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What do tuition companies actually do?

With such a wealth of online tutors available in 2020, many offering competitive rates and working independently, you could be forgiven for wondering why anyone would go for a company at all.

 

For tutors as well as for clients, there is a perception that agencies do nothing more than add a fee on top of the tutor’s standard rate.

Frequently, tutors will end up signing up with several different organisations in order to fill their calendars, each with different systems and fees. 

Some will charge sign-up fees. Some will take a percentage of their income. Some will charge a finder’s fee per client. Some might even do all three! 

And the support that comes back from that can be a variety of resources, training, coaching, online lesson software, client invoicing and administration, filtering out ‘tyre kickers’, or perhaps nothing more than connecting clients with tutor and leaving them to it.

From the clients’ perspective, if they could contact the same tutor directly and pay a lower rate, why wouldn’t they just do that? 

The fact that we’re all wildly different is nothing novel. People come in all shapes and sizes, and the same is true in the tutoring industry as much as any other. 

Many tutors are happy to be able to just focus on their passion – education – and not have to worry about all of the extra work that comes along with running a business.

For tutors just getting started, it is invaluable to have the support of those more experienced while they get started. Working with an established organisation and joining online tutor communities can make a big difference to your success by boosting your confidence. 

Agencies have to charge fees in order to keep the lights on. Marketing, sales, administration, recruitment, and training all cost money and time, and no one likes to work for free. We all have to eat! But within that they can add considerable value to the service provided to clients. 

For example, clients have more options when they sign up with an organisation that offers a variety of tutors. For the student, having a good chemistry with their tutor can have a big impact on how well they work with them, so it stands to reason that having options is beneficial. 

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We recently posted in the Qualified Tutor Community a question regarding the apparent concerns that some have towards agencies. We wanted to find out more about why this might be, and perhaps why they’ve (unfairly) been given a bad rep … 

 

John Nichols, President of The Tutors’ Association, believes that there are important differences in what parents and clients are seeking in the tutoring. “There is a perception (fair in a few of the worst cases) that agencies do nothing more than add a 20-40% surcharge on top of a tutor’s standard rate. So clients sometimes perceive that they’d be paying a lot more for little to no additional value or quality.

For those prospective clients who are posting their own adverts for tutors, they are probably hoping that the additional effort they are putting in will give them much better value tuition in the longer term. Some clients prefer to save themselves the time and call an agency to do so; they just want someone else to sort the problem of finding a good tutor for them”.

 

With this in mind, do we think it’s fair for agencies to take an initial sign-up fee?

 

“I think there is a fair point where clients have a tutor placed with them who is very good and there is very little or no need for the tuition agency to do anything more than bill the client every month”, John adds. “In those cases, clients do begrudge paying an additional £15-40 per hour for what is, in effect, simply a payment service.

However, some agencies do very much more than the minimal service provided above – providing training, support and oversight of their tutors and adding considerable value. In these circumstances, the tuition agency fees are very much earned.

Agencies which charge a sign-up fee, if they then also charge an hourly commission rate, must ensure they are providing value“.

 

Georgina Green, the Founder of Green Tutors, based in Hertfordshire, has long believed that agencies should be transparent on what clients pay, what support and resources they provide, and whether there is any flexibility.

“That allows the tutor to be selective about who they work with and avoid any nasty surprises!

I know full well it wouldn’t benefit everyone and if I wasn’t clear about what I offered, I would expect those tutors to be quite disappointed with me!”

 

Johnny Manning agrees: “There are a number of agencies out there who perhaps don’t add enough value for the fees they charge, particularly the “tutoring platform” style companies who onboard as many tutors as possible, but then allow the tutors to scrap it out themselves, rather than building a relationship with the customer and ensuring an excellent tutor matching”.

Johnny is the Founder of Manning’s Tutors, a National Tutoring Programme ‘Trusted Provider’ based in London. Although there is space for tutoring platforms within the industry, further clarification is required.

As this model permits some very rapid growth, these companies are possibly over-represented in the market and have sullied customers’ perception of agencies as a whole, blinding them to the excellent services provided by smaller companies who invest in their tuition team and build rapport with their customers”.

 

How, then, can we work to make these platforms a force for good? Is there a first step they could take to streamline the service for all users (tutors, students, parents)?

 

Again, John believes a range of options for the parent or client is the best solution and he acknowledges the rise in alternative models.

“I remember that in 2013 I wrote a report titled ‘Career Tutors’ and predicted that the industry would move towards more professional tutors, doing more hours, with dedicated training and perhaps even selection”, John added. “I think I was right and wrong in places but, generally speaking, that kind of approach has become more popular”.

John, like Georgina and Johnny, is keen to see tutors being supported as much as possible.

“Draft contracts, business models (with their advantages and disadvantages), support with CPD and training and ongoing guidance for both corporate and individual tutors are all examples of support TTA is well placed to offer”.

Georgina ends by explaining that “when you take the time to support a tutor team, match and allocate new clients fairly, and ensure new ‘recruits’ are trained and DBS checked, it ends up being a lot of work for not a lot of financial reward.

“I can understand why people are moved towards a more passive model. But that doesn’t have to mean tutors are sidelined“.

Georgina continues: “Larger organisations should make it really clear to both tutors and clients exactly what they offer both, and what makes them different. That leaves the choice with the customer, as in most industries. 

Qualified Tutor and TTA are already making a fantastic contribution towards that”.

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We asked at the start of this piece: ‘What do tuition companies actually do?’. Perhaps there’s no definitive answer to this question. Perhaps we’re searching for an answer that is unfair on the companies themselves. Perhaps we should rather be asking: ‘How can tuition companies improve outcomes for students?’

It is clear that many agencies and organisations serve their clients very well by offering minimal fees, providing constant support and working to find the perfect tutor-student match. 

The solution is never to close in, compete and forget who the tutoring industry is ultimately serving: students.

The solution is to work together to make tutoring as accessible as possible, while maintaining high professional standards, transparency and accountability.

Collaboration, not competition.

Ludo Millar
Ludo has been writing for years but, in penning his thoughts around tutoring and learning, he's found a break from note-taking and essay-writing ... thank goodness! Ludo believes it's about time tutors' voices are heard and an open blog with numerous contributors is the best way to make this possible. To write a blog for Qualified Tutor, email me at ludo@qualifiedtutor.org.