Who are they?
124 New Bond Street
Tel: 0207 748 0797
We met with the founder of Riviera Tutors. In addition, 29 clients and 21 tutors have completed an on-line survey. For an explanation of the different tutor sections in the Good Schools Guide see which tutor agency?
Riviera Tutors staff
A family affair: Luke Sullivan, who graduated in English literature from Bristol, is the founder and main front-man. His wife, Olena – lawyer by training, speaker at Davos 2018 (on the ‘challenges facing education today’) and recipient of the State Medal of Ukraine for her ‘outstanding contribution towards youth development’ - supports him with aplomb, and takes care of their Russian-speaking families. Luke’s cousin Vanessa (history Cambridge graduate and ex-PWC) heads up logistics and recruitment.
Luke set up the business up in 2009 – two years of tutoring had enabled him to build the foundations of his international network of families. From there, he moved into school and university advising and creating personal education strategies for students, although he now only works personally with a few select families. Since there’s no official London office to speak of (Luke spends much of his time in Monaco, and London meetings generally take place in clients’ homes, hotels and restaurants), he suggested we interview him in a quiet corner in Claridge’s – which gives you a flavour of the kind of families he deals with.
‘A certain kind of tutoring can be brilliant for one person and awful for another – it’s all about the match,’ believes Luke, who is reserved without being withdrawn and principled without being worthy. ‘I see this almost as a vocation,’ he says. ‘If your business is about educating young people and impacting on their future, then that comes with huge responsibility.’
There’s little that Luke (30s) doesn’t know about tutoring – not just where it can get you, but the nuances of getting it absolutely right. We found him to be exceptionally client-focused, thinking nothing of being called by clients at 11pm or travelling to whatever location and event his clients deem necessary. No wonder families adore him, regularly describing him as ‘efficient,’ ‘understanding,’ ‘reliable’ and ‘friendly.’ ‘This is an amazing company, which is obviously largely thanks to the amazing calibre of Riviera’s tutors, but it’s also down to Luke, who is thoroughly adaptable, gracious, committed and brilliant at delivering on promises,’ summed up one. Tutors rave about him too. ‘Luke is not only my boss, but has become my friend,’ was a typical statement. ‘Luke is refreshingly unpretentious and highly professional. There is genuine commitment to students and tutors,’ said another.
Although not directly employed by Riviera, two of Luke’s key partners are worth a mention – the main schools placement specialist, Rory Reilly, who has extensive connections throughout the independent schools network through his work as registrar at King’s Canterbury for 25 years; and US applications consultant, Raja Ashraf, who used to sit on the admissions board of Stanford and UC Berkeley. In addition, they enjoy a range of partnerships with international university consultants, SEN assessors, SAT experts, mentors, life-coaches and education companies.
What do they offer?
Although they have worked with students as young as four, preparation for 11+ and 13+ is where Riviera’s work begins in earnest. Next on the list are GCSE and IGCSE preparation in all subjects. Then A levels, again all subjects, and IB, covering all main subjects including TOK. They also specialise in unconventional entry points (i.e. not 11+ and 13+). UK university entrance preparation is available, including specialist exam tuition (such as TSA) from tutors who have been through the process themselves, plus interview preparation, essay guidance and course selection assistance. Then there’s SAT and ACT tuition, and US university applications, which is where Raja Ahsraf comes in.
The company has seen massive growth in Monaco and South of France. Here, Riviera provides either hourly sessions or placements, usually one or two weeks, but some longer – with mostly international families (around a quarter of whom are British). ‘We often organise residentials in far flung places such as the Maldives and the Caribbean,’ adds Luke, pointing out that many of their jet-set families travel a lot of the time. Back in London, the tutoring mainly consists of weekly sessions of an hour each, usually in the client’s home.
SEN is a specialism – for this, they partner with specialist assessor Michele Bradburn, who has worked at Charterhouse, Sevenoaks and Kings Canterbury. ‘Often, parents have realised there’s something wrong, but don’t know quite what, and we can help them with a diagnosis and future planning for their learning.’
According to tutors and parents, a particular strength of Riviera is Luke’s personal touch and relationship building with families. So if you just want sign up to any old weekly maths tutor, with no further ado, this is not the agency for you. But if you see the education of your child as a long-term investment that you want Luke’s very detailed and tailored help with, it could well be.
