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
Luke Sullivan, who graduated in English lit from Bristol, is the founder and front-man for clients and tutors, while his brother Oliver – a more recent recruit and Cambridge philosophy graduate – deals with tutor recruitment. Luke has been tutoring since 2007 and still dabbles, although only for select clients. Since there’s no official London office to speak of (meetings all take place in clients’ homes or in restaurants and hotels), he suggested we interview him in a quiet corner in Claridge’s – which gives you a flavour of the kind of clients he deals with.
There’s little that Luke (who can be no older than early 30s) doesn’t know about tutoring – not just where it can get you, but the nuances of getting it absolutely right. ‘A certain kind of tutoring can be brilliant for one person and awful for another – it’s all about the match,’ he says, reeling off example after example. He is reserved without being withdrawn and principled without being worthy.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.’
We found Luke 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, again reflecting the views of others. ‘Riviera is an exceptional tutoring company to work for. Luke is an understanding and empathetic employer.’ ‘The dedication and enthusiasm he shows for his tutors, clients and for the art of tutoring is really inspiring.’ ‘He’s a real modern-day Renaissance man, utterly charming company and a real pleasure to work for.’ And so on.
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.
What do Riviera Tutors offer?
Preparation for 11+ and 13+ form the bread and butter of Riviera’s work. 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+), which involves gathering as much information about the school as possible about what’s required and preparing a personalised preparation plan. 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. ‘A specialist area for us is moving people from the French system into top UK schools,’ adds Luke.
Indeed, Monaco and South of France is the geographical area where the business has seen the fastest growth, largely because that’s where Luke started out tutoring after graduating. Here, Riviera provides either hourly sessions or placements, mostly of two weeks, but some longer – with around half the families being 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. Riviera rarely tutors kids under four, but continues right up to undergraduate level, and work nearly always takes place in the student’s home or a suitable area designated by the client – or on Skype.
SEN is a specialism. ‘We have no shortage of specialist tutors, although often a family already has their own SEN specialist who they’ve already consulted, in which case we work in tandem with them,’ says Luke. He adds that they also work 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.’
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. ‘Of course, we could just give someone a generically good tutor, and we’d probably get it right 70 per cent of the time. But you’d risk a personality clash between tutor and student or a mismanagement of expectations. Our work is all about increasing the odds of success by spending a lot of time meeting the family to explore their motivation and goals for tutoring and understanding the history of the kid. Only then can I find the right tutor and know they’ll hit the ground running,’ explains Luke. Has the child gone through a rough patch with learning? Have they moved between education systems? Are they suddenly blossoming? ‘These things are all important for us to really understand,’ says Luke.
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.’
Riviera is keen to work with schools, although only ever with the family’s permission. ‘Before a placement, we will always ask to see school reports and understand the educational background and if it seems sensible and feasible, we put the tutor in touch with the specific subject teacher at school for them to receive information about the student directly and, for example, holiday work,’ says Luke. Riviera’s tutors sometimes even visits 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.
Riviera Tutors background and basics
With a name like Riviera, it seems fitting that the business started life on a yacht. ‘I’d just graduated in 2007 when I took on a tutoring role for a family down in the south of France. Then that led to more tutoring opportunities until three years later, I felt there was an opportunity to start taking on other people,’ explains Luke, whose business 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,’ explains Luke. And while a few are career tutors, most do it part-time, with day jobs typically being in the arts (actors, musicians, singers, writers etc), others range from teachers to medics. All are in their 20s, generally around 26 or 27. ‘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. 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. Oliver 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.
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.
Riviera Tutors – Money and small print
The starting rate is £65 per hour or £265 or £300 per day (covering up to five hours work), depending on the tutor – with tutors getting the majority of this amount (the company takes between 20 and 35 per cent of the total fee). There’s no introductory fee and no cost for assessments or future consultation, both of which Luke is very thorough with. 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. ‘Often, we meet families who are really confused about how to move forward with their child’s education. Many are high net worth individuals, and could easily be taken advantage of by a tutoring agency. But we do not capitalise on this,’ he says. Instead, he talks them through how Riviera works and what their options are and then, if they want to go ahead, enters into a business relationship with them (that personal touch again).
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 parent told us. ‘This is a company that delivers on promises,’ said another.
Tutors enthuse about the company too. ‘I am very satisfied that the company responds well to my needs as a tutor and I feel that all my tutees have benefited from my tutoring. This is testament to how well they fit tutors to tutees,’ says one. ‘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,’ comments another.