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Tutoring agencies vs tutoring platforms: which one is better?


Modern technology has transformed the private tutoring industry in more ways than one; from finding a private tutor, to online lessons, instant chat and automated payments. Nevertheless, traditional private tutoring agencies remain the preferred choice for many parents. So which one is best for your child and are agencies becoming a thing of the past?


In the UK alone, the private tuition sector is worth an estimated £6.5 billion, with 2.8 million pupils being tutored at any one time. A whopping 42% of school children in London have had a private tutor at some point during their academic lives and this number is growing. Needless to say, there are many benefits of private tutoring, and it is more popular now than it ever has been!


But when it comes to looking for a private tutor for your child, there are hundreds upon hundreds of companies of all different shapes and sizes. You may walk past your local tutoring agency, notice a tutoring space in your local shopping centre, or even see adverts on social media. With so many different options, it’s confusing to know where to start and to know which route is best – especially if it’s your first time.


In this blog, we will be taking a look at the two most popular ways to find a tutor: through a traditional local tutoring agency and through using an online tutoring website. We’ll explore the pros and cons of each approach and try to debunk some of the common misconceptions along the way. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you should have a good idea of where to start.

Little boy studying with a colourful notebook
The number of students choosing to find a tutor online has increased by 30% between 2005 and 2015.


First, what is a traditional tutoring agency?


If you’re over the age of 40, you’re unlikely to have ever had a private tutor. Traditional agencies have only been around for the past 20-30 years and so it’s a relatively modern phenomenon! But what are they, exactly?


Well, a tutoring agency is a business which provides local education services for young students, typically between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. Many tutoring agencies have a physical building in your local neighbourhood where you can visit and speak to the members of staff there. They tend to have teaching rooms for students who need a space to learn, or even to use as an alternative to school. Whilst residential tuition and homeschooling are the main drivers of business for tutoring agencies, they also have a database of tutors who help with general academic school support and help students pass exams like the 11+, GCSEs and A Levels (sometimes outside of their offices). 


Some examples of traditional private tutoring agencies are Lionheart Education, Simply Learning Tuition and Keystone Tutors.

Empty school classroom with empty chairs and desks


What is an online tutoring platform?


Online tutoring websites started emerging after the ‘.com boom’ at the turn of the millennium and they’ve grown rapidly in both number and size over recent years, as a result of better internet connectivity and more efficient internet services.

Online tutoring platforms tend to be:

  • Websites where you can search for tutors based on your desired subject and location
  • Online directories showing tutor profiles which show tutor photos, qualifications, experience and reviews
  • Variable in price: tutors set their own hourly rates
  • Platforms in which you have to sign up in order to use (though this is typically free)
  • A place to communicate directly with tutors
  • A website where you can book and pay for lessons


Every online platform is different – each with their unique pool of tutors, pricing, user experience, policies and the services they offer. But this is a whole blog post on it’s own! So for now, we’ll be considering what online platforms provide in general, and how this differs from the traditional tutoring agency.

Some examples of online tutoring platforms are Superprof, MyTutor and Tutorean.

Laptop on a desk


Main differences


There are three key differences between online tutoring platforms and traditional tutoring agencies. The first is in the way you find and match with a private tutor, the second is cost, and the third is location.

First…


With a traditional tutoring agency, you simply don’t know which tutor you’re going to get. Once you’ve communicated your tutoring needs, the agency will filter according to your needs before finding the first tutor who is available from their database. There is little effort gone into finding a tutor who is most experienced in the subject, level and exam board you need help with. Further, there is very little consideration as to whether the selected tutor will be a good fit for your child in terms of personality, teaching style, age, gender or otherwise.


In contrast, with online platforms you have the autonomy to browse tutors yourself. Whilst you must put more effort into the searching process, through manually searching to find the right fit, to a larger extent you know who you’re going to be getting, with profiles clearly showing the tutor’s photo, qualifications, experience and reviews. Some online tutoring platforms offer a job board where you can make a tutoring enquiry before tutors apply to you directly. In a sense this is the modern-day automatisation of the traditional tutoring agency… the difference being that you have the opportunity to communicate with tutors before having your first tutoring lesson.


Second…

Traditional tutoring agencies tend to be more expensive. They will have fixed costs for specific subjects and levels (for example, A Level maths could cost £80 per hour whereas university admissions may cost £120 per hour, regardless of which tutor you end up hiring). In terms of payment methods, you can expect to receive a monthly invoice including all of the tutoring hours you’ve racked up that month and pay by bank transfer.


On the other hand, with a larger and more diverse range of tutors, and because of tutors setting their own rates, online tutoring platforms tend to be far cheaper. On Tutorean, for example, the average hourly rate is £26 (the national average), with prices starting anywhere from £10 per hour. The payment process is also a lot easier, with pay-as-you-go online payments and electronic receipts.

Man filling out invoice paperwork


Now, many parents believe that because tutoring agencies are more expensive, the quality of the tutoring (and service) they provide is far better.


However, this is one of the most commonly occurring myths in the industry.


Whilst it’s true that some agencies have a more comprehensive interview process, many tutors work for multiple platforms and agencies at the same time. We’ve found time and time again that one tutor on an online platform will charge £30-£40 per hour, and at the same time they’ll cost £100 per hour through an agency. And of course, that would make sense if the agency is providing £70 per hour of value for you and your child. But when it comes down to it? The value you’re really getting the tutor, and thereby the quality of the tutoring sessions – which is the same in both cases.


Third…


Traditional tutoring agencies tend to be physical locations within your neighbourhood and some have rooms available for your child to have their tutoring lessons in. That’s something online tutoring platforms simply don’t provide – with lessons taking place wherever you and your tutor agree. This can be useful if you don’t wish to use your own house, the tutor’s or a public space for tutoring lessons, or if you simply need time away from your child every week.


As a positive side effect, tutoring on the company’s premises means that having a DBS check is a requirement for the tutors working there. Of course, safety is a really important concern for parents and unfortunately there are still some online tutoring companies which do not have a DBS as a requirement. Therefore, if using an online tutoring platform, it is worth doing a little research to ensure that the company interviews its tutors and requires DBS certification.

Private tutoring agency holding a tutoring interview


Top 10 advantages of using an Online Tutoring Platform:


1. Better value for money

  • Prices range from £10 per hour
  • You can hire the same tutor for 2-3 times the hourly rate from an agency
  • You simply pay the tutor’s displayed rate (the platform takes commission from the tutor)
  • There are seldom additional costs for consultations or finder’s fees (standard for agencies)
  • The lessons are booked in advance. So if the lessons run over, you very rarely pay for the extra tutoring!


2. Power of choice

  • You have control over comparing and choosing the specific tutor your child will be learning with
  • You can search and filter according to your specific needs (e.g. budget, location, availability, gender, …)


3. Greater variety

  • Again linked to choice – you’ll simply have more of it
  • You’re more likely to find a tutor for your specific needs
  • You’re more likely to find a tutor who’s available, local to you and can contact you right away
  • You can use one platform to find tutors for lots of different subjects (or children!)


4. Better match

  • A greater variety of private tutors comes with it a better chance of finding the ideal match between your tutor and your child


5. Even better match

Some platforms have great algorithms which show you recommended or “best-fit” tutors. For example, Tutorean offers a SmartMatch, which is a very simple and fun test to discover your child’s personality and learning style. Within minutes you get to see your results and from there get recommend tutors whose personalities and learning styles are the best possible fit. 95% of parents who’ve used the SmartMatch have rated their tutor 5*, saying that they get on really well with their children – making massive improvements in both confidence at school and in their grades.


6. Social proofing

  • Reviews will tell you a lot about whether the tutor is right for you or not
  • You can be reassured that parents like you have had a good experience with that tutor
  • You can be confident in the knowledge that your tutor has been successful with other students who have taken the same exam


7. Direct communication with tutor

Modern online tutoring platforms provide a live chat where you can message your tutor directly. This is a more flexible, direct and efficient way to communicate compared to agencies.


8. Satisfaction guarantees

Online tutoring platforms like Tutorean and Tutorful offer a Satisfaction Guarantee. This means that if you find a tutor who isn’t quite right for your child, then your first lesson with a new tutor is offered completely free of charge. Some other online platforms offer a free introductory lesson or a 100% money back guarantee.


9. Automated payments and cancellations

  • Payments are typically online, which means you enter your card details once and simply click to confirm them
  • You can save your payment details so that paying for future lessons can be done in a single click
  • Payments are made in advance, which means that if your tutor goes overtime, you rarely have to pick up the extra bill
  • Automated cancellation policies mean that you’re never charged for missed lessons


10. Scheduling

Some online tutoring platforms allow you to sync your tutoring schedule with your typical calendar – like Outlook or Gmail. This means you’ll be able to keep track and never forget when your next lesson is coming up. In addition, online tutoring platforms like Tutorean have easy-to-read schedules built into the website, so all of your past and upcoming sessions are visible in one place.

Little girl writing on a school desk


Top 5 disadvantages of using an online tutoring platform


1. Lack of vetting


For some online tutoring platforms, it’s not a prerequisite for tutors to have an interview in order to be approved. Meeting tutors through an interview is the best way to ensure that the tutor meets the company’s standards and is qualified enough to provide a good service. The lack of vetting, therefore, can sometimes lead to a lack of teaching quality.


Nevertheless, Tutorean prides itself on quality. We believe that meeting and interviewing every tutor is a fundamental step in ensuring that students are getting the best possible experience and opportunity to succeed. After the interview, we’re also super-selective, only accepting 1 in 3.


Do read up on every tutoring company’s interview procedure – as this is important not just for quality, but for security, too.


2. Lacking features


Some online tutoring platforms lack functionality. You may well struggle to find a tutor for a particular exam board, or find a tutor who is available when you need them. That’ll mean you sending messages back and forth with lots of tutors to ensure there’s one available at the times you need them. This can sometimes take a lot of time and effort on your part!


