Who are they?
76 High Street
We have met with Tutor Train staff. In addition, 20 clients and 20 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 78 clients and 27 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Tutor Train staff
The desire to support a local company was the top reason that parents we spoke to chose Tutor Train over other tutor agencies. ‘But actually I don’t feel I could have got any better elsewhere – Praema has been absolutely fantastic,’ was a typical comment. Praema Stelling, who founded the business in 2015, comes in for particular praise for being ‘friendly,’ ‘professional,’ ‘reliable’ and ‘quick.’ With her gentle, calm demeanour and clear industry knowledge, we can see why clients feel in safe hands.
‘Business is going well,’ confirms Praema when we meet her. Not only is she pulling in the punters, with business growing year on year, but home education is becoming something of a specialist offering.
Armed with a primary BEd with QTS from the University of Bedfordshire, Praema spent five years as a teacher. ‘But once I began tutoring privately every week, I quickly observed the significant impact one-to-one tuition provided for those individuals. The joy, as a teacher, in being able to tailor a lesson without restrictions and limitations, was a breath of fresh air.’
Next up, Praema is looking to outsource areas such as social media, as well as to support more children with mental health and SEN. ‘We already have a trained therapist on our books but we also want to provide, for example, autism training for parents and play therapy for children – the idea is to be a one-stop-shop for scooping up the whole family because these issues go hand-in-hand with education.’
Tutors love that, as one put it, ‘we are very involved in her ethos of making learning enjoyable.’ ‘If there are any problems I feel she has my back and it means I feel loyal to her too,’ added another. Perhaps surprising, then, to find that only 10 per cent of tutors we spoke to had been with the company more than three years and that 50 per cent had been with them less than six months (Praema has since told us 70 per cent of their tutors have been with them longer than a year).
What do they offer?
At primary level, English, maths, French and foundation subjects. At secondary level, English, maths, science, French and geography (but only English, maths and science at A level). Eight per cent of their work is 11+, and they occasionally tutor for 7+ and 13+. Support with home schooling is available – ‘I found home schooling a daunting prospect but Praema made it so easy for me and has provided an excellent maths tutor to do four days a week,’ said one parent. They have a few tutors with experience of EAL.
Two teachers on the books have worked in special schools and are therefore au fait with ADHD, autism, dyslexia etc, although the clients we spoke to whose children have mild SEN (there are 15 per cent of these altogether) didn’t use these specially trained tutors. One said, ‘My dyslexic daughter’s main problem is working memory so we have a general English teacher to help go over things with her. She isn’t specially trained but it’s worked brilliantly.’ Another told us, ‘Our tutor isn’t trained in dyslexia which is a pity, but at the moment it’s working well.’ Praema has also hooked up with a dyslexia assessor for parents who have spotted potential tell-tale signs and alongside this, she signposts families to organisations such as CHUMS and Autism Bedfordshire.
Tutor Train has no lower age limit – they recently provided a six-week tutor package for a four-year-old, albeit play-based. But Praema makes no apology – ‘Having the early foundations in place really helps a child feel confident as they move through their primary education and beyoond.’ At the other end of the spectrum, they support the odd adult re-sitting GCSEs.
Forty per cent of tutoring is online, predominantly KS3 and KS4, with tutors and clients full of praise for the ‘very interactive’ and ‘easy to use’ online learning platform, The Lesson Space. The remaining 60 per cent takes place in the child’s home – mainly Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire.
We applaud Tutor Train for making some great connections with schools, working closely with the client’s class teacher and asking them to share targets and medium-term plans ‘so we can align our teaching to meet the overarching goals for the student.’ Meanwhile teachers are sent Tutor Train’s lesson reports.
We’ve rarely heard so many examples from parents of tutors making learning exciting: ‘She uses humour so well.’ ‘It’s never monotone parrot style teaching – in fact she regularly gets him away from the table to learn through play, sometimes in the garden.’ ‘Regularly uses games to support learning – it really encouraged my daughter with phonics.’ ‘Uses football analogies all the time which really brings it to life.’ ‘He hated maths but now looks forward to his maths tutoring.’ Etc.
Background and basics
Not a big company and all the better for it, say both parents and tutors. In fact, their main concern is that ‘the company will grow so much that the personal touch is lost.’ No chance, assures Praema.
Tutor Train only works with teachers (working full time, part time or taking a break) and only one in 10 of those whose application lands them a face-to-face interview with Praema actually gets the job - ‘because I only want the ones that care and go the extra step to make learning fun and engaging.’ But with no mock/sample lesson as part of the interview, how can Praema assess this? ‘Easy,’ she says, ‘I observe their communications skills and have usually made up my mind in the first 10 minutes. I also ask a lot of questions about teaching style and ethos, and I get them to talk me through how they’d respond to certain scenarios.’ Tutors agree the process is thorough, with many comparing it to interviews for teaching roles in schools.
There are all the usual checks for qualifications, employment history, ID and DBS, plus two references are followed up. Tutors then complete an online profile, plus safeguarding and e-safety training online.
This is the first tutor agency we’ve ever come across that claims 100 per cent successful matching between tutor and client – most say that with the best will in the world you can’t always account for chemistry between two individuals. So how has she managed it? ‘I’m just really good at it – I know my teachers really well and I take time to understand what the children will best respond to by asking questions like, “What teachers do you like at school and why?” as well as asking clients to fill out a pre-assessment form,’ she says. Praema then shares with the client the best match(es) – if there’s more than one, they choose. The process takes less than a week.
All video lessons are recorded and monitored and if working face-to-face in a school, tutors are observed at least once annually. She also sends out biannual feedback questionnaires to clients and tutors. Tutors enthuse about the amount of resources and support ‘on tap’ – ‘I’ve never known anything like it, Praema is on top of everything,’ said one. Parents love the flexibility - ‘It’s never a problem if you need to swap lessons or pause altogether,’ voiced one. And this is certainly the only tutor agency we know of where every client gets a WhatsApp group chat set up between them, Praema and the tutor.
Tutor Train is a corporate member of The Tutors’ Association. No charitable or pro bono work currently offered though Praema hopes one day to provide reduced tuition costs to tutees referred by CHUMS or Spurgeon’s.
Money and small print
Notably reasonable and transparent. ‘I would have happily paid double, it’s so good,’ said one happy customer. No registration fee, with hourly tutoring fees from £45-£60 per hour, depending on educational level and whether it’s online or in-person. Assessments, though still a whole hour, are cheaper at £35. Around 29 per cent commission goes to the company, the rest to the tutor (all self-employed). Cancellation policy stipulates full charge if less than six hours’ notice given and half-charge if less than 24 hours’ notice given – that’s a lot better than most tutor companies. No registration fee, and you can stop and start when you like, all year round.
What Tutor Train say
‘I feel our main strength is our personalised approach from start to finish. I have families who have been receiving tuition with us from the very beginning which I believe is testament to how well we run the service.’
Tutoring at its most interactive, fun and flexible, delivered by teachers who go the extra mile and who share the agency owner’s drive to make a real impact on their students. ‘It’s a pleasure to tutor with Tutor Train – it’s a trusted service that allows a personalised, nurturing approach to help develop children’s confidence within their learning journeys,’ said one tutor.