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A historic first

On Monday evening, we held the inaugural Osborne Cawkwell Conference at the Hallam Conference Centre on Hallam Street W1. For those of you who could not attend, please find below the transcript of Lucy’s speech.

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome all of you to the first Osborne Cawkwell Conference. We are extremely grateful that you have given up a few hours of your time to join us for what we believe to be the first of its kind in the world of tutoring.

The idea of holding a conference was born from the desire to get as many of us as possible in the same room at the same time to celebrate why we tutor and the values and aims that we all share.

Tutoring can be an isolating profession: there is no staff room to share teaching tales with other tutors; there is no head of department to mentor you. So we have always felt that one of our main roles as an agency is to provide that support and guidance for you all.

As we started to build our new website last year, we coined the phrase ‘Tutor Community’ to describe what we strive to create: a feeling of togetherness and support between us in the office and you as tutors, and also between yourselves.

So, now we’re all together, what are we going to discuss? Well, I would first like to invite each member of the Osborne Cawkwell team to introduce themselves. Hopefully most of you will know who some of us are (not least because either myself or Shirley will have interviewed you) but as it might have been a while since you’ve seen us face to face, it’s worth making these introductions.

Starting with me, I’m Lucy Cawkwell and I started tutoring 22 years ago in my gap year. My first student was sitting his 13+ and I was dropped into a house near Brighton to help him brush up on his maths, French and English; luckily, he passed his Common Entrance.

I carried on tutoring during my degree and then once I graduated. After a few years, I started working in the office of the agency I was tutoring for – and then quickly realised that I could do things much better on my own. So I left and set up Osborne Cawkwell in September 2000.

My role has morphed over the past 14 years as the business has grown and evolved, but my focus has always remained speaking to clients and introducing tutors to them. Recently, I have taken charge of home schooled students and very much enjoy supporting families and children who find themselves out of the traditional school environment.

[Shirley, Holly, Rianne, Nicole and Maciej all introduced themselves]

Since establishing Osborne Cawkwell 14 years ago, I have seen huge changes in the tutoring business.

At the start, I felt I was one of a handful of agencies in an industry that was a little underground and the reserve of the extremely wealthy client. Now, type ‘Private Tutor London’ into Google and you will scroll through page upon page of agencies: it seems that a new agency pops up every week.

Parents have become more exacting in their requests. It’s now no longer enough that a tutor has taught GCSE English, the tutor needs to have taught the OCR GCSE English syllabus. It doesn’t matter if a tutor has prepared 20 students for the 7+ exam – if none of those students was accepted by Kings College Wimbledon, the experience counts for nothing. As an agency we have no problem dealing with such specific requests because, even if it pains us to lose a client, we have no qualms in sometimes admitting defeat and saying we don’t have anyone who fits the bill.

The rise of the Super Tutor has got the press in a tiz and there is nothing they like more than running a story about a tutor who is paid hundreds of pounds an hour to be flown in a private jet to a desert island to teach the son of an oligarch.  I am crying out for someone to write an article about the dedicated tutor who is paid a respectable wage to spend their days travelling to all corners of London to teach children from families who are spending that little bit of extra money they have on some additional support for their child… but this tale is not dramatic enough so I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon.

Having said that, it is a relief that people are finally recognising that tutoring is a viable profession and not necessarily something that a recent graduate does because they can’t think of anything else to do.  The tutoring industry in the UK is worth 6 billion pounds and there are hundreds of thousands of people working as private tutors up and down the country. Two years ago we created the concept of a Career Tutor and, subject to certain criteria, invited a handful of tutors who had committed to the profession long term to become OC Career Tutors. We now have around 40 Career Tutors on our books and we hope that more of you will decide that tutoring full time will give you a varied and engaging profession.

Almost a year ago, The Tutors’ Association was founded and its launch heralded a new era for all of us involved in the tutoring business. When the idea was first mooted in 2011, I was cautious. In the absence of national standards, we had always endeavoured to run Osborne Cawkwell according to clear, transparent and exacting guidelines that would stand the test of close scrutiny. So I wasn’t sure that it was necessary. However, as time passed, I came to the conclusion that an association could help raise awareness nationwide of the tutoring industry and what we stand for, so when I was asked to join as a Corporate Member, I was very happy to sign on the dotted line.

Our first guest speaker this evening is Tom Maher, Director of British Home Tutors and Chairman of The Tutors’ Association. I have not asked him here to promote British Home Tutors…but to talk about The Tutors’ Association and what it means for us as an agency and you as tutors.

[Tom Maher spoke]

As tutors we work with a student not only to improve their academic understanding and achievement, but also to bolster their confidence and self-esteem. As tutors, we straddle the divide between being a teacher and a mentor.

I started out tutoring maths, French and English but was quickly asked by students and parents if I could teach geography..or Latin…or perhaps some chemistry. It soon became apparent that once a relationship of trust and respect had been created between me and the student, they preferred that I taught them other subjects instead of getting in another tutor.

And it is with this individual attention that we see students make huge strides, emotionally as well as academically. If a pupil feels comfortable and confident, the sky’s the limit.

At this point, I would like to introduce our second guest speaker, Daniela Grasso, the Inclusion Manager at ARK Bentworth Primary Academy in Shepherd’s Bush. I was fortunate enough to became a governor of ARK Bentworth two years ago and I relish the time I spend at each governors’ meeting. Daniela has spent the last year conducting research on pupils’ attitudes towards maths and she is here this evening to present her findings to us.

