The rise of the super tutor

Competition for school and university places is causing a rise in 'super tutors', young men and women who charge anxious pushy parents a fortune for their skills.

What do you do when you have a first from Oxbridge, a thirst for travel, can speak 12 languages or solve complex algebraic sums in your sleep, and MI6 isn't hiring? Answer: become a "super tutor". In the past five years, London has incubated a new breed of high-powered twenty- somethings, tailored to show your child the way to five As at A-level, a place at their esteemed alma mater, or just a rich cultural hinterland.

Yes, these so-called super tutors have academic specialisms, but the best of them enjoy extraordinary lives beyond their pupils' study rooms. Their personal cachet lends them celebrity status among certain parental demographics, making them the subject of frequent bidding wars between the Joneses and whoever's trying to keep up with them. The basic rate may be £45 an hour but a super tutor can charge up to £300.

Old Harrovian and Oxford graduate Will Orr-Ewing was just 21 when he set up Keystone Tutors five years ago. The capital's tutoring scene, he says, consisted then of "two or three companies, who'd been around for a while but weren't particularly dynamic. They had one-page websites that said: 'We've got lots of good tutors.' We were the first people to publish the names and biographies of our tutors on our website; we proudly announced the people we employed."

Keystone's tutors include a polar explorer; an amateur boxing champion; and Jonny Sweet, Cambridge Footlights alumnus and winner of the 2009 Edinburgh Comedy Award for best newcomer. Orr-Ewing doesn't employ actors as a rule, "because they're always trying as far as they can not to tutor... We want people who are passionately vocational about something like music or science or adventure."

Some of Orr-Ewing's stiffest competition comes from Bright Young Things, founded by 27-year-old Old Marlburian and Oxford graduate Malachy Guinness, one of Tatler's 2011 list of the "most eligible" young men in Britain. Among his team of tutors are Max Kaufman (Oxford), a former University Challenge winner; Frog Stone (Cambridge), a television comedy writer responsible for some of Peep Show and Extras; Donald Bennet (Cam), a concert cellist; and Charlotte Jansen (Oxford), the founder and director of an agency for emerging artists and designers. Robert Pattinson's ex-girlfriend used to be on the BYT books. Ben Carson, another tutor, took advantage of flexible hours to set up his own African news and political analysis website. "When Ben was hired to tutor in the Seychelles," says Oli Eccles, BYT's 24-year-old director of education, "he used the opportunity to dig up local stories."

Naturally, Guinness won't disclose the precise identities of his clients, but suffice to say they include one of the country's top television chefs, and one of the world's most famous rock stars.

About 30 per cent of Keystone's clients, says Orr-Ewing, are "families who shift around the budget so as to give their children a short burst of tutoring to help them get a particular grade in their exams." Some of his firm's patrons, however, are "far less price-sensitive" – by which, presumably, he means filthy rich. For them, "it's not so much about passing an exam as it is about getting someone with stellar qualifications and personality to be great role models. The best English public schools – Eton, Harrow, Winchester – are the best in the world, but there is a certain tranche of families who can afford to customise their children's education even more than that."

Some clients (celebrities, fat cats, oligarchs) value the discretion of tutors and their agencies; others are so proud of their young employees that they show them off. "I went round to Sunday lunch with one family because I got on so well with their kids," Eccles recalls. "They'd also invited their art dealer friend, who was investigating Argentine art and wanted me to accompany him to Buenos Aires as a Spanish-speaking guide." A tolerance for luxury, long-distance travel, by the way, might as well be in the job description for a certified super tutor. Guinness says one of his tutors was flown to Paris for a day on a private jet to take a child around a museum.

"I've tutored in a castle in Tuscany," Eccles goes on. "I was once given 24-hours notice to board a private plane to Africa and begin an intensive tuition schedule there. Another tutor arrived in Dubai with a family that was so influential, the ruler of Malaysia was ejected from his suite to make room for them."

Acquiring a super tutor, and then holding on to him or her, can be tough. Every half-term or holiday brings a bidding war and, says Guinness, his clients don't always care to share. "I used to teach for a family that took me for eight hours per day during the school holidays. And when I asked 'are you sure you want me all day?' they just increased the hours so that I couldn't tutor anyone else."

The market for tutors is "completely recession-proof," claims Eccles. "However severe the recession, the increasing scrabble for places at good schools and universities has been even more severe." The world's economic woes have affected the tutoring business in less obvious ways. "A couple of years ago, it was hard to find a very qualified maths tutor because they tended to get snapped up by banks and financial firms. But there has been a kind of moral backlash against taking those kinds of jobs, so good maths and economics graduates are more numerous now."

One of Keystone's original team of tutors was Ed Cooke, an international "Grand Master of Memory", who recently delivered a TED (technology, entertainment, design) lecture explaining some of his specialised techniques for retaining large amounts of information. As a tutor, he could charge close to the fabled £300 an hour for his services. "I enjoy taking a kid who has failed to learn their times table for five years, and dealing with the problem in two hours," he says.

These days, however, he rarely does any one-to-one tutoring; instead, he's working on a project that, he says, could bring his learning techniques to an audience of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. Cooke's web start-up, Memrise, is launching an online game designed to speed-teach people new languages. "It's like Farmville for learning," he explains. "I believe you can almost do more with a perfectly designed computer program than you can in person... It's not ideal to only serve the children of millionaires. So the idea of Memrise is to democratise this kind of learning."

Tutors tend to be young – not only because it's a good job for a recent graduate, but also, Eccles explains, because "they're on a level below a stuffy schoolteacher. They can empathise with their pupils; they know what gets results at A-levels, but they also know what happened on The X Factor."

Most super tutors eventually go on to bigger and better things, Ed Cooke being a prime example. "We have lots of former tutors who'll soon be top lawyers or famous actors," says Eccles. "If you go back and look at our current list in a few years' time, I expect you'll recognise some of the names."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Nursery Practitioner - Sevenoaks

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Room Leader - Nursery

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Assessor / Trainer

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Manager - London - £200 p/d.

£190 - £200 per day: Ashdown Group: Payroll & Finance Manager - Covent Garden,...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas