Who are they?
Simply Learning Tuition
London SW8 3HE
Tel: 0207 350 1981
We have met with Simply Learning Tuition’s staff. In addition, 24 clients and 28 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 193 clients and 114 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Simply Learning Tuition staff
Founder and MD Nathaniel McCullagh failed (Nathaniel prefers ‘underperformed’) his A levels first time round but sailed through them the second time (and went on to a viva for a first in archaeology from Durham University) because he ‘finally received brilliant teaching.’ And it was this that spurred him on to become a tutor himself, which he did for 10 years alongside a career in the film industry, before setting up Simply Learning Tuition in 2009. Big on charm and very knowledgeable about the world of tutoring and its wider galaxy of education, also well-known in the tutor industry. Despite running an agency at the more expensive end, he has a sense of moral purpose and helped set up (and is a trustee of) Tutor the Nation, a campaign aimed at reducing learning gaps for disadvantaged children. SLT was also the first London tuition company to offer free tutoring for children of key workers delivered during Covid.
Team is completed by director of tuition, Sophie Taylor Barthorpe (BA in English, MA in arts and heritage management), plus two education consultants and an accounts manager. After several years in Battersea the agency is about to move to a site in Kensington, complete with micro teaching spaces and quieter areas for chats with parents who pop in on their way back from the school run.
‘Efficient,’ ‘professional,’ ‘patient’ and ‘supportive,’ say parents, who also praise the ‘warm, family feel’ and ‘unbeatable’ responsiveness. ‘Never known any company so quick – they even get back to you over the weekend,’ said one. ‘They listen,’ said a particularly relieved client who had been disappointed with other big name tutor agencies (she wasn’t the only one we spoke to in this situation). ‘Nathaniel is extremely bright and calm and has quite a lot of contacts,’ was another typical comment. As for tutors, several told us this was far and away their ‘favourite agency to work for,’ citing the ‘exceptional office staff’ as a key reason. ‘I have always enjoyed the professional and considered approach of the people who work at SLT, who are committed to high standards in their work. It’s my preferred agency to work for from the many in London,’ said one.
No warm and fuzzy website packed with tutor profiles, yet really friendly - the discrepancy, claims SLT, is because ‘we can’t say they’re our tutors because they are self-employed rather than working for us.’ This is, in fact, the same for most agencies - SLT just claims to be ‘honest’ whereas ‘many other agencies merrily blur the boundaries to sound more homely.’
What do they offer?
Tutoring covers all academic levels from early years (not below age 4, though, of which we approve) to university, and sometimes beyond. Bread and butter work is GCSE, A level and IB, along with 11+ and 13+. Tutors also available for 7+, 8+, 9, 10+ and all school years and curricula (American, French etc). All major subjects covered including English, maths, sciences, languages (mainly French, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek), plus classics, politics, history, geography, RE, philosophy, economics and business studies. Obscure requests are more likely to be met for existing clients (one told us, ‘I asked them for a ballet tutor and they found one – amazing!’) than newcomers to the agency. Existing clients get other benefits beyond the call of duty, it seems – we heard how Nathaniel recently secured an internship at a finance company for one tutee.
Several parents told us the company excelled at providing the right tutors for more than one of their children. One father of five children – ‘all with different needs’ - told us he’d used them for over a decade because of ‘their unwavering service and their incomparable portfolio of expert and supportive tutors.’ ‘Kind, compassionate, professional and enthusiastic,’ said another parent about the SLT tutors she’d used.
Tutoring is mostly on an hourly basis, covering all central London boroughs, typically zones one and two (including Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hackney, Islington, Camden) and some of zones three and four (particularly Wandsworth and Richmond-upon-Thames). Many agencies we’ve reviewed think the Covid-led shift towards online tutoring means face-to-face tutoring is on its way out, but Nathaniel hopes not. Nobody would deny it has its place, he says – no travel and potentially more work for tutors, while some youngsters are undoubtedly more comfortable with it, for instance. ‘But it frustrates me that such great tutors are so easily ready to switch. Turning up and shaking hands, the in-person chemistry – it’s all an important part of tutoring, and it’s far easier to be a role model in real life too,’ he explains, saying that he’ll be pushing for a hybrid model in some cases.
