Who are they?
The Golden Circle
69 Lombard Wharf
12 Lombard Road
We have met The Golden Circle staff. In addition, 24 clients and 26 tutors have completed an online survey.
Golden Circle staff
The business is family owned and run, with tutors and families claiming it’s particularly ‘friendly’ and ‘personal’ as a result. Surprisingly softly spoken (in this industry) Hannah Titley BA (biological sciences, Oxford), MA (public policy, King’s College London), PGCE (outstanding) was first on board, having founded the organisation in 2017. Her sister and now marketing manager, Lydia Titley BA (international business management and French, Bath), joined a year later. Both run the agency full-time from a shared office space in Waterloo – a magnificent building used by King’s College London for university alumni. With youth, glamour and etiquette on their side, you could almost mistake these immaculately turned out women for the Middleton sisters.
Hannah – who has clocked up six years of private tutoring and ‘never intends to stop’ – qualified as a teacher through Teach First and her business still has close links with the social enterprise. But after two years of classroom experience (secondary science) at a school in south west London, she says she realised that ‘school doesn’t work for everyone’ and set up what is the UK’s first professional home schooling tutor agency (which also provides hourly tutoring for children who do attend school). Watch this space for a third employee – Hannah hopes to take someone on to head up home schooling in the longer term.
Making herself available to tutors and clients 24/7 doesn’t leave much time for relaxation (‘I don’t mind – the business is my baby’), although she squeezes in a little yoga when she can. Tutors love it - ‘Support is constant, to the extent that if the doorbell isn’t answered by a client, I get an instant response,’ said one. ‘They are really considerate employers, which makes you feel valued,’ said another. Ditto for families – ‘I’ve never known a company to be so quick to respond to even the smallest query,’ said a parent. The company, agree all, is ‘efficient’, ‘professional’ and ‘thorough’.
What do they offer?
Just over half of Golden Circle’s tutoring is for so-called flexi-schoolers (in school two or three days a week; home schooled the rest of the time) and home-schoolers. The agency creates a bespoke curriculum delivered by a team of five to eight teachers – usually at GCSE or A level, but available at all educational levels.
Many of these families told us they see this professional home schooling as a ‘preferable alternative’ to top independent schools. ‘Each of the tutors found a way to connect with my daughter and ensure that she learns in the best way for her,’ one told us – it’s helped her restore her confidence and the joy of learning’. Meanwhile, parents of flexi-schoolers like the idea of a little school (eg for the sociability factor) but feel their offspring ‘can’t cope with it full-time’ (perhaps because they have ASD or mental health issues). Tutors told us the teaching is consequently often ‘heavily supplemented with mentoring’ (think mindfulness and stress management). Current students have left (or stayed part-time at) Eton, Westminster, Bedales and The Hall, among others, to have home schooling.
The growing breed of world-schoolers are also attracted to this agency - tutoring at all levels can be delivered partly by Skype and partly in person (for example when the family is in London or when they want tutors to fly out to wherever they are). We were intrigued to hear about their latest destination-based learning – with the curriculum tailored to the location(s) eg Darwinism and evolution in the Galapagos, rainforest sustainability in Bali, apartheid in South Africa. ‘I couldn’t believe how flexible and comprehensive they were,’ a world-schooler parent told us. Traditional residential placements also on offer, with tutors having flown out to UK-based families on holiday in USA, Dubai and Hong Kong. And there’s an ‘intervention programme’ – an intensive programme of lessons over four to 10 weeks for children who are falling behind academically.
Fear not if removing your child from school feels a step too far as they provide the usual hourly after-school tutoring too (mainly in London, with a few families in Herts and Cambridge), covering pretty much every area of education – from 3+ (yes, they tutor two-year-olds – we’re incredulous of tutoring at this age but Golden Circle defends it, saying it’s ‘not focusing on the academics’), 4+, 7+, 11+, 13+, every level of schooling from early years through to A level and IB including some less traditional subjects like psychology, plus Oxbridge and university preparation.
Less conventional courses include entrepreneurship, coding, debating, teamwork, current affairs and even vlogging – available both as part of home-schooling or as one-offs, and sometimes the agency integrates them into core subjects eg one family currently has a package focused on ‘future life’ so maths lessons involve everything from budgeting to learning about stocks and shares and even pension planning.
SEN and behavioural difficulties don’t faze this agency, whose clients have ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, among others. But take note that while some of the tutors are qualified (eg SENCos), others have experience only.
They collaborate closely with the school where relevant – families told us how this can involve attending parents’ evening or school meetings with form tutors or headteachers, and they also send weekly progress reports to schools as part of the intervention programme.
