Who are they?
Teachers To Your Home
We have met with Teachers To Your Home staff. In addition, 61 clients and 77 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 911 clients and 455 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Teachers To Your Home staff
Run by husband and wife team Gill and Jim Dixon. For eight years, Gill (fast-talking, savvy, friendly) was head and CEO of Trent College, a large co-ed, independent day and boarding school, where Jim was physics and maths teacher. But in 2015, this dynamic duo sought a different challenge in the educational sector, ‘naively, we thought it would be a good idea to start our own business – after all, how hard could it be?’ she laughs. Around the same time, their son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and his decreasing mobility meant finding home tutors to support his learning. ‘Most tutoring is completely unregulated but as an ex-headteacher, I know what good quality education looks like and it helps that I’ve been on the receiving end of needing tutoring too,’ says Gill.
Like many small businesses, it was started from the kitchen table. ‘We pictured ourselves driving around in a car to meet clients, then matching them off with teachers, but we found a better model is to offer clients a choice of lovely teachers whom they interview themselves. Put simply, it’s foolish for us to micromanage as these families know the character and style they’re looking for much better than us’.
‘What on earth have we done?’ were words regularly uttered in the Dixon household for the first year or so, but it’s now a profitable, thriving business with no need for advertising and they are nicely settled in new offices in Witney just by (handily) the cake shop. Jim is the tactical man and Gill is the strategist, plus they’ve taken on three (soon to be five) part-time staff – former sales manager Tessa Edwards and former teachers Emma Pawsey and Nicola Hollingsworth – all of whom handle client and tutor calls, the idea being that a client has (wherever possible) the same point of contact throughout.
Described by parents as ‘quick’, ‘caring’ and even ‘perfect’. We were told, ‘they’re always helpful and deal with queries very promptly’ and ‘they really listened to my requirements and got me two high quality options’. Another called them ‘the best tutor company I have interacted with – you can really tell it’s run by former teachers’. Tutors report ‘a real sense of a relationship with the people that run it’ and that it’s ‘friendly’ and ‘professionally run’.
What do they offer?
The clue’s in the name - only qualified teachers are on their books, all of whom come to your home (or boarding house for boarders and cafés or libraries for some A level students). Most work full-time in local schools, although a minority tutor full-time and are registered across several agencies.
TTYH claims it corners the market in terms of primary age tutoring, which forms about 60 per cent of their work. The rest is a mixture of all academic subjects at all stages, including preparation for SATs, 11+, 13+, CE, scholarship, GCSE/IGCSE, IB, Pre-U and A level. Parents say they find tutors with experience in the right exam boards (critical for subjects like psychology A level) and they will headhunt for more unusual subjects. A third of families have children in independent schools; the rest are in the state sector.
Many of the teachers have basic SEN qualifications and experience while others have SEN diplomas and/or are SENCOs or educational psychologists. ‘They found us two candidates to interview with strong SEN backgrounds when other companies couldn’t find us anyone at all – a lifesaver during such an immensely stressful time,’ said one parent; ‘Our tutor really helped build our dyslexic son’s confidence,’ said another.
No online or residential tutoring, but they do support around a dozen families with home schooling, including for SEN and children who are elite actors or sports talents with lots of training and rehearsal commitments. ‘My son finds mainstream education too overwhelming due to his autism and I specifically wanted qualified and dedicated teachers, not smart young adults who tutor on the side – and that’s exactly what I got,’ said a parent.
The business has unusually strong relationships with schools (no doubt helped by Gill being an ex big cheese in the sector), both providing teachers for one-to-one or small group work and liaising on behalf of parents – ‘ours liaised with the teacher and offered to attend parents’ evenings,’ said one parent.
Youngest age is four (can four-year-olds really need tutors, though?); oldest is currently a 94-year-old having Latin tuition. They also provide tuition for businesses (recently for Mercedes Benz), as well as schools, hospitals, SEN solicitors and local authorities.
There’s no corner of the UK they don’t cover, although inevitably they take on more tutors in the south east and big cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and most recently Edinburgh.
