This year, we were reviewed by The Good Schools’ Guide - the UK’s number one school guide, helping parents in every aspect of choosing the best education for their children. Trusted by parents for 35 years, their guides include impartial and candid school and educational institute reviews as well as in-depth articles on education-related issues. Only a selection of tutor agencies are reviewed, and they follow a thorough process, including surveys and interviews. We are delighted to be featured, and to be received so positively by The Good Schools’ Guide. It truly is a wonderful achievement for everyone at Carfax Education.
Carfax Private Tutors Staff As principal of both Carfax Private Tutors and Carfax College, Oxford (from which the tutor company ‘borrows’ some of its tutors), Carl Morris (30s) oversees everything to do with both client relationships and the recruiting, matching and training of tutors. Marketing, promotion and business development also fall under his remit. His serious and unflappable temperament certainly fits the bill, as do his academic credentials – Carl graduated from Oxford with a master’s in chemistry, latterly becoming an ACA qualified chartered accountant. He has worked in education for most of his professional life and still tutors in science and maths, having supported pupils across all the major curricula as well as organisations that provide tuition to underprivileged children. Hailing originally from north west England, he’s grounded and plain spoken, with perhaps a little less of the alpha persona we sometimes see at the helm of tutor agencies. Based in the college in Oxford, Carl regularly visits (pandemic permitting) their international locations.
‘The whole approach is very efficient, with great teachers,’ said a parent. ‘They are very professional – if you ask a question, they answer you. You don’t have to chase them up a lot,’ said a tutor, though another felt that ‘at times – usually when it’s more hectic – it can be difficult to get information from management.’ What do Carfax Private Tutors offer? One-to-one tuition across all I/GCSE subjects, A levels, IB, exam entrance (7+, 11+, 13+, 14+, 16+, SSAT, ISEE, ISEB) and university entrance support (BMAT/UKCAT/Oxbridge entrance tests).
Available on an hourly basis across greater London in students’ homes (they can hire a venue if preferred), they also have a heavy presence in Oxfordshire where students tend to meet their tutors at Carfax College in Oxford. Internationally, they offer hourly tuition in their teaching centres in UAE and Moscow (these form the bulk of Carfax’s international work), as well as in Monaco and Hong Kong. Inevitably, Covid led to a steep rise in online tutoring, though Carfax clients tend to prefer face-to-face.
Residentials are popular, particularly in the Middle East and Russia and increasingly across Europe, North America and China. With younger students in KS2 and KS3, it tends to be about re-engaging them – the tutor, who would live with the family, might teach in the mornings then do fun stuff like museums in the afternoons. If exams are coming up the focus might be intensive revision. Either way, as with hourly tuition, a personalised learning programme is created according to the family’s precise needs. Usually, though not always, the residential tutor would already be known to them – a key feature about Carfax is that clients tend to be in for the long-haul. Governors and governesses are also available – these live-in tutors support children when they get back from school.
Home schooling is growing at such a breakneck speed that Carfax isn’t always able to meet demand. Both because of this, and the fact that home schooling can work out so expensive, Carfax is launching its own online home schooling programme from September 2021. The idea is that the structured curriculum can be entirely self-studied with support from a Carfax mentor. Students who need a higher level of support can be assigned a Carfax tutor or sign up to the content and find their own tutor(s) to teach it. ‘Most people come to us for home schooling because they want flexibility and this will offer even more of that.’
SEN is catered for, most commonly as part of home schooling – ‘it’s often the reason mainstream school hasn’t worked out for them or why they’ve fallen behind.’
Their youngest learner is currently five years-old and they’ll go even younger – we’re sceptical about the value of this and advise parents to check the research around tutoring children this young before signing up. Carfax has some adult learners too, usually career changers who need to get their English or maths GCSE or to resit an A level to get into medical school, for example.
‘We had amazing tutors – one of them was by far the best tutor my kids ever had,’ one client enthused. ‘He had such energy and was able to teach my daughter so she can reach her full potential.’ A parent of a home schooled child was equally quick to extol the company’s virtues – ‘My son was ill and we needed one-to-one tutoring at home so he could catch up. We had a whole programme of different tutors and every single was one fantastic. I couldn’t sing their praises more.’ Background and Basics Part of the Carfax Education group, set up in 1997 by Alexander Nikitich, who had studied at Edward Greene’s Tutorial Establishment (the original Oxford tutorial company? Caps?) then Oxford University, and found himself at the forefront of a wave of compatriots who wanted their children to follow in his footsteps. With two other Oxford graduates he developed a business bridging the educational gap between the Russian and British educational systems. Carfax – named for a crossroads in the centre of Oxford – originally developed an association with another tutorial college in Oxford, sending students there for extra help. ‘But we got frustrated that we couldn’t control their programmes as closely as we would like, so we ended up setting up our own establishment and the tutor business came out of that.’
