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Good Schools Guide Bright Light Education

In March 2022, we were reviewed by The Good Schools’ Guide. The Good Schools Guide is 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 reviews as well as in-depth articles on education-related issues.

Throughout February and March, they met with Dani and Charlotte, the founders of Bright Light Education. In addition, 31 clients and 24 tutors completed an on-line survey (sent to 217 clients and 26 tutors) and they followed this up with additional short phone interviews with some of those surveyed.

Only a selection of tutor agencies are reviewed. There are strict criteria for who they review and the process is thorough.

We are over-the-moon to receive our review. To be received so positively by The Good Schools’ Guide is an incredible achievement and one of which we are deeply proud.

The Good School Guides' Review

Bright Light Education staff

Having their cake and eating it proved harder than they’d anticipated for primary school teachers Charlotte Badenoch (MA in English from Edinburgh; PGCE from St Mary’s Twickenham) and Dani Okumura (BA in Japanese and east Asian Studies from Leeds; MA in international relations from East Anglia; PGCE from Kingston). ‘We are incredibly ambitious,’ explains Charlotte, with both having raced through the ranks to the senior management team in their London school. ‘But in 2015, after having babies around the same time, we found the 12-hour days were just too long.’

And so it was that this dynamic duo left the classroom behind to found their own tutor agency. Bright Light opened its doors in 2018, though these days the doors are over 5,000 miles apart, with Charlotte based in London and Dani in Japan (her husband is Japanese).

‘There was no grand masterplan,’ admits Dani. ‘We started by tutoring our own pupils and when demand quickly increased, we responded by taking on other qualified and experienced teachers, as well as identifying gaps in the market – notably creative writing and 11+ preparation.’

With the exception of the odd niece and nephew, neither has enough time to tutor now. Charlotte (who now has three children and a Schnauzer) is too busy dealing with clients, including matching them with tutors, while Dani (who has two children), works behind-the-scenes including creating the online courses and managing the website (one of the most colourful we’ve seen).

If there was an award for the agency with the most responsive clients and tutors, this one would win by a long shot. Every single person we requested to talk to following the Survey Monkey questionnaire said yes – a first! Clients were itching to tell us how caring the agency is – ‘they don’t give the impression that it’s all about business like some other agencies I’ve used,’ said one. ‘Motivational,’ ‘professional’, ‘responsive’ and ‘personal,’ we also heard. Several told how Charlotte and Dani’s support goes well beyond the realms of finding a tutor – ‘they have so much knowledge of schools and the application process.

Tutors appreciate the balance between professionalism and warmth. They feel nurtured (‘they seem to really want to help me as a tutor’) and also praise responsiveness (‘it’s incredible how fast they get back to me’) and attention to detail (‘they are very aware of the specific needs of the children they work with’). All but one tutor we spoke to had not worked for any other agencies – also a first in our experience; the one that had told us, ‘This one is more caring and diligent – I don’t feel they just want me to make money for them.’

What do they offer?

Online English courses (creative writing, core skills, English for home schooling etc) for groups of up to six children, ranging in ages 8-13 – though good luck bagging a place, ‘it’s like getting tickets for Glastonbury,’ reckoned one parent. ‘They really motivated my child who, believe me, is not easily motivated,’ was a typical comment. Dani and Charlotte create the courses themselves – of which 13 run per week – complete with a bespoke coursebook and homework that, as one parent said, ‘is always marked.’ Lessons are pre-recorded (tutor’s face only) if you miss one.

For one-to-one tutoring, 11+ accounts for 70 per cent of requests. Parents have their eyes on big hitters such as Latymer Upper, NHEHS, Godolphin & Latymer, Hampton, St Augustine’s Priory, City of London, Dulwich College, Ibstock Place, Kew House, Merchant Taylors’, Putney High School, LEH and the Bucks and Slough grammars. ‘We couldn’t have got our daughter through without our tutor,’ said one.

General KS2 – and a little KS1 – tutoring is provided. Finally, despite the agency having a primary age focus (on account of Charlotte and Dani’s own teaching experience being at this level), they have a few GCSE students – ‘could grow,’ they say, ‘depending on demand and if we can get the right tutors.’

Nearly three-quarters of the one-to-one tutoring (and all courses) are online – these tutees are mainly UK based, with others hailing from e.g. Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and India. For in-person tutoring, they cover mainly Ealing, Chiswick, Putney, Barnes and Hammersmith with odd ones in Kensington, Battersea and East London.

‘The tutor was brilliant with my child’s dyscalculia,’ said one parent.

Background and basics

There’s a bigger focus on training tutors than in other agencies (though because all tutors freelance, legal eagles say Bright Light can’t provide or fund it themselves). All the more impressive when you consider that all their tutors are qualified teachers with at least two years’ experience. ‘Means we don’t need training,’ is the usual smug refrain from such tutors in other agencies but not so from this lot who seem ever hungry to learn more. Hats off to that, we say. Currently on offer are workshops in safeguarding (refresher), child protection, diversity and inclusion within education, general tutor training including level 3 qualification. Most training is via The Tutors’ Association, of which Bright Light is a corporate member.

Not a massive number of tutors on their books – just 26 at last count – but they are keen to grow. Many come on recommendation from Bright Light’s existing tutors or they are teachers that Charlotte and Dani have previously worked with. A bit of headhunting goes on, mainly via Facebook and Linkedin. All need two references, enhanced DBS and original qualification certificates. All tutors are interviewed by both Dani and Charlotte online (sometimes includes a sample lesson) and some told us they were observed when tutoring clients (we would like to see more agencies doing this). ‘The tutors are excellent,’ said a parent – ‘always punctual and professional, and they command respect from both my children, as well as knowing exactly where their weaknesses are.’

Charlotte cuts no corners in finding out the fine detail of a child’s needs and if she winds up with two, three or even four hopefuls (using a tutor broadcast system if she can’t think of the right fit herself), she lets the client make the final call. ‘If a family does not feel like a good match, there’s no pressure to accept a position,’ said a tutor, while a parent whose son didn’t gel with his tutor told us, ‘It was nobody’s fault and they changed him immediately.’

Tutors decide how and when to give feedback (in other agencies, it’s often prescriptive) – ‘makes you feel trusted,’ said a tutor, with most giving both verbal and written reports. Parents appreciate being asked for their feedback too – ‘It’s not like with other agencies who take the, “right, here’s your tutor, now that’s it,” approach – they regularly check in that I’m happy with the tutor,’ felt one.

We asked Bright Light if they do any charity work. They told us they provide their Creative Writing Skills books to a couple of schools for free to support their students with writing, as well as offering vouchers as prizes at local schools’ PTA auctions and doing an 11+ presentations at charity fundraisers. They’re currently running a nationwide creative writing competition.

Money and small print

No registration fee. Costs to clients wind up on a sliding scale of £40 up to £75 per hour. For 12-week courses, costs start at £360 (there are shorter ones too). Clients agree to standard T&Cs, safeguarding policy and privacy policy; tutors sign contracts covering everything from safeguarding to code of practice. Some flexibility around the 24-hour cancellation charge.

What Bright Light Education say

‘We are qualified teachers and so we understand how children need to be supported. This is greatly valued by our clients. We are also able to support our tutors should they have questions about their tutee’s academic progress and needs.’

Remarks

A new-ish, small but solid agency run by professional and friendly qualified teachers who only employ other teachers. We found these teachers much more open to being observed, getting feedback and CPD than in other agencies. Safe hands for your primary school aged child, especially when it comes to 11+ tutoring and KS2 English courses.