As a former tutor, I am aware there are some maverick agencies out there. On one occasion, I was herded up a narrow staircase into a small attic room at a flashy-sounding address in Fitzrovia, given a cursory once over by the spotty youth behind the desk (who I assumed was on work experience but who later transpired to be Head of Tutoring), asked what I would like to teach – ideally oenology or bungee trapeze, though I sadly have few qualifications in either – and welcomedinstantly onto the team with a hearty handshake. No references. No interview. Nothing but a basic DBS check to ensure I wasn’t a murderer.
It was an inauspicious start, and the red flags only became brighter over following weeks. Clients were misled over fees and tutors’ qualifications; payments were late; emails went unanswered. Predictably, it wasn’t long before we parted ways.
Fortunately, however, not all tutoring agencies are like this. Many care deeply about their students, rigorously vet all applicants and provide extensive support services. One such agency is Manning’s Tutors.
‘I often refer to us as a family,’ says Johnny Manning, 31, who founded the Poplar-based company in 2008. ‘We only pick the very best people, who are not only intelligent, but also young, lively and engaging. We are uncompromising when it comes to the quality of our tutors, and know the whole team personally.’
In order to live up to this rhetoric, Johnny employs a brutal three-stage selection process that weeds out all but the most talented and committed.
First, candidates are required to fill in an application form, part of which must be recorded as a video. Those who survive this round go on to have a Skype interview.
Finalists are then invited to a group assessment, in which they must present on a topic of Johnny’s choice in front of other interviewees. 'Only about one in seven or eight actually make it through to the end,’ Johnny tells Portico Places. ‘The idea is to see if people have real enthusiasm for their subjects, and the ability to teach and communicate them effectively, rather than just ticking boxes on getting a degree.’
Johnny urges caution to parents when selecting a tuition agency, and is particularly critical of online 'platforms' that enable tutors to upload their own profile and write their own reviews. ‘The companies themselves will not have performed any sort of selection, and will be unaware of the quality (or otherwise) of their tutors,’ he says. ‘We advise keeping an eye peeled for sites where the tutors’ photos are in different styles: a clear indication they've been uploaded individually rather than taken by a reputable agency that really knows its team.
On the phone, Johnny comes across as articulate, easy-going and passionate. And also busy. As well as running the agency, he also manages to train as a triathlete and play the keyboard in multiple bands. Squeezing in a swift 20-minute interview between meetings as he walks back to his office, he apologises for the rush. ‘Just don’t ask the size of my post-Christmas waistline,’ he jokes when I say I’d like a few more personal details about him. ‘I don’t want to scare clients off.’
Having only recently polished off an out-of-date 12-pack of Sainsbury’s All Butter Mince Pies, I am sympathetic to his plight. Instead we discuss how he got into tutoring in the first place. A talented mathematician at his comprehensive school in West Sussex, he took both his maths GCSE and A-level a year early, and had his first tutee aged just 15. ‘It was an 11-year-old girl, a friend of my sister,’ he recalls. ‘I found I enjoyed it, and started teaching my neighbours too. I continued tutoring at university, and it turned out to be very useful for paying the beer money.’
It was while studying as a maths undergraduate that Johnny had the idea for the agency. He realised that ‘the norm for tutors at the time tended to be retired teachers or professors, slightly beaten down by life and unable to connect with the youngsters they were teaching’.
His aim was to create something fresh and new, which broke down barriers between students and tutors, and helped young people to engage. ‘If you have a tutor who is just two or three years older, it undermines the dichotomy that if you work hard, you can’t be cool. One guy on our books teaches astrophysics, and longboards to his classes!’. The concept seems to be working.
Founded immediately after Johnny 's finals at Imperial College London, the company has gone from strength to strength. His two original tutors have expanded to more than 100, and their results are impressive. Since they started working with the students of Paddington Academy, Johnny says, the number of pupils achieving 5A*-C GCSE grades, including maths and English, has increased from 24 per cent to 83 per cent.
Amy Garne, a vice principal at the academy, speaks highly of the agency. ‘Manning’s Tutors has had an incredible impact on the progress that our students are making,’ she says. ‘The tutors are bright and engaging, and show an ability to adapt their teaching methods to the individual students they are working with.
Part of Manning’s success can be attributed to its commitment to less well-off families. Unlike many agencies, it does not only target the haut monde, but provides services to disadvantaged pupils in several London schools through the use of ‘pupil premium’ state subsidies. Its tutors even generously agreed to teach children from Grenfell Tower on a pro bono basis after Kensington Aldridge Academy was destroyed in the blaze on 14 June.
‘We believe in educating as many people as possible, and our tutors wanted to provide their services for free despite many of them being poor students themselves,’ Johnny says. He only speaks reluctantly on the issue when pushed, however. ‘The experience was extremely rewarding and moving. It isn’t something we want to use for promotional purposes.’
Johnny now lives in Leyton with his wife, Aimee Madill – who recently opened a local bookstore, Phlox Books, complete with fully licensed bar – and one-year-old daughter. It’s a full and hectic life, he says, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘We’re both doing what we love, and that’s really all that counts.’
Enjoy 50% off your first lesson with your Portico Places card. Manning’s Tutors provides one-to-one or small group tutoring throughout London, from KS2 level to university STEP exams. Prices range from £30p/h to £41p/h.