Who are they?
Osborne Cawkwell Tuition
The Bloomsbury Building
10 Bloomsbury Way
We have met with Osborne Cawkwell’s staff. In addition, 40 clients and 21 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 280 clients and 170 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Osborne Cawkwell Tuition staff
Founded in 2000 by Lucy Cawkwell, who runs it from a glass-fronted, snazzy Holborn-based office (she also makes use of conference rooms at The Office Group for meeting clients, interviewing tutors and running training workshops). Lucy (BA in modern languages from Edinburgh) has been involved in the world of tutoring since her gap year in 1992 and there aren’t many tutoring situations or scenarios of which she doesn’t have direct personal experience, from overseas tutoring to working with dyslexic and dyspraxic students. She now specialises in working with children who find themselves out of the traditional school environment.
Lucy - who balances professionalism with warmth and cheeriness in equal measure – is a household name in the tutoring sector. With her works a small team of consultant specialists: Shirley(specialist adviser for EAL students and overseas clients), Sarah (trained SpLD/dyslexia specialist who has worked in several London prep schools as a specialist teacher and SENDCo), Dan (mental health and wellbeing coach and trained mental health first aid instructor) and Holly (PGCE in Secondary art and design). Then there’s Maciej (pronounced ‘mat-chay’), in charge of invoicing and accounts.
‘Lucy is invariably reliable, perceptive and goes well beyond her job,’ a parent told us. ‘Superb’ and ‘consistent,’ we also heard. ‘There was a time when I was speaking to Lucy on an annual basis for one or other child, then there was a gap of seven years and I still got an immediate response after all that time – and she still asked all the right questions to find us the right tutor,’ said one. The rest of her team come in for equal praise from both parents and tutors. ‘They are the best – organised, thorough, friendly and responsive,’ said one tutor, not untypically.
What do they offer?
Tuition for children from as young as four (though very rarely and only really for EFL) to 18 in all subjects (general subject support as well as specific exam preparation for 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+, GCSEs, A levels, Pre-U and IB). Occasional university students (from science and psychology to politics and languages) and even more occasional adults (most commonly languages). A level tutoring has recently hit the top spot in terms of popularity, followed by GCSEs, then 11+ and 13+. If Lucy can’t help (a rarity), she’s refreshingly honest about it – ‘Sometimes a parent might, for instance, want a tutor with a very specific degree and we might not have someone to suit their brief,’ she explains.
As with other agencies, most tutoring involves one-hour weekly sessions in clients’ homes, though occasionally in cafes or libraries etc. Most London postcodes are covered, with tutors travelling out further to the home counties for half or full days of tuition. Online more popular since Covid, with sessions split up where parents feel their children are already having too much screen time – ‘Lucy suggested this to me and I thought that was a brilliant idea,’ said one parent.
OC is very experienced in home schooling (including sorting out suitable syllabuses, timetables and exam registration). SEN is also an area of focus, with specialist employee Sarah particularly good at bridging the gap between school and home to make sure tutees get the right provision. Ed Psych reports and educational plans are read through meticulously to ensure child’s needs are met. Two specialist SEN tutors are currently on their books, and some others have SEN experience, while all tutors are offered SEN training. Covers mild to moderate dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, ASD etc.
During half-terms and holidays, OC offers residential tutoring all over the UK and abroad – usually between two days and four weeks, with four hours of teaching a day – and they also place a handful of tutors a year on longer term residentials up to 12 months. Increasingly OC supplies tutors to work within schools.
The agency doesn’t advertise so parents find them by word of mouth. Children are also referred by ed psychs, consultants and several London schools. Students typically attend top state or private schools, some of which contact OC to arrange tutoring directly for their pupils.
Background and basics
Lucy founded the business for two main reasons. First, she was getting frustrated by the disorganisation of the agencies she worked for. And second, she felt (and still does), that tutoring shouldn’t just be about getting students to achieve higher academic grades – ‘Equally important is building confidence and encouraging inquisitive and independent thinking beyond the classroom,’ she explains. Out of this grew an agency that is still true to that vision – ‘The care, the follow ups and the totally child-centred approach combine to make for a completely targeted and supportive service quite unlike any other,’ reckoned one parent. ‘They’re utterly marvellous – I’ve had lots of practical advice and tutors of an extremely high standard,’ another told us.
