Who are they?
Unit 21D Battlers Green Farm
We have met with Watling Tutors’ staff. In addition, 21 clients and 26 tutors have completed an on-line survey (sent to 181 clients and 97 tutors) and we have followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.
Watling Tutors staff
Founded in 2010 by laidback yet super-efficient Leah Warren BA (English, University of Leeds) PGCE (Secondary English, UCL Institute of Education), who has 18 years’ teaching and tutoring experience and still gets stuck in (‘the best tutor ever,’ say clients). Later joined by a part-timer who covers client and tutor liaison, while freelancers are pulled in for eg social media, marketing, tutor recruitment and finance and accounting. Company offices are on the outskirts of Radlett, complete with modern classroom for tutoring and workshops – ‘My pipedream,’ grins Leah, who, for years, ran the business from home.
Watling came about when Leah reached the end of her maternity leave with her first child (she now has three) and decided to combine her experience in teaching and advertising. Spotting a gap in the market for local tutor companies specialising in qualified teachers, she called on willing colleagues to get the show on the road. Some of those early recruits are still with her now.
You’ll be hard pushed to find a more transparent tutor company owner. Tutors like that ‘she’s completely upfront with her commission rates’ (not all are) and clients love that she ‘tells us how it is about where a child is at academically’ and ‘she never tries to oversell.’
Parents say she’s ‘super-speedy’ and ‘very responsive’ – we heard plenty of tales about how she hooked them up with a tutor ‘at very short notice’. And both parents and tutors both describe her as ‘friendly’ and ‘empathetic,’ with tutors feeling this company cares as much about them as the clients – so much so that most told us they’ve never bothered to look for work at other tutor companies. ‘She even sent a card and chocolates when my baby was born – you really feel appreciated,’ said one.
What do they offer?
A lot more 11+ tutoring than when we last reviewed them. This – along with primary school tutoring in maths, English and science – now accounts for about a third of their work, with an equal amount provided in core GCSE subjects. The final third is made up mainly of A level tutoring, although they also offer 7+, 13+ and 16+ preparation, including interview guidance but (music to our ears) they refuse to take on children under 6 for school assessments. Support is available for KS3, Cambridge Pre-U and the IB in some subjects, along with BTEC support in subjects such as business studies. Guidance with university applications is a specialism, eg personal statement drafting and proofreading, EPQ support and tutoring for some subject-specific university entrance exams, such as the ELAT exam for Cambridge. Niche subjects sometimes available eg astronomy, but not always – ‘I’m still looking for an art teacher, for example,’ admits Leah.
In keeping with Watling’s original vision, most (80 per cent) of her tutors are trained teachers; the rest are mainly studying for postgraduate degrees. Clients describe them as ‘exceptional’ and ‘inspirational,’ and several told us how they ‘took my child up at least a couple of grades.’ We heard a lot about how tutors give ‘really good strategies and tips,’ with one telling us that, ‘With An Inspector Calls, he could suddenly understand it.’ It’s not as if these families don’t have a point of comparison: ‘I have used other agencies and we also used another tutor privately, but Watling is miles better,’ was a typical comment.
Just over half the tutoring is in-person at the student’s home, the rest happens online. For the former, most clients live within 10 miles of St Albans, although they have clients across Hertfordshire and all north and northwest London postcodes. Even with online tutoring, clients tend to be fairly local – within a 15 mile radius, though they also have clients in Israel, Qatar and the US. One or two parents felt the online platform could be smoother – but you can always ask to swap as Watling are open to working with Zoom, Teams or Google Meet.
Don’t rule this company out if your child has SEN. Around 20 per cent of their students have some form of additional learning, most commonly dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, sensory and slow processing and autism. In many cases, Leah will offer you a school SENCo, and handily the company has just started working with a dyslexia assessor.
Home schooling is increasingly on their radar. In fact, Watling has a great local reputation for working with students with EBSA (emotion based school avoidance), who they frequently support to take at least a few GCSEs - exams are taken at local colleges. We heard about one girl with severe anxiety who they helped to get through her English and maths exams – no mean feat.