Residential tutoring placements are few and far between these days – usually confined to their high net worth clients. Recent areas include West Sussex, Yorkshire, Lake District and Cotswolds. Overseas clients (now mostly online but some full-time residentials) are based mainly in Europe, Monaco, Ibiza, UAE, Japan, USA and Nigeria. Singapore is a massive growth area, with about 20 per cent of SLT’s tuition now delivered to families living there, thanks to a partnership with a local education company.
Home schooling is on the up, now accounting for around a third of SLT’s revenue – this involves sourcing a package of tutors for around seven or eight families a year. Includes timetabling, preparation of exams, progress reports etc. Mostly London based, but online anywhere. These clients tend to use it as a short-term solution to get them over a hump, though they are seeing some very wealthy families favouring it over big name schools especially if they travel. One told us, ‘I could not have provided a high-quality secondary education at home for my child without the assistance of Simply Learning.’
SEN isn’t a specialism as such, but around 20 per cent of their tutors have a lot of experience in this area and another 30 per cent don’t have related qualifications but can still support students with milder needs. Mentoring is a particular interest of Nathaniel’s, so the company can also help with this.
Background and basics
SLT works with nearly 200 families a year and has 250 tutors on its books. All tutors are self-employed because ‘we want to work with highly experienced specialists rather than generalists and simply wouldn’t be able to give them full-time employment at the rates they command.’ Around 40 per cent are qualified teachers, the rest a mix of medical and law students, postgrads, writers and actors – plus, increasingly, career tutors who don’t do anything else (some even have their own limited companies and PAs). ‘The calibre of tutors is phenomenal,’ said one parent, typically.
Not much by way of recruiting new tutors these days – ‘our books are full.’ In the last year they only took on 20 tutors from a whopping 1,200 applications. All complete an application form and provide two forms of ID, with shortlisted applicants asked to attend an in-person interview, provide two references (always followed up) and an enhanced DBS. All have a minimum of an undergraduate degree with a high 2.1 or above and high grades at A level, GCSE and equivalent. And they have at least 100 hours of tuition under their belt (most have a lot more).
Clients are given details of two to three high-calibre tutors, usually within 48 hours. ‘The tutors they have sent me are amazing – they match well beyond the subject matter,’ said a parent. Another told us of a ‘mismatch – the tutor didn’t get on at all with my son, but they replaced him immediately.’ Clients are given regular feedback – most tutors we spoke to like that it’s left up to them how to deliver that (verbally or in writing and at what points), though a minority said they’d prefer ‘a more prescriptive feedback model.’
Tutors welcome the CPD provided in the form of client and tutor webinars whereby experts are brought in to discuss a range of educational matters such as the future of schooling and the secret to happy homework. Tutors are also invited to online and in-person coffee mornings bi-monthly, as well as bi-annual drinks parties. But some told us they’d like more training – for example around SEN, online tutoring and safeguarding; SLT says it’s on the case.
Impressive when it comes to charitable work. The five staff members are given two hours of company time per week to volunteer – ranges from Riding for the Disabled to gardening in a hospice market garden. And they support the Indian charity Shivia – every time a family registers with SLT, they fund the private tuition of a child in rural West Bengal for two months (with other events helping to raise funds – the SLT bake sale is a favourite!).
Simply Learning Tuition money and small print
One-off registration fee of £125 paid up front ‘to stop time wasters’. This covers any additional tutors, as well as tutors for siblings. Tutor rates range from £72 to £120 (average is £80), of which SLT takes between 20-34 per cent for commission. Tutors told us they appreciate the transparency around this cut though some find the process of being asked to set their own fee quite tricky (SLT says guidance is available). Occasionally, there are travel costs on top – at the tutor’s discretion. T&Cs are standard – and some flexibility about waiving cancellation fees if there’s a good reason. ‘They’re expensive, there’s no doubt about that – but when I’ve used other agencies to save a bit of money, I always regret it. They are cut above the rest,’ said one parent.
Simply Learning Tuition say
‘What makes Simply Learning Tuition genuinely unique among our peers is the level of care we take to find the right tutor for every child. We represent several hundred high calibre tutors and we’re known among private tutor circles as being hard to be represented by. Only when we truly believe we’d be happy for a tutor to come to our own homes to teach our own children do they make it onto our books.’
An established high-end tutor agency with top drawer tutors available for most educational needs. Expect a hand holding mentality and customer service that is second to none.