Once the placement’s been set up, Luke stays in close range, wining and dining – or at the very least, calling – the families and tutors, to make sure everything is on track. Families we spoke to said the process works well. ‘The tutor enthused and engaged our son in every single lesson and even gave us a list of things he’d need to help, like whiteboard and marbles,’ one said. ‘What’s more, he’d find ways of integrating the learning into daily life, so that the education continued when he wasn’t there. Then, at the end of each lesson, we’d get a run-down on progress and we had Luke making sure everything was ok too. We understood at all points exactly where our money was going.’
In some cases, Riviera’s tutors visit the student’s school, attending a parent’s evening or meeting a selection of teachers. ‘If we had our way, we’d always deal with the teachers, but not all are willing,’ says Luke.
Background and basics
With a name like Riviera, it seems fitting that the business started life on a yacht in the south of France, where Luke – who had just graduated – took on a tutoring role. Increasingly in demand, he took on other tutors and the company has grown organically ever since.
All tutors are either Oxbridge or were educated at another top-tier university, with at least four years’ experience of tutoring under their belts. ‘Anything less than that tends to mean they know their stuff, but can lack the maturity and holistic perspective that adds a good deal of value,’ explains Luke. Riviera is increasingly focused towards career tutors and qualified teachers, although keeps a long list of talented actors, musicians, singers, writers and entrepreneurs. Most are between 25 – 40 years old. ‘We like tutors to be in the “middle ground” – old enough to have authority but young enough for the student to be able to empathise with them,’ says Luke.
Luke is proactive in advertising or using his networks for tutors when needed, although tutors mainly approach him through word of mouth. Either way, they have to fill out the application form that quickly separates the wheat from the chaff. ‘The questions are simple, but designed in a way that it soon shows up which tutors share our mindset about education,’ says Luke. Vanessa then interviews any that make the shortlist, either face-to-face or on Skype. ‘At this stage, we look for evidence of strong interpersonal skills, details of their work with previous families and proof of adaptability. We need tutors who can mould themselves to the culture of the family, whilst at the same time being a strong and distinct academic figure.’ It’s a delicate balance, he says, and many are turned away. This is followed up with two trial-lessons in a tutor’s chosen subjects, to give them a chance to showcase their knowledge and teaching skills, before a final in-person meeting.
Two references are followed up from each tutor, along with DBS certification. There’s no formal training, ‘but the tutor gets a lot of feedback and advice so they all evolve,’ says Luke.
Money and small print
No introductory fee or extra costs for assessments or consultations. The starting rate is £65 per hour or £300 per day (covering up to five hours work), depending on the tutor – with tutors getting the majority of this amount. A few tutors told us they were surprised Luke doesn’t charge more, but Luke is adamant that profiting too much from education is unethical. There are terms and conditions for clients and tutors, with all the ordinary clauses around cancellation etc, but Riviera is flexible. ‘If a family is careless with cancelling, we charge out of respect for the tutor, but if there’s a genuine reason that can’t be helped – or as a gesture of good will when people mess up - we often don’t charge. As with anything, it depends on circumstances,’ says Luke.
‘Some educationalists justify extortionate costs by basing them on the value of getting into a top independent school. “So if you attend X school over X years, you’ll probably earn an extra £400,000 in your career as a result, therefore we’ll charge X per cent of that.” We don’t think it’s right to profit in that way as it takes advantage of people who just want the best for their kids,’ says Luke.
‘Riviera provides tutors who have been handpicked to correspond to the child’s needs and personality,’ one parent told us. ‘The tutors are always excellent and have worked well with both our children,’ says another. Almost every parent we spoke has recommended Riviera to friends and many praised Luke’s approach. ‘Luke offers a very personal service and finds the right tutor for the right job. My children have done extremely well academically and have ambition to do well. I put this down to the Riviera team’s enthusiasm,’ one summed up.
Tutors also enthuse about the company: ‘The company is very responsible, accessible and holds the needs of it pupils in very high regard. I have an extremely positive appreciation of the company,’ said one.
This is a company that takes time to comprehend a family’s situation, effectively match the tutor to the family, and then, through regular discussion, continually adjust the plan based on the student’s actual progress. Luke’s passion for tutoring, attention to detail and emotional support to all involved combine to make this agency a cut above the rest.