Tutorfair: The story behind us

Mark Maclaine

February 12, 2013

On a sunny winters day in January 2012 I met with Andrew who showed me some concepts for a new website that he’d come up with. He was a parent who’d found the process of finding tutors for his own children both confusing and a little hit-and-miss. His concept was a website that would allow parents to actually browse for great tutors and then book them. I agreed that there wasn’t anything quite like it at the time, but what really captured my imagination was the concept that the company would give tutoring to children who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Hence the ‘fair’ bit of Tutorfair.

In my 14 years of tutoring, most of the tutors I’d known had either moved on to other work or set up agencies. I’d not set up my own simply because I had very little interest in running a company. Yet here was a concept that seemed so simple, and so likely to do some real good, that I found myself getting very excited. If there are billions of dollars being put into tutoring worldwide every year, why not take some of that money and give it to the kids who need it most?

Andrew Ground wasn’t just a parent, he had a background in marketing and had been involved in building the hugely successful UK company LOVEFiLM. He introduced me to Edd Stockwell, a fantastically energetic web entrepreneur who’d been doing a large amount of research into the education sector. In our first proper meeting in a tapas restaurant in Old Street we discussed how this could work, and thus Tutorfair was born.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet most of the highest paid and best regarded tutors in the world. In fact, many are close friends. When we pitched the idea to those in Britain, most were hugely excited and almost everyone wanted to help in any way they could. At the very least, we’ve been able to help Andrew find tutors for his kids!

Beyond individual tutors, there are many tutoring agencies. Most of the best in London are run by friends of mine or people I’d known professionally for years. We weren’t sure how they’d see Tutorfair, but the response was amazing. These professional tutoring agencies do a good job of finding and retaining great tutors so it was essential we had them on board too. Most seemed very open to our concept and loved the idea that if we worked together we could actually do some good. They’d list their recommended tutors on the website, and thus open up their tutor networks to parents wanting to book online. Together we agreed the promise that for every student who pays we’d give tutoring to a child who couldn’t afford it.

Our aim has been to assemble the best tutors in London to kick us off. We meet all of them, check their documents and film videos of them so parents can get a better idea of what they’re like. We also offer training and mentoring for those looking to develop their tutoring into a career, and this has been a particularly fun part for me.

The next challenge was how to arrange the free tuition. The solution was simple, rather than try find these children ourselves why not look for schools and charities that had already identified the children most in need of our help? I took the rest of 2012 to meet with various schools, charities and organisations. I went into classrooms, taught with children who’d never been given any personal tutoring and we took the time to look into what was working well. Once we’d earmarked the teams who seemed to make the most *real* difference to children’s lives: we pledged our support, our tutors and our time.

Fast forward to early 2013, the website is live, we are receiving bookings and we’re already running a number of initiatives for the Tutorfair Foundation, our new charity. It’s an incredibly exciting time! Tutoring has been proven to be an incredibly effective education tool* but up until now it’s something that only the most wealthy can afford. Hopefully we can start to make it fair!

In this blog we’ll keep you updated on how the company is going and what we’re doing with the charity. We’ll also be providing tips, tutoring resources (for students & educators) and sharing with you what we find is getting results. We hope you enjoy!

* (Bloom, 1984)