Qualified Teachers in Tutoring: The Secrets Behind How to Make This Model Successful, with Founder of Capital Tuition Group, Matthew Curnier: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

***

Ludo Millar 1:27
Hello, and welcome to the 128th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. I know, a nice surprise.

Matthew Curnier 2:25
Wow. 128. I’m impressed.

Ludo Millar 2:30
Thank you. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course a huge welcome to today’s guest, Matthew Curnier. Matthew, welcome to the podcast.

Matthew Curnier 2:48
Thank you so much for having me on. I’m really excited.

Ludo Millar 2:52
For the French speaking contingent of our listeners, our guest today is actually Mathieu Curnier. But I was asking Matthew just now how the pronunciation works. And apparently ‘Curnier’ is fine in English. That’s how Matthew is known to many, I’m sure, of the schools he works with.

Matthew Curnier 3:12
Well, that’s actually a funny anecdote, because when I first started teaching, I would introduce myself, ‘Hi, I’m Matthew Curnier, I’ll be your science teacher’. And I just got met with a sea of blank confused student faces. So I just went, do you know what guys, I’ll just be Mr. C. So actually, my entire career I’ve been known as Mr. C.

Ludo Millar 3:31
Mr. C. Okay well, that works for me, too. Now, just as a brief background, to Mr. C, for any of you who haven’t come across, Matthew or his business, Matthew is, as he was saying, a former classroom teacher, and is the director and founder of Capital Tuition Group, which is a tutoring business founded, run by and built on a team of just under 100 highly experienced, very successful teachers. And it’s a model that’s worked wonders for the business and Matthew has been right at the heart of the business, since it launched around 5 years ago. Now Matthew is also an actor who’s appeared in several short films, which no doubt helps to bring a great deal of flair and exuberance and performance to the education environment. I’m sure sessions with Matthew are a whole lot of fun. But Matthew, welcome to this podcast. It’s really, really great to have you on.

Matthew Curnier 4:31
Thank you.

Ludo Millar 4:32
What is giving you reason to smile today, Matthew? Tuesday 30th of August, what’s giving you reason to smile?

Matthew Curnier 4:41
Oh my gosh, what’s giving me a reason to- well, first of all, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been invited to record on a podcast so that’s a first for me and so I can scratch off my bucket list. So if that doesn’t give me reason to smile, I don’t know what will. [LAUGHS]

Ludo Millar 4:57
Hopefully that won’t have been wiped off over the next 25 minutes. [LAUGHS] But Matthew, listeners of this podcast will know that we tend to start each episode with a little look back to the very early days of our guests’ lives and careers. Now, I gather, locating some physical school reports was not possible. But there is a little tale you have to tell from all those years ago.

Matthew Curnier 5:27
So this is a little, well, it is almost a direct quote, and it is from a school report, an end of year report, I think I must have been about Year 8 or 9 or something like that. And it was from my PE teacher. Now, I actually really liked sport. And I like being sportsmanly and getting active and fit and all the rest of it. But I actually hated PE when I was at school. And I didn’t particularly like my PE teacher who always sort of found me and picked on me a little bit. But I think we’d just done a term or whatever we’d done was rugby. Now I quite liked rugby, and did quite well in that. I can’t kick a round ball to save my life. So football was always more of a challenge. But the end of school report that I had from my PE teacher was ‘Matthew lacks the appropriate motor skills to become a good footballer’, which I took great exception to even though he was right. Because my mind just goes for other things. And it was something that struck me and my mom and my dad, when they read this report, literally couldn’t stop laughing for about two weeks. Forevermore, I’d be known as someone with poor motor skills. [LAUGHS] Which is amusing as I probably should say that I did actually go on to be quite a good gymnast, which I think probably requires a little bit of motor skills.

Ludo Millar 6:59
Perhaps more than football actually. Well, it’s funny how often people we have on the podcast talk about the comments they received from teachers when they were children, and how it spurred them to really go against what their teacher said, you know, this real kind of deep, powerful feeling of, ‘I can’t believe you’ve said that, I’m now going to go and prove you wrong’. But equally, we have had guests who said, ‘Oh, yeah, my pottery teacher said I’d never make it as a potter. So that was the last day I ever did, you know, pottery’.

Matthew Curnier 7:33
Yeh, you know, it cuts them. 

Ludo Millar 7:35
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, you know, science will never be for them. Okay, I’m not doing science at A-level kind of thing. But that’s a great little tale. I wonder if it spurred you on to do what you do today. Do you think there’s a reason behind what you were like as a kid that is why you do what you do today?

Matthew Curnier 8:00
Well, in terms of this PE teacher, I kind of very quickly forgot about it and whatever. The immediate thing I thought was, this guy has no idea who I am, or hasn’t bothered to find out who I am. That’s the first thing. So, you know, my sympathies do go out to people who have taken to heart because it did cut, the comment. But my sympathies do go out to people who do receive comments in a report or either verbally from a teacher somebody who’s in a position of responsibility and and authority to sort of discourage them or stop them. I really think that’s not right. It happens and we all make mistakes. And I’m sure that I would have said things as a teacher that I probably wish I could have said differently. But on the flip side, there are really amazing stories, which where teachers do think at the zoo, I think they have a really important role to play. And that is that of my biology A-level teacher.