Tutors are mainly under 30, with the exception of those from Carfax College who tend to be older. All have a degree relevant to the subjects they teach, and while most have at least a year or two’s experience of tutoring, one told us, ‘Carfax contacted me when I was straight out of university and I thought it would be a fantastic time to explore some really cool places, so I jumped at the chance.’ While some other agencies sell themselves on having high numbers of school teachers, Carfax takes the opposite approach – ‘We’ve found that teachers often try to replicate classroom teaching but our clients are coming to us for a different style of teaching – one that is highly personalised.’
All tutors are interviewed face-to-face (occasionally via Skype eg during the pandemic) followed by a trial lesson. Successful applicants seeking a full-time role get a further interview with Carl; the rest are added to the Carfax database. All full-time tutors get a week’s training programme which freelance tutors can dip in and out of according to need – topics include online tutoring, safeguarding, early years and applying to work in UAE. ‘Throughout the interview process they were really friendly and they gave me all the help and support I needed to work in UAE, which was very attractive as I knew nothing about that side of things,’ said one tutor. Ad hoc training sessions are available throughout the year on eg home schooling, though one tutor felt ‘there could be more training with things like entrance exams and special needs.’
If Carfax can’t match a student with a member of their full-time team, they send requests to their freelance database and re-interview tutors who apply for the role with the particular job in mind. ‘We’re looking to match the learning style – are they a visual learner? What kind of interaction would they benefit from most? We also look at interests and dig down into the detail – if a STEM tutor is required, for example, would we be better placing an engineer or astrophysicist? Then there’s the subject – would they be better with a pure chemist or behavioural scientist from Cambridge, for example?’ One tutor felt there could be more feedback when they don’t get taken on – ‘I’ve applied for a position twice and got no answer – I didn’t know if it was because someone else was chosen or the client didn’t go ahead. Sometimes a bit of feedback would be helpful.’ Another felt Carfax could be ‘more realistic with the expectations set with parents and also discriminating more with the clients taken on – some are obviously not going to benefit from tuition or have widely improbable goals while being inflexible and too demanding. Such clients waste valuable time and damage the reputation of the company and the morale of tutors.’
Clients told us Carfax is in constant contact and asks for feedback after their first session and periodically thereafter. As for the feedback the client gets from the tutor, a tutor told us, ‘We have to do half termly reports, but because my clients are always super interested, I usually have a 10-minute chat with them at the end of each lesson too.’
Carfax are founding members of The Tutors’ Association and sign up to their code of conduct, as well as continuing to lobby for tutoring to be recognised as a career and pushing for change in education more widely to be less exam focused. The company does its fair share of charity work too including working with UN Refugee’s Council (and previously with local charities such as Sandooq Al Watan in UAE to provide English language programmes to local students). Carl is also working on a programme to support underprivileged students who need to catch up post-pandemic. Money and small print Almost all hourly tutoring is £95 an hour, though it can rise to £120 in some circumstances eg if you live in UAE, or to £150 for tuition at undergraduate level. Their freelance tutors get between £40 and £65 per hour depending on experience and qualifications, the rest (five in the UK so far) are salaried for their full-time role. ‘They pay really well, which is very much appreciated,’ said a tutor, though another felt the online payment via the TutorCruncher system could be speedier. Historically, Carfax has not required tutors or clients to sign contracts, though this will change from September 2021.
Carfax Private Tutors say‘Our tutoring model takes children beyond basic exam preparation with the aim to inspire a natural curiosity for learning. Carfax tutors are mentors, working with the child to apply their interests and strengths to academic subjects beyond the syllabus for a fuller learning experience.’ Remarks Clients say: ‘Carfax is expensive, but the consistent quality and service warrant the price.’ ‘We had amazing tutors.’ ‘I have recommended Carfax to other parents because they do such a good job.’
Tutors say: ‘Carfax is well known in education and they have lived up to their excellent reputation.’ ‘I have a great relationship with Carfax – I just wish I had even more work with them.’
We say their real USP and strength is that they are part of the Carfax Education Group, a close community of educational experts who have an excellent track record in instilling a love of learning and getting results without resorting to cramming. As one parent put it, ‘With other tutor agencies, you might get the student saying, “My tutoring was boring but got me through the exam.” With Carfax, they’ll say, “I loved my tutoring – it changed my life.” Click here to see the official review on The Good School Guide website.