3. Signing up


Let’s face it, we’re all fed up of signing up to new websites. Some of us just don’t have time to fill out those forms, and others wonder where that information is going! Whilst it’s slightly infuriating, fortunately, many platforms use the latest technology to make this step a lot easier. For example, with Tutorean you can sign up in one click with Facebook, Google or LinkedIn. Furthermore, to ensure that you’re not bombarded with marketing emails, you can also choose which emails you’d like to (or not) receive.


4. Inability to share contact details


Online tutoring platforms have to make money somehow, and the vast majority do so by charging their tutors commission for lessons that are booked on their platform. But what’s stopping you from simply asking a tutor for their phone number, calling them directly and paying them in cash?


Well, that’s usually why tutoring websites prevent you from sharing contact details! This can be frustrating if you’d like to simply call up a tutor in the first instance and make sure they’re the right fit and immediately available. Fortunately, tutoring websites are now trying to make this easier. For example, Tutorean allow you to share contact details after you’ve booked in your first lesson and we try to increase tutor response times by sending them email/SMS notifications in addition to using it as a factor to rank them higher in the search results.


In addition, it’s also really not just about money. Blocking contact details in the first instance is an important safety measure. Tutoring websites need to ensure both tutors and users are communicating professionally, and they do not want just anybody signing up and calling tutors on their personal mobile. Booking a lesson before sharing details enables online tutoring companies to verify a user’s identity, and provide assurances later on should there be any problems.


5. Confusing?


As the private tutoring industry has grown in the past years, so have the number of websites. There are now many different online tutoring websites and they all work a little differently. Therefore it can be rather confusing to know where to start and which ones to trust. We’ll be exploring the differences between online tutoring platforms in future, so stay tuned if you’re having trouble choosing!

Private tutor preparing for a lesson


Top 5 advantages of using an traditional tutoring agency


1. There’s a physical place to take care of your child


We get it. Sometimes you need some time to run errands, sometimes you can’t be in the house and other times…you just need a break! Therefore, tutoring agencies can be a great place for you to drop off your child, do what you need to do, and pick them up again once their lesson has finished.


2. Having a DBS check is a requirement


Since tutors need to be available to teach on-site, it’s a requirement for them to have a DBS certificate which is up to date. This provides extra reassurance that the tutor you’ll get has the relevant checks and is fit to teach your child. Bear in mind that some online tutoring platforms do also have this as a requirement – you just need to double check their safeguarding policy.


3. There are usually more services


Most online tutoring platforms are usually limited to only providing 1-on-1 tutoring. However, traditional tutoring agencies tend to offer additional services like homeschooling, residential tuition and revision courses which take place during half term breaks.


4. Some people prefer it the old way!


Whilst the millennials won’t agree, some people just don’t get on with computers or phones. Sure, instant chat is cool… automated payments, maybe? Notifications – please no! Some of us just want to go back to basics. Invoice, through the post, thank you very much.


5. They provide consultancy


Although very expensive, many agencies like OxbridgeApplication offer specialist consultancy and “Premier Services”, which are programmes designed to help children achieve a specific goal like getting a place at Oxbridge. Parents can expect to pay in the region of £15,000 per year for such a service and in return receive individualised support throughout the year.

Little girl studying at a school desk


Top 5 disadvantages of sending your child to a traditional tutoring agency


1. It’s more expensive


You can expect to pay 2-3x more for each hour of tutoring, sometimes even for the same tutor.


2. There are additional Fees


You can expect to pay fees for initial consultations with the company’s staff, a finder’s fee once you’ve been allocated a private tutor, and tutoring costs made to the minute.


3. It’s local only


Tutoring agencies are a local phenomenon, and if the nearest centre is two towns away from you, then this can add a potential inconvenience for you to navigate. Comparatively, online tutoring platforms are location-based, meaning that there’s likely to be a selection of tutors on your doorstep.


4. There’s a lack of choice


Compared to online tutoring platforms, agencies are limited in the number of tutors they work with. Ultimately this means that you’re likely to be matched with the next tutor who is available and there’s less chance the tutor will be the best possible fit for your child.


5. The power is out of your hands


Whilst online tutoring platforms provide the opportunity for you to choose your own tutor and agree with them your schedule and costs, typically this is all managed by the agency themselves. That means you’ll be paying fixed rates and the tutor you end up having was never decided by you in the first place.

Private tutors and students sitting around a desk


In conclusion, there are both advantages and disadvantages of choosing to use an online tutoring platform or a traditional tutoring agency. Whilst agencies are more expensive, they take away some of that initial searching effort and you can use their centre for lessons. On the other hand, online tutoring platforms allow you to choose your own tutor based on all of your preferences and you can communicate directly with that tutor. 


Ultimately, the most important thing for your child is the private tutor who ends up tutoring them. It’s the teachers in our lives who made all the difference – they’re the ones who inspired us to work hard, to love learning and notice the bigness of our own potential. The tutors are the ones who will help your child navigate where it is they’re struggling, to reassure that they’re on the right track and to support them with whatever they need. 


When it comes down to it, the difference made in your child’s education will be down to the specific tutor. So, when you’re making your decision, prioritise that, and find a tutoring company who has the calibre and dedication of their tutors at its focus.


We hope you found this blog useful and if you have any questions or would like a chat, call our team at any time!

-The Tutorean Team🙂

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