Watling’s small-group courses have really taken off. Held in their swanky new classroom, these include 11+ classes (South West Herts Consortium exam), primary booster classes (weekly English and maths for years 3, 4 and 5), summer camps (eg creative writing workshops, maths problem solving) and GCSE revision courses (currently English and maths but they’d like to expand this). They also run extracurricular activities (eg sessions on debating, public speaking and confidence building) and parent workshops (on the 11+).
Background and basics
Of the 350 tutors on their books (now recruited from across the UK since online tutoring became popular), around 100-ish work with 180 families in any given year. Most parents have children in private schools, notably Manor Lodge and Edge Grove at prep level, and Habs (girls and boys) and St Albans (girls and boys) at senior level. In the state sector, children typically attend local primaries or, at secondary level, Dame Alice Owen’s, Watford Grammar, JFS and Yavneh College. These parents are more than happy to spread the word – almost half (45 per cent) of those we spoke to heard about Watling from another parent, and 100 per cent said they’d recommend them.
Parents attribute the ‘care and attention’ and ‘detailed questions’ involved in the first call to the good matches made between student and tutor. ‘Our daughter’s tutor was carefully selected so that his skill and experience exactly matched her need,’ said one, adding that, ‘everything was set up efficiently and swiftly in a helpful, friendly and professional way.’ The call, usually 20-30 minutes, is aimed at gathering info about the child, their specific learning needs, their school, their exam boards (where relevant) and the logistical preference for the tuition. After that, say parents, there are ‘ongoing targets and monitoring’ – ‘so there’s never tutoring for tutoring’s sake.’
Tutors (average age 35) must have at least a 2:1 degree in their subject and a year or more experience of teaching or tutoring, along with some measure of success eg taking children through an exam. Recruitment comes primarily from word of mouth, otherwise social media, and includes DBS checks, proof of ID, NI and UTR number, qualifications etc and following up two references (one directly related to teaching). Leah now interviews all tutors online, although note this wasn’t always the case, with some tutors telling us they were recruited via LinkedIn or interviewed by phone (our advice is to check with the tutor you’re allocated). However, all say they found the recruitment process ‘rigorous’ – ‘I refused to work for another company that didn’t want to see any paperwork, which felt incredibly dodgy,’ said one. Unlike many tutor companies, tutors are not required to do a sample lesson before they’re taken on.
All tutors must complete a safeguarding course (ideally the NSPCC one, specifically for tutors) and Leah sometimes provides further training (eg in managing client relationships or structuring successful lessons) informally.
If Leah is able to find the right match (‘I’d rather supply nobody than anybody,’ she says), there’s feedback both ways – so she follows up regularly with clients and parents can ask tutors for feedback, either verbally or written.
Watling is a corporate member of The Tutors’ Association and is involved in working with local charities and on a pro-bono basis. In 2022, they offered free places on their workshops to students in their community who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them.
Money and small print
One-off registration fee of £79 covers all your children and as many tutors as you want – and is refundable if you don’t rate the first session. Tutors love that they get to set their own rates (‘it’s the main reason I work for them,’ said one), onto which VAT and £15 commission for Watling are added. For primary tuition, clients pay £50-£65 per hour; for secondary school and GCSE tuition, it’s £55-£75; and A level tuition costs £60-£90. Many parents consider the rates expensive and to be a downside of the company – ‘There’s no two ways about it, it costs a lot of money,’ said one - but we can tell you it’s much better value than many of the London agencies. Home schooling, courses and workshops, personal statement support etc are priced individually. Clients are billed weekly and travel expenses are included. Both tutors and clients sign a contract with standard T&Cs, including 24-hour cancellation notice (carried out at the tutor’s discretion).
Watling Tutors say
‘We work with hundreds of students every week and pride ourselves on knowing the names, ages and academic objectives of each and every one. This is why parents pass our details to their friends and students recommend us to each other. We’ve even recruited a wonderful tutor who had actually been tutored by the agency herself.’
The market is a lot more crowded than when we last reviewed this company, but it still soars above the competition. Serves mainly local (but some further afield) clients who rave about Watling’s unparalleled knowledge of local schools and the quality of the tutors, most of whom are trained teachers. Professional, caring and established, this company has traditionally focused on one-to-one tuition but has more recently started providing top-notch courses and workshops too.