Who are they?
Simply Learning Tuition
43 Berkeley Square
London W1J 5FJ
Tel: 0207 350 1981
We have visited Simply Learning Tuition’s offices in Battersea. In addition, 30 clients and 31 tutors have completed an on-line survey. For an explanation of the different tutor sections in the Good Schools Guide see which tutor agency?
Simply Learning Tuition staff
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 made him so passionate about providing private tutoring himself, something that he did for 10 years alongside a career in the film industry, before setting up Simply Learning Tuition in 2009. Friendly, passionate and voluble, he also takes an active role in the Tutors Association, which represents the wider industry. Team is completed by Katie Haigh, director of education, Sophie Taylor-Barthorpe, tuition manager, Emma Calkin, tuition consultant and Kerry Beale, client and tutor account manager.
Clients praise warm, down to earth professionalism. ‘The contact at the company was lovely and they couldn’t have been more helpful,’ one told us. ‘Because the team is thorough, focused on the objective and always committed, we have used them many times over the years and continue to do so when our children need help,’ says another. The spirit of the firm is ‘reflective of a family run business, meaning that the leadership team are interested in all aspects, big or small,’ said one family, while tutors describe them as ‘friendly,’ ‘professional,’ ‘efficient’ and ‘organised’ – although a couple of tutors told us it can be difficult to work out who they need to speak to about what in the company.
Simply Learning Tuition what do they offer?
Provides educational consultancy and introductions to tutors who cover the full range from pre-school (although this is rare) to undergraduate level tuition – and occasionally beyond, with one adult learner telling us, ‘SLT introduced us to a tutor in screenwriting and he was brilliant – absolutely top drawer.’ Bread and butter subjects include maths, English, science, history and economics and preparation for GCSE, A level and IB plus entrance exams (7+ and Common Entrance). Increasingly, provide help with CVs, UCAS personal statements and Oxbridge applications. More unusual requests – such as tutoring in coding - can usually be dealt with, although SLT are honest when they can’t assist. On the consultancy side, they provide academic assessments and school placement advice.
Tutoring mostly on an hour-a-week basis in zones one and two, notably Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hackney, Islington, Camden – although will venture into zones three and four, particularly Wandsworth and Richmond-upon-Thames, and even as far afield as Surrey and Kent. In 95 per cent of cases, the tuition takes place in the student’s own home, although occasionally in offices, artists’ studios, outdoors (gardens, forest schools) or in schools and boarding houses. Meanwhile, for residential tutoring, tutors travel anywhere in the UK, with recent locations including Yorkshire, Lake District and Cotswolds. ‘Typically, these are for Easter and summer holidays and exeats,’ says Nathaniel. International tuition is also a specialism, with SLT helping families in the likes of Monaco, Ibiza, UAE, Japan, USA and Nigeria. This can take place online or in person on a residential basis, either in the short or long term. ‘For some families, it’s about having a tutor available when they’re on holiday abroad, but more usually it’s for an international student who is studying the UK or US curriculum,’ explains Nathaniel.
Home schooling is high on the agenda for this agency too, with up to four tutors working with each youngster as an alternative to conventional schooling. Quite a number of these tutees have SEN or mental health difficulties and are having time out from school. ‘Our son is being home schooled for GCSEs, following some school anxiety and school phobia. The tutors have been so professional, while also being warm and friendly,’ one parent told us. Whenever possible, tutors maintain relationships with the school and view it as a success when they get the child back into school, says Nathaniel, who hand picks these tutors and looks for motivational and pastoral strengths as well as their ability to bring lessons to life with visits to places like museums. ‘The intensive work/play relationship really delivers results and you get to form a lasting friendship with the children. To be honest, it can also be pretty good fun for the tutors,’ he says.
Mentoring is Nathaniel’s baby, for students with major challenges. ‘This tends to be for families where the child is not accessing the curriculum due to behaviour or motivational issues,’ he says. ‘Often, it’s a child who’s about to be expelled or has major learning difficulties.’
Families are usually prescriptive in their requests – so less of ‘I just want my son to do better at school,’ and more of ‘I need my daughter to reach her potential in science.’ Around a third of tutees have some form of learning difficulty, and many of the tutors on SLT's register are trained and experienced in SEN, including Asperger’s and autism, sensory processing difficulties, dysgraphia and mental health difficulties including anxiety and depression. The company also works with educational psychologists and a speech and language therapist if additional input is needed for assessments. Tutees may also be referred by a school, and where necessary, tutors liaise with teachers regarding pupil progress or content to be covered. ‘A lot of heads publically say that tutoring is terrible, but privately, as long as the league tables are kept high and the tuition is required, they’re happy – it’s a well-known fact,’ says Nathaniel. ‘We have recommended SLT to parents whose children need more support than is available at the school and they’ve always come up with someone that fits the bill,’ says one head teacher.
Statistically, all this works out as follows – 70 per cent hourly tutoring (50 per cent London entrance exams, 50 per cent national exams); 10 per cent online tutoring; 10 per cent residential; and 10 per cent home schooling. For the consultancy, it’s 50:50 assessments and school placements.
