We want to make sure we’re top of the game for online tutoring with a personal touch, following up to make sure the family’s needs are being met, weekly reports are written and tutors are personally vetted,’ says Amit. ‘They’re spot on,’ voiced one happy customer. Most recently, they’ve introduced chat tutoring – a free service for a limited time, whereby a student texts via his or her mobile or PC to a subject-expert tutor who replies with the answer or how to work out the answer.
Background and basics
The 80 or so tutors (described as ‘super’, ‘amazing’ and ‘incredibly well prepared’ by parents) are a diverse bunch, ranging from graduates of or researchers at ‘good’ universities to qualified teachers, all with at least a year’s tutoring experience, often more. That said, Lotus does take on the occasional outstanding Oxford graduate with no tutoring track record behind them. So how can he be sure they’ll be any good? ‘Good question and occasionally we’ve found they are not, particularly when it comes to punctuality and the way they present themselves. I know we’re not Goldman Sachs, but I think ripped jeans is a bit much when they’re representing us,’ says Amit, who admits these youngsters can also sometimes lack the empathy required, for example, for younger children. ‘But that’s why I do all the recruitment and matching personally – this part of the business is not a commodity and is purely down to experience,’ says Amit. The age of most tutors is between 21-45 (although they have a 70-year-old that cycles to her tutees, even in the snow) and nearly 40 per cent have worked for the firm for over three years, with the vast majority (96 per cent) teaching part-time, under five sessions a week.
Parents are lured by the swish website (‘it gives the impression they really know what they’re doing,’ said one) and/or the biogs of the individual tutors (‘we found a tutor whose picture and biog suggested she had real experience, reliability and warmth, so we contacted her directly via the website and were thrilled she could fit us in’). Others hear about Lotus via word of mouth (‘my friend raved about them so I thought I’d give them a go too – I wasn’t disappointed’).
They won’t tutor a child under 7 (‘we can’t make them sit down,’ laughs Amit) and the upper age range tends to be late teens, although they get the odd adult calling on them for eg interview technique tutoring. About half the children tutored are in the state sector, the rest go to independent schools – ‘we have families that live hand to mouth but are willing to pay out for tutoring because they value education’.
Interested tutors sign up online and those with the right subjects, qualifications and experience are invited for a personal Skype interview with Amit. All send a copy of their EU passport (right to work in the UK), enhanced DBS (otherwise Lotus will apply for them or send them on child safeguarding training with Oxfordshire County Council), academic certificates (degree and teaching) and recent utility bill (to prove they’re local). Tutors also have to provide at least one character or previous employer reference. ‘It feels thorough,’ reported more than one tutor.
Once a new client request comes in, it’s chin scratching time, with Amit taking a long hard look at which tutor will be right, taking into account not just as subject match but personality, hobbies etc – even sometimes whether they are pet friendly. Tutors praise the process – ‘I’ve worked with a lot of agencies and they are very conscientious at this side of things,’ said one, although another said they were ‘asked maybe two or three times about taking on students with SEN, which I’m not trained in and always refuse’. And if the tutor and student don’t click? ‘That happened to us and Amit swapped him for someone else, no problem’, said a parent, with Amit doing the same thing for those families we spoke to whose tutors left after a few months – although one expressed disappointment that they ‘had to find one ourselves elsewhere in the end’ and another told us they weren’t happy ‘when we were told our child wasn’t the right personality to teach, which didn’t do her confidence any good at all’.
‘It’s handy getting a written report after each session,’ said a parent, reflecting others. Some tutors would like to be offered training (eg on working with dyslexia) or at least socials (‘tutoring can be a lonely business,’ said one). No pro bono/charitable work provided.
Money and small print
You’ll need to be quids in to start with – the registration is a refundable £100 off-set against the student’s final invoice. Hourly fees range from £49 per hour for primary up to £69 per hour for CE exams and A levels, of which tutors get between £25 and £40 per hour depending on qualifications and experience – parents invoiced monthly. ‘We are unashamedly the most expensive in the area’, says Amit; parents are well aware of this but majority see it as value for money, although a small minority object to the commission rates – ‘especially as they don’t do much after the introduction’, as one put it. Both tutor and client sign a contract. No free trial lessons and cancellations normally need 24 hours’ notice, though exceptions made for illness and emergencies. Impressively, we heard Amit still pays the tutor if, for example, the family got stuck in traffic – ‘that’s a business decision – why should the tutor lose out when they’ve made the effort to turn up in the cold and wet?’ he says.
Lotus Tutors say
‘So many companies seem to have failed to really embrace the online world and it’s been their downfall – Thomas Cook among them. This is an area we are looking to really grow in – online tutoring with personalised customer touch.’
A family owned and run agency that’s genuinely local (they even sponsor the local U-13s football team) – a rare, if not unique, find in Oxfordshire where many agencies are offshoots (and some would say afterthoughts) of bigger London set-ups.