Athena Tuition: An Interview with Wesley Sanders
We spoke to Athena Tuition's Education Director, Wesley Sanders about the success of his agency...
Established in 2013, Athena Tuition is already one of London's leading tutoring agencies. We caught up with Athena's Education Director, Wesley Sanders, who recenrly organised a round table discussion in London about the validity of tutor accreditation. Find out what conclusions were drawn from this event and what Wesley's predictions are for the future of private tutoring in the UK.
How did you first become involved in the tutoring industry? What initially gave you the idea of establishing Athena Tuition?
I originally became involved in the tutoring industry after moving to London and tutoring on evenings and weekends alongside a full time job. I found it great to be able to revisit and pass on my knowledge of subjects I had studied at university and been fascinated by (I studied Economics and Politics).
At the time, I felt that some tutoring agencies were putting the tutor experience to the back of the line. I (alongside my co-founder Nelson Lo) wanted to create a tutoring agency that treated tutors better. We wanted to guarantee them work and ensure that our fees were reasonable. We also wanted to organise tutor socials. I had gotten to know some excellent and highly qualified young professionals that I knew would be able to provide help to students across London - we just needed to learn how to market our services properly.
Many of your tutors have experience of the Grammar School System. Can you tell us more about how you recruit tutors for your agency?
We’ve always been focused on recruiting tutors from top UK universities, in particular Oxbridge. However, we also recruit from other universities like Imperial or LSE, looking for students who were excellent at their subjects (many of these tutors came from great grammar schools). We have also have tried our best to recruit tutors from the teaching profession who have classroom experience. We feel that this creates a good balance with the Graduate Tutors that we work with.
Athena Tuition services the Greater London area, where almost 50% of school children receive private tuition. How do you think the tuition industry in London differs from elsewhere in the UK?
It differs in a number of ways, firstly, the whole market is connected by public transport, which makes it very easy for tutors to travel to any area. Outside of London, students and tutors are just more widely spread and it means people need to have cars to make it work.
In regards to the education side, the London market is driven by a continuing population growth and a shortage of school spaces. This means that there's a healthy level of competition for top school places so parents seek out any extra support they can. Many state school parent see tutoring as a way to 'top up' their child’s education without going fully private.
Finally, the international element is very interesting: London is a magnet for the world’s super-rich and its reputation (along with the UK in general) for Educational excellence means many of these people want their children to study here - at all levels of education.
Reading through the testimonials page on your site, it’s clear that your tutors deliver results. What, in your opinion, makes a good private tutor?
Well, there’s a huge list, but to just pick a few: firstly, I'd say passion. A tutor who loves their subject and teaching it is a real asset for any tutoring or teaching organisation. At Athena Tuition, we thoroughly analyse applicant's CV's, speak to references and arrange individual interviews so we can identify those who are most passionate.
We also look for tutoring or teaching experience in the subject or level in question. This is something that we think is essential for subjects like the 11 Plus, 13 Plus or specific school entrance tests.
The best tutors are always those who are easy to deal with and trustworthy. We want tutors who are punctual and who communicate well with students and parents.
Your agency offers international services to help overseas students integrate into the UK education system. Can you tell us a bit more about his service?
Absolutely. One of Athena’s specialties is helping international families (from the Far East in particular) to become acquainted with the UK school system and help them to find places for their children at the right schools. We prepare them for their academic life. This can include all sorts of things, but we always start with a detailed consultation to work out what they want for their children and then we tailor a package to help them get there (tutoring, school consultancy, meetings with headmasters etc.)
Athena Tuition was established in 2013 and the agency has quickly grown to become one of the most recognised in London within a short space of time. Can you tell us a bit more about your marketing strategy?
Well, at the core, we use various forms of online advertising to be able to promote our services to people who need them and we also have lots of partnership agreements with other organisations, which helps us meet new clients.
Your agency was recently featured on Virgin’s start-up channel where you shared some insights about what you learned in your first year of business. If you had to choose one thing that in retrospect, you would have done differently, what would it be and why?
There are lots of little things, but if I had to choose one, I say that we didn't need to create a tutor self-search system as quickly as we did. We were actually better served at that point by growing our agency and providing a great one to one service to our clients. We still want to launch the self service system though!
You recently hosted an event in London in partnership with Insight Education called ‘Becoming a Great Tutor: Knowledge, Experience and Professionalism’. One of the key focuses of the event was to discuss the benefits of tutor accreditation and what it might look like. Can you share some of the conclusions that were drawn from this discussion?
Certainly. The feedback from tutors and agencies was great and very interesting. I think all of us are looking at ways to make the industry more professional, but the difficult thing is how to do that without removing some of the flexible and beneficial qualities of tutoring. Our event was more of a round table discussion, and some people were quite enamored with the idea of accreditation, while others disliked it. I think we’ve learned enough to make a better internal system of tutor accreditation, but we don’t see any way to roll it out more generally quite yet.
It’s clear that Athena Tuition is an advocate of collaboration in the industry. What are your thoughts on the level of collaboration within the private tuition sphere at the moment?
I think we definitely can do more in terms of collaboration and some firms are further down this road than others. In particular, Bright Young Things opened our eyes to the benefits of collaboration. Now we work with Insight Education as a major partner in the industry among others on a case by case basis.
Have you noticed any market trends that may give us an insight into what the future could hold for private tutoring in the UK? How do you see the industry developing over the next few years?
As for the whole market, we expect it market to grow year on year for the next few years at least. Over the last few years, tutoring has definitely become something more routine and acceptable and slowly I think schools will come round to viewing it as an effective means of educational intervention. We’ve also personally seen an increase in the demand for homeschooling as a viable choice for parents, which is a very interesting development.