Minerva Tutors: The Good Schools Guide review
Minerva Tutors staff
“Ever paused to question the normal boasts of tutor agencies? It was precisely this that led Hugh Viney (himself a tutor, after graduating from UCL in Classics) to found Minerva in August 2014. ‘Many agencies, for example, pride themselves on having hundreds of tutors, but parents know that just means they’re essentially a job-board because you can’t match well if you don’t know your tutors well,’ he says. Then there’s the claim by some agencies that their tutors are of such high quality that they don’t need training. ‘But surely we all need continual professional development (CPD),’ exclaims Hugh. And so Minerva – with its ‘fewer tutors, more hours’ mantra was born. So far, they have employed five full-time career tutors (who, you guessed it, receive ongoing training) and by the end of 2017, the aim is for these so-called ‘pro-tutors’ (as in ‘professional’) to provide a whopping 80 per cent of Minerva’s tutoring (‘Not 100 per cent because we’ll always need freelancers for niche subjects and home schooling,’ explains Hugh). Having mustered ‘a small amount of investment,’ he’s since grown the company quickly, employing a further 25 freelance tutors, half of whom work for them exclusively, plus another 20 for niche specialist jobs (eg 13+ Eton Scholarship).
We met Hugh – a Stowe-educated, excitable, business-savvy twentysomething – in a Moorgate-based co-working space, where seemingly infinite fashionable meeting rooms and spaces are regularly booked for tutor training and socials, guest speakers, meetings with client and some tutoring sessions. Meanwhile, Minerva staff – a six-strong, equally youthful and dynamic bunch – are based in an equally cool, much smaller, office in Brixton, with the witty (but slightly cult-esque, perhaps?) name of The Temple of Minerva (‘It’s definitely meant to be a joke,’ assures Hugh). Parents and tutors praise their friendliness and professionalism (they mainly deal with Samantha and Hugh’s brother Scott) and many say they’re quick at responding: ‘We phoned for a tutor at the end of August, when nobody else could help, but they did.’ Tutors say Minerva is a ‘very organised and conscientious company that places both its clients and tutors at the forefront of the service’ and that ‘the company seems to be doing all the right things.’ Younger ones seem to like the PLU (people like us) aspect – ‘I love that everyone’s around the same age as me,’ declared one. Perhaps not the best company for age diversity, then.
What do Minerva Tutors offer?
What don’t they offer, more like? In order of popularity, it’s exam preparation (7+, 11+, 13+, GCSE and A level); 13+ scholarship; university level tutoring (usually business or management); international (PYP, MYP, IB, IGCSE, SATs); interview preparation (11+, 13+, Oxbridge); UCAS and Oxbridge application assistance, BMAT (medical school), computer coding, English as a foreign language (EFL); and specialist language courses (Arabic most popular). Most tutoring is by the hour (‘Our typical client is a mum in Stockwell wanting an hour of maths tuition for her kid every week’), which is available face-to-face in all London postcodes (plus a few home counties and they also offer tutoring at the Moorgate offices) and by Skype globally. Minerva regularly organises residentials (eg VIPs who want a tutor on their holiday in the Alps) as well as home schooling, often for kids who have been expelled or bullied. Specialist SEN tutors are available, although not via their pro-tutors, who only get basic SEN training. Then there’s the Minerva Me Club (residential and non-residential London holiday school for six to 16 year-olds – typically involving teaching the likes of public speaking in the mornings and visits to The Globe and art galleries in the afternoon), plus mentoring and finally, consulting. As you’ve probably gathered, they’ll turn their hand to pretty much anything – ‘we’ve even tutored in etiquette and manners.’ Unusually, Minerva has even managed to get some schools (admittedly, mainly via Hugh’s former teachers) to send some of their pupils Minerva’s way.
Minerva’s charitable arm (popular with tutors, although parents seem oblivious) is worth a mention. This joint initiative with the Baytree Centre in Brixton, providing tutoring for underprivileged children, is funded by £5 out of every hourly fee charged to clients. In 2017, the Minerva Learning Centre will also provide low-cost group tuition, with one in every four kids going free (means-tested).
Minerva Tutors background and basics
‘I was a musician who wasn’t earning enough from it, so I turned to tutoring on the side – which, ironically, is exactly the kind of tutor I don’t employ!’ laughs Hugh. His experience, he says, made him realise his passion for education, albeit with increasing frustration at all the things he perceived to be wrong with the tutoring industry. ‘No agency I worked for back then seemed to have a company team spirit, or even an office where you could meet other tutors to discuss things – it was just a bunch of isolated freelancers. No company seemed really dedicated to training and they all just seemed old-school. My vision was for a strongly branded, community-spirited company with an emphasis on CPD and education more holistically, with a slicker-looking website (no picture of public schools) and strong digital marketing.’
