I met Nathaniel McCullagh, founder of Simply Learning Tuition, to chat about tutoring, education and how Google can help and harm your visibility.
Tell me a bit about Simply Learning Tuition, your website shows you do a variety of things.
As well as introducing private tutors we offer expert consultancy and advice. Everyone in the office has worked in education. We have over two thousand tutors registered with us, who are all vetted, interviewed and assessed, so when someone comes to us for advice we can honestly say we know this tutor is right for them.
We benchmark them against our own experience of tuition and mentoring which I think marks us out from around 90% of tuition companies.
So you go all the way up to university level?
Yes, the university work we do is primarily with people trying to get into Oxbridge and the Russell Group universities. What we do there is help them with the way they present themselves; things like personal statements and guidance on the right university for them.
Our nuts and bolts work is helping British families with their children’s education which can vary from a couple of hours per week helping them with their confidence, to dealing with a teacher they’re not getting on with, or assisting in entrance test preparation (11+, 13+, common entrance).
On a more specialist scale, we help overseas clients with tutoring, and helping adjust to our education system. We also home educate if a child is unable to attend school for whatever reason, be it a learning difficulty or an illness. We can introduce tutors under a comprehensive curriculum, with the aim of getting them back to school as quickly as possible.
We’ve had requests to work with children as young as two years old! We'll work with four year olds simply because there are schools that interview at that age.
It’s extreme, but it’s not the schools fault; the schools have to select the best students they can. In some cases these are wealthy foreign families, successful in their own right but not in full command of the language, with a foreign nanny, and so the children might not have a solid introduction to the language and the customs.
So we try to just give a bit of polish and help build confidence, whilst avoiding telling them what to say.
It’s about unlocking their own potential. And we work with a full range of abilities, ages, subjects.
What’s the main thing people come to you with?
It’s a complete mixture. It’s about seventy percent tuition, thirty percent consultancy. Tuition is split 50/50 between admissions testing (entrance exams for all ages) and just helping them along.
I think what we’re particularly good at is helping children who struggle with learning. Things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild Asperger’s, we can help with all of that just by introducing a very focused environment with specialist tutors to help them get through it easier.
We’re not a magic bullet, we can’t fix everything, but it’s just a way of enabling people to access the curriculum in a way they can’t at school, and then hopefully assist in getting them back into either a specialist school or mainstream education so they can flourish.
I imagine it must link in with psychotherapy quite often.
Absolutely. Parents are sometimes a little resistant to that notion, assuming that a tutor is the only answer where in fact a more holistic approach that combines extra help is required.
The process must be quite therapeutic anyway, that personal approach.
Absolutely, it’s so important for a child to know there are people there to listen to them; who if they’re having a bad day run no risk of being shouted at; it’s confidence building to have a mentor. And it’s eye opening to be in the company of these children. There are children with Asberger's who can walk through a park with you and not be able to express what they see, and then pick up a leaf and describe it in the most extraordinary detail they’ve harvested from a book. So it’s a case of approaching them and their needs in a different way.
Do you have connections with schools directly?
Yes, we’ve developed relationships where our tutors can assist in classroom support and be on site, but we don’t have formal, contractual agreements with schools themselves.
In terms of international clients, how do you reach those people overseas? Is it word of mouth?
Yes word of mouth is important, but it’s a variety. Google is certainly important. Because of the esteem of the British education system people often google English tutors.
We rank fairly high on Google and once they take a look at the website, the testimonials, people can see we have something to offer. Probably the biggest help in getting international clients is your Mayfair address, you know, because it’s a part of that esteem for British culture that comes with the place.
Having a high Search Engine Optimisation must be useful for smaller enterprises to be found organically.
Exactly. But we changed our website not too long ago and, despite our best efforts, neglected to retain the accumulated SEO rating that Google had given us over the previous years. That effects your ranking and your visibility hugely and has been difficult to recover from, though we're on the right track.
Is there anything you’d change on the English education system?
I would change many things. I think the British education system is underpinned by class, which holds people back.
If you go to a good independent School with a good tutor you have a definite advantage. I would love to help children whose parents can’t afford to pay for school fees. It just feels weird that you’ve got an educated elite who are fuelling this. I don’t think we’re part of the problem, we’re just a tool. Whatever we’re doing, we’re helping children – they may often be from affluent backgrounds, but we’re helping them anyway. But we should be able to help more.
Whether that will happen I don’t know, but a good start would be enabling good teachers to teach, and not have them keep filling in forms.
There are positives to some of the governments measures – increasing standards and training – but that’s as far as it goes. There’s not enough money for teachers in schools, and not enough going into the schools themselves. Teachers are having to spend so much time on children who’ve been brought up in a test saturated environment, where children aren’t actually learning beyond the marking requirements. That’s not going to propel innovation in society.
The results of top schools often don’t include the added value that can be gained from the right educational environment. A key reason for successful tuition is friendly, encouraging, gifted individuals who can build confidence in children who know much more than they think they do. That can have a huge impact on overall development.
Tell me about your ethical projects, you work with some charities?
Well the Zimbabwe Rural School Development Program (ZRSDP) which are based in London build schools in Zimbabwe. We contributed some funds to them, but mainly we’re going to be sending out one of our tutors in Summer.
We also support the work of CRIS Cancer and are planning to work with the Household Cavalry Foundation. We just try to be available for people if they need us in these situations.
Do you have any big plans for the future?
Yeah loads. We’d like to start a school.
We’d like to hire the tutors full time, train them and formalise our operations and our staff in one place, for children with a wide variety of abilities and/or learning difficulties, providing good teachers, good support, good food. Ideally we'd even have a team of psychologists on site to help them reintegrate with other schools if they come to us struggling.
In addition we’d love to work more internationally, because the British tutor is a massive export.
There aren’t enough tutors out there. Most of our tutors who work full time get 50-60k per year and it’s a fun job, with more flexibility than traditional teaching.
We want to stay small in our focus and service, whilst expanding the brand into different areas of life.
Learn more about Simply Learning Tuition on their website. Plus, they are offering Hatton & Berkeley Clients a free consultation to discuss how they can help you best.