So I had two biology A-level teachers. There were a married couple actually, called Mr. And Mrs. Smail. And me it was Mr. Smail who I got on really, really well with. And it was because of him that I ended up going on to study biology and zoology because he himself had been that and he was just so passionate about the natural world and all of that entailed. And actually incidentally, I dedicated my master’s thesis to him. Because just a bit before I finished my masters, he unfortunately passed away of cancer, so I thought, you know, here’s a man that has really been an incredible signpost for me in life and the least I could offer him as a gesture of thank you really.

Ludo Millar 9:45
Yeah, I think the impact that teachers have can be so powerful, both positively and negatively as we’ve just talked about. Now, Matthew, this, obviously you were a classroom teacher before you launched Capital Tuition Group, what made you turn to tutoring from your teaching days?

Matthew Curnier 10:08
Yeah, I think that was an accumulation of a variety of factors all coming to a head. So I’d been teaching since 2009, I was head of year at the time, and I’d seen my year group through. So that was Year 9, then 10 and 11, my head teacher had, who’s a really incredible man, a chap called Alex Russell, who’s actually recently been awarded or knighted an OBE, I don’t know, do you get ‘awarded’ an OBE, I don’t know what you got. Anyway, he got an OBE for his services to education, and I was very privileged to be able to work with him.

So I spent a long time cutting my teeth in the classroom, I’d seen my year group through, he had set me a challenge, Alex had set me a challenge: I want this year to be one of the best years that we get in terms of our results. So I just sort of, you know, as a young, keen, green teacher just poured blood, sweat and tears into the whole thing, which was fantastic. And the results were very, very good, etc. And I also at the same time, wanted to move into London, I was living in Surrey at the time, and I kind of wanted to move into London. And sort of at the same time, he then offered me the opportunity to become what’s known in the business as an SLE, which is a Specialist Leader in Education, which meant that I got the opportunity to go around a variety of schools, and help improve the teaching and learning in science departments either before Ofsted or after Ofsted, or just by virtue of ‘let’s have a check in’. And that was really, really great. And that was a thing that on the side, I thought, well, I can supplement my income and my revenue by doing a bit of tutoring on the side, seeing as now I have more time as a consultant rather than as a classroom teacher, which I perhaps didn’t really have before when I was also a head of year. So it’s just sort of an organic, natural move into tutoring rather than an active leaving of the classroom.

Ludo Millar 12:13
Yeah, that’s really nice that it wasn’t impacted by any negative events that you’ve had or yeah, anything that had come towards the end of, you know, seeing classroom teaching for something that you hadn’t seen it as when you first started. 

Matthew Curnier 12:26
Yeah, I thinkI didn’t realise quite how much hard work it was. [LAUGHS] But at the same time, it’s something that I really loved. And the energy that you put in, the energy that it requires is something that was really fuelling, I think almost everyone that I worked with in the school, because we were a school that was in special measures. And, you know, that was a big, big drive to get it out of that predicament, and we were very successful in doing so. And there’s a wonderful sense of team and belonging and greater purpose or, you know, big objective that we were all working towards. That was just such a joy to be involved with really.

Ludo Millar 13:04
Yeah. So I mean, you saw the power of classroom teaching first-hand. Now, tutoring is something that’s has grown rather a lot since you began in the industry.

Matthew Curnier 13:18
Yeh, just a bit.

Matthew Curnier 13:21
I don’t know if that’s something to do with you joining or … 

Matthew Curnier 13:21
Flattery will get you anywhere. [LAUGHS]

Ludo Millar 13:24
Exactly. Why then, Matthew, do you think that tutoring has taken this role? How do you think it’s come to be where it is today? 

Matthew Curnier 13:38
Yeah, I think there’s a variety of reasons as to why tutoring is being endorsed more and more or being sought more and more, I think the first and most obvious one is the pandemic. The pandemic  arguably put a lot of pressure on our young students and our young people and children. And I think it’s important that we assist them in ‘catching up’ that time, and I’m using air quotes very specifically, because, you know, I think it is slightly taboo to use the word ‘catch up’. But there is an element of that. I think the pandemic did create a divide, not only between those who have and those who have not in terms of resources, or parents at home who can look after them, and help with homeschooling, or whatever. But also, there has also been a divide between those who did do and those who didn’t do. And there is a link between the two, obviously, there’s a link between the two.

And so I think the reason why the tutoring industry has grown is because there is sort of, you know, a cognizance that there is a gap and that we need to sort of fill it and really bring our students on to where they ‘should be’, again, using air quotes. So that’s one one reason I think.