Simply Learning Tuition background and basics
SLT now have 450 active tutors on their books, with almost 2,000 on their database – serving just over 350 families. As with their clients, the majority of their tutors are referrals. ‘We also advertise with Russell Group universities and SEN specialists,’ says Nathaniel. Most tutors (average age early 30s) attended a Russell Group university or Oxbridge and need a minimum of a high 2.1 in their chosen subject, plus high A level, IB and even high GCSE results as well as three successful tutoring placements - although most tutors have significantly more. Tutors may be graduates in part- or full-time education (medicine, PhD etc); career tutors and those in other careers, including City types and writers. Surprisingly few teachers on the books. We are not primarily an agency for teachers – although we have several on our books. We need educators who are able to work on a one to one basis, who can be flexible with the child’s schedule and particular needs. Children don’t always need more of what they get at school- particularly if it isn't working.’
SLT tells us the recruitment process kicks off with tutors sending in a CV and covering letter. About a quarter are selected to have a 20-minute phone interview when they are quizzed about previous students. ‘We want to know, are you serious? What makes you stand out as a tutor? Are you committed?’ says Nathaniel. Strong candidates attend group interview (though several told us they had not been recruited face to face). Usually, three out of five are taken on, after providing two referees (which SLT follows up personally). ‘We never accept printed or pre-written references.’ Must also hold valid enhanced DBS check.
Matching is one of SLT’s fortes. ‘They take this part of the role very seriously, and that means really listening to the family’s needs, and generally finding a good fit. And if you’re not happy with the tutor, they deal with it immediately, without awkwardness,’ one parent told us. Another said, ‘I have two children, both of whom needed tutoring in the same subject, but with very different methods – my son needed to be really pushed, and my daughter prefers to take the lead. They found us ideal tutors for both.’ ‘We want the tutor and tutee to be similar – not just socially, but a good pastoral fit,’ explains Nathaniel. ‘So if you’ve got a bombastic child, they might do better with a cool, slightly stronger tutor, or if they are a sensitive child, they might prefer someone calm and very considerate.’
Clients aren’t kept waiting – indeed, once you’ve chatted through your needs (‘usually a 20 minute phone call,’ says Nathaniel), you receive details of two to three high-calibre tutors within 48 hours. ‘If we can’t help someone within two days, then we probably can’t help at all.’ SLT always lets the tutors know if they didn’t get the job. ‘It makes a massive difference to tutor retention,’ says Nathaniel – we believe him, as failure to do this is the number one gripe from tutors we speak to at other agencies). Client asked for feedback at regular intervals while tutor feeds back to the parent after each session. Parents happy, tutors less so. ‘SLT needs to improve their lesson reporting and very rarely is feedback from clients passed back to the tutor,’ one tutor told us.
Tutors are offered training on an ad hoc basis covering eg assessment. But several expressed disappointment that there isn’t more on offer, and some said they would like access to more resources, such as past papers, too (SLT comments that the tutors’ self-employed status precludes this).
The company website is particularly comprehensive and easy to navigate – and is also available to read in French with a further eight languages to come.
Simply Learning Tuition money and small print
Clients pay a £95 registration fee, which is refunded if they aren’t ‘delighted’ with their tutor. Charges range from £60 - £150 an hour – the starting price is levied by most tutors, while top whack gets you a specialised tutor in a niche area. Occasionally, there are travel costs on top – at the tutor’s discretion. SLT tells us it takes between 35-41 per cent commission of the tutor’s fee and that tax and VAT issues can result in the tutor getting only 50 per cent of the fee; payment usually a month in arrears but can take up to two. Ts and Cs are standard – and some flexibility about waiving cancellation fees if there’s a good reason. ‘There are different charges for full-time residential or salaried tutors, discussed on a case-by-case basis,’ adds Nathaniel. Parents can also get an assessment for £360. Educational consultancy ranges from £50-£300 per hour, depending on who is doing the work.
Simply Learning Tuition say
We believe that many problems stem from lack of confidence. An ineffective teacher, illness or additional learning need (or even just dealing with the pressures of growing up) can reduce the child's confidence so that they no longer enjoy school in general, or studying in particular. This can lead to frustration and behavioural problems. Individual tuition bridges this gap by getting to the root of the problem. Working together, the tutor and the child can rebuild the child's self-esteem and restore their will to try again.’
We are increasingly involved in charity work – having given a Zimbabwe rural school £1,000 this year, an amount we intend to double next year.’
We want to double our client numbers over the next two years, although we would never grow it so much that we lost the personal touch that we have become known for.’
Parents say: ‘They are very keen to match the right tutor for your child’s needs.’ ‘A personal, individualised service of great quality.’ ‘Very efficient, pleasant to deal with and high-calibre tutors.’ One admitted, ‘I’m very demanding, but they took really good care of us and went out of their way to accommodate our request.’ A few highlighted how expensive SLT are, but more as an observation than a complaint – with most feeling they got value for money. ‘You get what you pay for in this business,’ concluded one. ‘You get a good solid tutor – always top-notch.’
Pay deductions aside, tutors are also satisfied. ‘I have worked for five or six of the main agencies in London and SLT are my favourite to work through. They are personable, organised and their clients have long-term relationships with them.’ ‘SLT are by far the best London agency I have encountered – the team are committed to their vision.’ ‘They are very quick at communication and offer a wide range of tuition roles, all with different ages, so it’s fulfilling work when you get it.’