Background and basics
Ninety-five per cent of Golden Circle’s 240 tutors are recruited from the Teach First leadership development programme (the rest come from their referrals) - ‘we’re guaranteed great tutors because recruitment is rigorous, standards are incredibly high, you’re really thrown in at the deep end and you deal with behavioural management and SEN,’ says Hannah. It means most tutors have a social conscience too – most, who were partly attracted to Teach First because of its social enterprise status, couldn’t wait to tell us how Golden Circle donates 10 per cent of all profits to charities who support students from disadvantaged backgrounds (‘while other agencies just help rich kids get into top schools, Golden Circle reinvests its profits and does more for the community,’ said one), although some would like to see them go further still (eg ‘more access for clients from low income backgrounds please’) – Hannah says she’d like to introduce a bursary scheme in the long term.
These tutors – a young vibrant bunch, average age of 20s, of whom Golden Circle takes on around six a month out of 15 to 20 times that number of applications – have a 2.1 from Russell group university or international equivalent and 95 per cent have a PGCE and at least two years’ teaching experience, including working with gifted and talented students. One in five tutors also holds an education-related masters degree, is an experienced pastoral leader and is a GCSE or A level examiner for a UK examining body.
Small-group interviews (or by phone if it’s to meet an urgent enquiry) are followed by an ‘individual chat’ – ‘thorough but friendly’, reckoned a tutor. And all tutors must provide proof of qualifications, enhanced DBS check and one reference (always followed up).
For each client request (which always includes a face-to-face meeting for home schooling), Hannah handpicks a tutor from her team based on ‘experience, teaching style, availability and location’. Minutiae matters – ‘if the student loves football, the same passion in the tutor can help with bonding,’ explains Hannah. A tutor told us, ‘They get to know your CV and strengths inside out’, while several parents reported their kids as being ‘very happy with the matches’ even though they are, as one said, ‘very discerning’.
Clients are contacted after the first session (the feedback is passed on to tutors) then regularly thereafter, while a tutor told us, ‘I’m also regularly checked on by the director’. Both tutors and clients are invited to fill in regular surveys and tutors provide weekly reports to clients – many also using them ‘to track progress’.
No training available for tutors (they hope to offer it in Skype, SEN, EdTEch and mental health in the future) and there are mixed views from tutors around access to resources, with some praising it but others saying, for example, that there’s ‘a bit too much signposting for lesson resources – they need more in-house’ or that ‘I’d like resources on the transition into home schooling’. We were struck by how many tutors commended career progression opportunities, for example ‘to home schooling, which has made tutoring full-time a possibility’, as one put it.
Golden Circle not only belongs to The Tutors’ Association, but they have also formed an association of their own – the Home Schooling Association UK ‘to raise standards in the tutoring and home schooling industry’. Besides offering free advice on all things home schooling (eg how to liaising with local authorities, which exam boards to take), they also campaign for more regulation of home schooling, including a national register for students and compulsory background checks for tutors.
Money and small print
Not cheap. There’s a one-off registration fee of £100 and home tutoring is £65 per hour, while after school tutoring is £75-£125 an hour depending on the student’s age, subject and location. Clients pay 50 per cent deposit, based on their child’s timetable for one month, then invoiced for the outstanding amount at the end of each month. ‘It’s effortless – I love it,’ said a parent, while tutors are impressed by the ‘efficiency’ of payment ‘which always comes on time – that’s not the case with all agencies’. The agency’s commission works out around 21 per cent, with tutors getting £50-£75 per hour, which tutors deem ‘more than fair’ and they also told us they like the monetary incentives for recommending another tutor who is successful at the interview stage. Ten per cent of profits are donated to charities supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds (and they’ve delivered some free online lessons for vulnerable students since COVID). All tutors sign a contract, while clients are referred to the T&Cs page of their website. Beware of cancelling last minute – this company is strict on carrying out cancellation charges if you give less than 24-hours notice.
Golden Circle say
‘Our students genuinely love their academic subjects and are taught by teachers who inspire them, while our flexible timetables suit the needs of students and their families, enabling full participation in any extracurricular endeavours. We believe that school is about more than teaching to test. The workplace is changing and education needs to move in the same direction.’
Tutors told us it feels like ‘the elite end of tutoring’ but ‘without being stuffy’. ‘Although a relatively new company, Golden Circle offers world-class education’, said one.
‘It’s among the most progressive and attentive services I found, and very willing to work collaboratively to achieve results, not just academically but socially and emotionally – a very well-rounded service,’ summed up a parent.
Not your stereotypical tutoring agency, Golden Circle specialises in personalised, flexible learning that goes way beyond the national curriculum. As such, it appeals to less conventional families who consider the likes of creative thinking and problem solving as equally, if not more, important than a fistful of top grades – and who may well be willing to bypass traditional schooling, at least in part, to achieve it.