[Daniela Grasso spoke]

As an agency, we go to great pains to ensure that the tutors we take on are not only great teachers with strong academic backgrounds, but also really nice people who care about what they are doing. Our final guest speaker is Jot Davies who, having joined us over 10 years ago, is now one of our Career Tutors and has taught over 200 students. Jot wrote an inspirational blog piece for us a few weeks ago and, as I doubt whether many of you will have read it, I have asked Jot to present his thoughts to us this evening.

[Jot Davies spoke]

So, for the year ahead, what are our plans? The arrival of Shirley’s baby is most definitely the highlight and it’s going to be hard for us not to have her in the office with us this year. I have promised not to bug her with emails in the middle of the night (even though I know she will be awake).

Coming a close second is the development of new software that will revolutionise the way we all work. We are building OCiS – Osborne Cawkwell’s Ideal Software – that will organise us from the initial conversation with a client to the invoicing and allocation of funds. We have been conscious for a while that the way you submit your timesheets and the way that we process them is time consuming and open to all kinds of errors. We hope that OCiS will automatically populate timesheets from the bookings that we (and you) make, so you will just have to verify the information. OCiS will then raise client invoices that Maciej will just have to authorise before they are sent out. Tutors and clients will be able to log into online accounts to check contact details, bookings and payments. It’s going to be amazing!

[But don’t worry, OCiS will not take us down the route where we advertise jobs through round robin emails, or ask that you log on to the system to register your interest for jobs. We will still contact you individually to ask you about students.]

We will continue strengthening the link between you and us. We will continue to interview tutors one-to-one and face-to-face and run induction sessions for everyone new to the agency. We will be holding Christmas and summer drinks as normal, as well as continuing the monthly Improve Your Teaching workshops.

We are going to start Tea and Cake chats where we invite those of you we have not seen for a while to come in to the office to update us on your situation and experience. [You have no idea how much we talk about you “Hmm, he hasn’t answered my emails or returned my call for two days now… I hope he’s ok… Has he gone on holiday? He was in Croatia last month, so it’s unlikely he’s gone away again… But his grandmother was ill a few months back, so perhaps she’s relapsed…”. So chatting to you more often will stop this speculation!]

We also need you to do a few things for us:

* we need you to update your OC C.V.: we need you to be specific about your experience and the subjects and levels that you’ve taught – and even down to the numbers of students. This will ensure a client has exactly the information they need to decide whether you are the right tutor for their child (sometimes it is not enough that we tell them you *are* the right tutor)

* we need you to confirm in writing that you have read and agree with The Tutors’ Association Code of Ethics for Tutors. Even if you decide not to join the Association, we are a corporate member and working through us, you need to do this.

* you also need to confirm that you are self-employed and that you are not charging VAT on your tutoring. This is to strengthen our position with the VAT man. Nicole will be sending out an email about this in the next few weeks.

It is now time for the Tutor Awards. As one tutor pointed out via email, they are not very democratic as only we in the office have been nominating and voting – however, we didn’t feel that you quite knew each other well enough to be able to vote with confidence, so bear with us.

The first award is for a tutor who has made a dramatic difference to a student’s life. We were contacted last autumn by a mother whose son had developed a phobia of school that was so marked he had not attended any academic institution for over a year. The family wanted their son to sit a handful of GCSEs so the brief was to find a tutor who could teach and support him over the following 9 months. After countless ups and downs – and one very low point when the tutor said he could do no more and that it was up to the student to turn a corner himself – the student sat his GCSEs and got 3 Cs. A remarkable achievement.  Nick Taylor, this bottle of champagne is for you.

The second award is for a tutor who consistently responds quickly to our messages, submits his timesheets on time and who goes the extra mile for us and his students. From taking on Skype lessons at 5 a.m in the morning, to cycling across London at the drop of a hat, to emailing unsolicited reports for us and the consultants involved with a student, Gurs Sahota, this bottle of champagne is for you.

The final award is for the longest standing tutor on our books. There are a handful of tutors still with Osborne Cawkwell who were there in 2000, so in order to make this award, I need to go back further in time to the late nineties when I first met this tutor. He started tutoring after graduating from university and from juggling tutoring with writing novels and film scripts, he is now one of our Career Tutors and tutors full time. I met this tutor when we were both footloose and fancy free: and now, both with families and careers in the tutoring world firmly cemented, Jake Pilikian, this bottle of champagne is for you.

At this point, I would like to ask if anyone has any questions or comments for us and/or your fellow tutors. Do take advantage of so many of us being in the same room at the same time as perhaps another tutor can answer something instead of us. I open the floor to you now for any comments and questions.

[A very lively discussion ensued covering topics such as Child Protection, handling expectations of the parents, taking on work at a discounted rate for families who can not afford the full price]

Building our new website this year helped us crystallise our values and what we strive for. The banners on the homepage rotate the phrases: We are approachable and caring. We are hugely experienced. We are efficient and trustworthy.

If a parent is going to trust us when we recommend a tutor, they need to feel we are professional and committed; if you are going to take on work through us and do a good job, you need to trust us and feel we are worthy of representing.

All that is left to say is a big thank you to all of you for your hard work and dedication to Osborne Cawkwell. Without you and the excellent teaching you deliver, we would just be sitting around in an office twiddling our thumbs. Thank you.

Every action we take is with the client, student and tutor in mind. We celebrate 14 years of trading at the end of September and we hope to continue to deliver excellence for many more years to come.

Thank you very much.


Lucy Cawkwell

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