Described by parents as excellent’, ‘kind,’ ‘engaging,’ encouraging’ and even ‘a wonder woman’, we heard tale after tale of the tutors ‘reflecting my very high standards’ and how they ‘really understood our needs and got under the skin of the areas our daughter was falling behind in’. But a few parents felt they were offered the wrong tutors (‘I said I wanted someone to cover maths and science, but they could only do maths’) and we heard of a few reliability issues – one parent told us ‘our tutor must have missed nearly half the sessions,’ although TTYH insists this case was a one-off and due to illness.
Background and basics
This outfit is big and getting bigger still – when we met them, they’d had 18,000 tutors working with 15,500 families over the previous 12 months. ‘In any one week, around 442 tutors are working with 580 families,’ says Gill, who was expecting their tutors to teach 65,000 lessons over the next academic year.
The upsides of the sheer size include choice and speed. ‘It’s brilliant - you get two or three high-calibre teachers to choose from within just one or two days,’ explained a parent. But be warned, while all teachers have to submit basic information in relation to their identity, experience, training, qualifications etc, it’s ultimately (and unusually for a tutor agency) seen as the family’s responsibility to double check them. And with no references requested by TTYH and, significantly, no interview carried out by TTYH, this also falls to the family before they make any decisions.
More of an introductory agency, then? No, insists Gill, because there’s a ‘belt and braces approach to safeguarding’ (the teachers only work in a supervised setting and all have an enhanced DBS) and because the firm remains personal (‘clients know they can ask us questions and for advice any time - we are open long hours and over the weekend’). There’s a third reason too: clients don’t have to ask for money thanks to the automated system (‘after a few teething problems, the new system is so much better,’ said one parent).
Around 60 client requests come in each day – these are offered to all tutors who can teach that subject at the required level and who live within a 10 to 15 mile radius (this is shrinking as they get more teachers on board) of the client’s postcode. TTYH then whittles down those that fit the criteria (anywhere between 20 and 200) down to two or three, based on the quality of their profile, the location and the internal ratings that they keep on each teacher which reflect any previous roles they’ve had with them (two bad internal ratings mean the teacher isn’t used again). If the tutor hasn’t done any work for TTYH before, they’ll get the standard induction by phone. The client then gets to scrutinise the teacher profiles (this is the time to check those credentials and get references if you want them), then interview by phone the ones they’re interested in.
Teachers are found for 88 per cent of requests – the remainder are told they are going on a waiting list ready for a fresh search a couple of weeks later at which point around half of those requests can be met. The agency gets regular feedback from their families, which is posted on the website each week, while feedback from the tutor to the family is left down to them, ‘I love that flexibility, especially as so many agencies are so prescriptive,’ said one tutor.
Perhaps surprisingly, TTYH doesn’t belong to The Tutors Association. Gill says it’s ‘because we see ourselves more as dealing with teachers than tutors and as a business not an agency’. Pro bono work is disappointingly thin on the ground, but the plan is to develop a charitable arm in the future (eg children in hospitals, language clubs in primary schools) – ‘what a legacy that would be,’ says Gill.
Money and small print
No registration fee. And how refreshing to see prices so clearly listed on the website – starting at £40-46 for primary, going up to £46-50 for A levels. All travel expenses included. Unusually, clients pay the teacher direct via an automated system at the end of each month. The teacher then pays TTYH a commission, ranging between £3-10. T&Cs are signed by both clients and tutors, but there are no contracts and you can stop the tuition whenever you want. Reasonable notice expected for cancellations, but nothing is set in stone and TTYH will sometimes foot the bill.
Teachers To Your Home say
‘We have big aims and want to establish ourselves as the market leader in the UK for high quality home schooling and home tuition,’ says Gill. ‘We bumbled along for about three or four years and now we’re really going for it.’
A big player in the market, yet one that (at least for now) has a personal touch. With an ex-headteacher at the helm and only trained teachers providing the tuition right across the UK, this feels a very safe bet – but do remember to do your own homework on the actual tutor.