Around 280 families use their services per year, with 150 tutors on the books. Over 80 per cent of those we spoke to had been working with them for over three years – a loyal bunch, then. Hard working too, with nearly half (42 per cent) working over 10 sessions a week, unlike at some other agencies where they slot in one or two at the end of an already busy working week. These tutors are split into ‘endorsed tutors,’ career tutors (the majority, who have gathered a wealth of experience) and ‘master tutors’ ( a minority of gem tutors who have been on their books for over 10 years and therefore command a higher fee). Minimum age for these tutors is 21, although they didn’t have any that young when we reviewed them, the average age is 35.
As with clients, tutors (all of whom have a degree and previous teaching/tutoring experience) tend to apply to work with them on the back of word-of-mouth recommendations – ‘They’re well known in the sector for being really nice people and particularly respectful to their tutors,’ explained one. Those that get taken on do so on the basis of their CV and a one-to-one interview in which Lucy and Shirley look for ‘energy, spark, confidence in their subject and the ability to communicate and inspire’. There are all the usual checks for passport, DBS and at least two references; then (we really like this) there’s a compulsory two-hour induction covering areas such as teaching skills, learning styles and sticky situations a tutor might find themselves in. OC also runs specific topic workshops and extra training on SEN, mental health and particular entrance exam teaching tips. Many tutors we spoke to were very appreciative of this training, but we were disappointed by a few who felt ‘I don’t personally need any training because I’ve been a tutor a long time’ (surely tutors of all people should realise learning is lifelong?). OC tutors can stay in contact via a closed Facebook group (‘it came into its own during the pandemic,’ we heard) and they meet up at bi-annual drinks and to share materials, making them a more sociable group than at most agencies we review.
Clients told us OC are ‘second to none’ when it comes to finding them the right tutor, with matching always a result of handpicking. ‘With other agencies, especially those that put requests on their website or send out mass emails, you feel in competition with other tutors, but that doesn’t happen here which is so much better,’ said one. ‘They match well beyond the subject matter – there is absolutely no cookie cutter process,’ voiced another. The timescale is one to four days on average from the point of request to finding the right tutor, or up to 10 days for a trickier brief or during busier periods.
Clients are contacted after the first session after which tutors do termly written reports. A couple of parents said they had needed to switch tutors because the chemistry wasn’t right and told us that, as one put it, ‘Lucy was brilliant about it – fast too.’
The company does a great deal of charity work, although many tutors we spoke to didn’t seem to be aware of this (OC says they have since been informed). OC helps ARK Schools' students who have been offered an Oxbridge place to achieve the grades they need on a pro bono basis (the tutor gives up their time for free, as does Shirley in the office as the admin and matching is every bit as meticulous). OC is a corporate member of The Tutors’ Association.
Money and small print
Impressively upfront about the division of fees between the agency and the tutor – we like this. There’s a £95 registration fee for new families which covers all tutor introductions as well as expertise advice. Fees range from £50-£120 an hour, depending on the experience of the tutor and whether online or face to face, of which only £15-20 per hour goes to OC as commission. ‘Not the cheapest tutor firm, but certainly one of the best,’ said a parent. Some families save costs by getting their children tutored together. Small travel fee charged if clients are outside London. Home schooling, group or SAT tuition is £85, while residential days cost £260-£320. Assessments are now on offer at 7+, 8+, 11+ and 13+ Pre-test with specialist tutors. Clients are invoiced monthly by the agency on behalf of the tutor – ‘a brilliant, very easy system,’ said one parent. No contracts for hourly tuition, but there are for longer term residential and home schooling positions when clients and tutors are asked to sign an agreement. Standard flexibility regarding cancellation charges.
Osborne Cawkwell Tuition say
We have purposefully kept our team and the number of tutors on our books small so that we can get to know everyone well; we are constantly told we are the friendliest agency in London.’
Highly professional and deeply committed to mental health, confidence building (and SEN where relevant), this is a firm that takes a rounded and progressive approach to helping children succeed and the results speak for themselves, with over 90 per cent of families we spoke to saying their child had reached their goal or was on the way to doing so. As one tutor summed up, ‘With Osborne Cawkwell, it comes from the heart.’