Tutors (average age 28) apply online and promising candidates (who must have a 2:1 or equivalent degree from a good university and a DBS check) are invited to a 1.5-hour interview in which they demonstrate how they motivate, inspire and boost the confidence of pupils; talk the interviewer through an example lesson plan (although one tutor told us this didn’t happen ‘because the client urgently needed a tutor’); and get an introduction to Minerva’s values, method and expectations. Two testimonials are requested, and if the applicant hasn’t tutored before, they need some experience of working with young people. ‘I’d worked in youth groups, but never tutored,’ one told us.
Tutees are mainly university age and younger (a sister company, Nightschooler, works with adult learners), with very few younger than five-years-old (45 mins maximum tutoring for this age, insists Hugh). Around half are state-educated (‘I like the diverse client base, it’s not just kids at elite schools,’ one tutor told us) and everyone agrees the matching process is excellent. ‘They know their tutors inside out and they take the time to get to know the character of the child. Brilliant,’ sums up one parent. ‘The very reason I enjoy working for Minerva is that we don’t get bombarded with job offers, but they still offer suitable work,’ says a tutor. Clients are contacted the day after the first lesson, thereafter by phone once every two months. And tutors are expected to upload easily-accessible reports after each lesson, measuring pupil motivation, confidence, academic improvement and ability. Disappointingly (given that it is clearly a great system), no parent we spoke to had actually looked at it, but to be fair it had running for less than three months when we visited.
Training is as tip-top, with monthly offerings from outside experts in topics such as mastering teenage motivation, skills for special needs, best practice for five to seven year-olds and child safeguarding. Plus monthly tutor breakfasts, in which tutors socialise, acquire new skills and talk to experts. ‘Minerva really invests in its tutors – I love this place!’ one tutor told us.
Minerva Tutors – Money and small print
A £75 registration fee for new clients. Most one-to-one tuition (including online) ranges from £55-£70, depending on the experience of the tutor – although it can reach £100 an hour for specialist (eg 13+ scholarship) tuition from freelance tutors. Tutors generally receive between £25-55, depending on experience, which Hugh says works out around half what the client pays (so for a £60 an hour fee, the tutor gets £30, while £20 goes to Minerva, £5 goes to VAT and £5 goes in the charitable arm) – although most tutors we spoke to had no idea of the cut the company takes. Travel only payable outside London. One-to-one mentoring is £60 an hour and summer courses are £700 per week (non-residential) and £1,000 per week (residential). All full-time tutors sign standard contracts of employment; all freelance tutors sign a contract between themselves and Minerva and when a new job is booked in between a new client and tutor, a e-contract is created between Minerva, the tutor and client. The usual 24-hour cancellation charge is payable unless there’s a good reason and there’s a soft policy of 24-48-hours to change your appointment.
Minerva Tutors Say
We want to combat the unprofessionalism in the industry, working with regulators like the Tutors Association, and offering parents greater value and transparency than was available before. ‘Where possible, we use tutors that tutor as their full-time job, not part-timers doing it for some extra cash. That’s because we believe passionately that tutoring should be treated as a real profession with tangible career progression to ensure quality.’
Parents are positive: ‘This is a really good quality firm – efficient, friendly and understanding. They have provided a great tutor for our daughter, who stretches and encourages her whilst keeping sessions fun.’ ‘The tutor they provided was in tune very quickly with my child’s needs.’ ‘Overall the service is good and I like the holistic approach.’ Even when things go wrong, parents says tutors solve problems quickly – although some did say the lower number of tutors can lead to ‘lack of flexibility around timings.’ I feel they are much more than an agency,’ is the general consensus from tutors, although a couple said there was room for greater organisation on the larger projects like summer schools. ‘Minerva has a fantastic ethos, not only working within the local community, but also having a broad definition of what constitutes success for a child, beyond just tutoring children exclusively for exams or school entrance tests,’ says another. ‘As a tutor, you have an opportunity to help the child grow as a person and enjoy themselves, so they get the most out of education as a whole,’ explains another. One tutor even said his work for Minerva had inspired him to do a PGCE.
This is the Innocent Drinks (as in smoothies) of the tutor world – run by bright young things that have come in and shaken up all the industry norms, resulting in a friendly, energetic, highly branded, internet-savvy company with a clear edge.”
by Charlotte Phillips