Another reason is that slowly but surely, I think the repertoire of what we consider education, the diet of what we consider education, is broadening beyond that of the school. So I think, you know, maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago, I don’t know what timeframe necessarily to put on it, I think we generally thought that schools, you know, kids went to school, they did their learning at school, then they came home, did their homework, and that was it. And I don’t necessarily think that that’s the case anymore. And I think in other countries, particularly the Far East, in China, in particular, Singapore, Malaysia, or these places where they really put a huge onus on education, tutoring has always been there to supplement and support all the good stuff that’s happening in the school grounds and in the classroom itself. And I think that, you know, for very pro-education families, or for people who are particularly ambitious, they want to bring that into part of the diet that constitutes what we consider education to be. And I think that’s kind of right, because I’m not sure any more and I hope this isn’t too controversial statement, but with the pressure and the resources that are under pressure in schools, we can’t cater in the same way as we would like to, you know, one of the things that I’d love to see, for example, is classrooms, no more than 24 strong, but inevitably, we’ve got classes that are 33, or 32, or whatever it might be. And I think that, you know, we can’t cater for everyone as well as we might.

There are also a greater number of needs, you know, in terms of special educational needs. And so I think having tutoring for that is a really good way of making sure that a student can keep on accessing the education and the levels of academia that they’re supposed to be doing in school. So there’s a variety of reasons why, I think that’s just some of them. But I do think that the trend in the growth of tutoring is something that we will happily see continue.

Ludo Millar 16:55
Yeah, and we were speaking before, about, you know, the use of qualified teachers as tutors, whether that’s post-retirement or alongside, as you say, to improve their earning power. And this is something that you know a lot about, and that’s why it was one of the primary reasons for asking you to be on this podcast was because of that perspective, and how well that’s worked for Capital Tuition Group. So a two-part question, really, but why the focus at Capital Tuition Group on qualified teachers? And the second part of the question is, what makes a good tutor?

Matthew Curnier 17:36
Yeah, I think, straight off the bat, because I am a teacher, for me, creating a tutoring company that used teachers is just simply what I know. And understanding education as I do within the context of being a secondary school teacher, it just makes so much sense. When I started my master’s, I did actually try my hand at a bit of biology tutoring. I thought, you know, I’d do some tutoring sessions, like, I’m quite good at this. And then a few years later, when I did end up becoming a qualified teacher, I then did some tutoring again and I realised I wasn’t that good or not as good as I thought I’d been. And that was simply because of the fact that I had opened a biology A-level textbook, you know, tried a lesson, saw that it didn’t particularly work very well, I needed to re-explain it in a different better way, using simpler examples, I needed to scaffold it, perhaps, to a greater degree to allow my students to access it. All of that kind of lovely stuff you can only find out if you’re a classroom teacher, was something that made sense in my head as to what would almost not guarantee but certainly make sure, to a much greater extent, I would be introducing tutors to families and to clients that knew what they were doing, and knew how to do it, not just at a basic level, but really, really well.

Because in education, I think one of the things that we talk about a lot in continued professional development is value added and how our practice as teachers is really conferring actual education and the metrics around that are a wide and varied and it’s difficult to measure education, right, we all understand that. But there is inevitably quite a lot of focus on our CPD. And you know, I do think generally that that will then give a level of reassurance to people who are seeking tutoring.

And let’s not beat about the bush, a lot of people who come to ask us for tutoring and support academically in whatever subject it might be, is for two main reasons: one is they’re struggling, they’re under confident. And, you know, they just need a bit of reassurance, a bit of help, a bit of guidance to boost that and inevitably to boost their grade. Or [secondly], they’re really, really competent students who have got a huge amount of ambition. They’re aiming for the top of the tops. They’re wanting to get the A*s, you know, level 9s if they’re doing GCSE. They’re aiming for Oxbridge or really prestigious universities around the world. And they need to be getting absolutely every single mark out of the exam paper.

So who’s going to be the best at doing that, in my opinion, is someone who’s studied exam questions, exam papers, people who have probably been examiners as well, people who’ve read examiners’ reports from AQA or from Edexcel or whatever, and not even all teachers do that. So it just made sense to me that for those two categories of students, we were going to be providing a service or my tutors were going to be providing a service that was going to match those requirements.

Ludo Millar 21:05
Yeah, there’s no arguing with that. And you can see it time and time again, when you speak to parents, they say, I want the reassurance, there are so many tutors to choose from, I don’t know, it’s such a minefield out there. So I’m going to choose a qualified teacher who I know has been through the system and and has gone through those other things that we must have in tutoring, the safeguarding elements, the understanding of curriculum, all those kinds of things. But in your passionate argument for qualified teachers, Matthew, you forgot the second part of my question. No, maybe you did answer that, I’m being unjust. But are there some key characteristics that you have seen that make a really good tutor?

Matthew Curnier 21:53
Yeah, I think this was part of the discussion we were having before, I do fervently believe that there are people in this world who are born with an inherent, native ability to be good teachers. And I would always encourage those sorts of people to go and be trained, and really immerse themselves in the science of pedagogy and really get out what it can be to maximise their inherent ability. That’s obviously a gift that they’ve got.

First and foremost, well, first and foremost, I don’t know whether that’s leading me down a garden path. But I think one of the attributes of a good tutor is subject knowledge and content knowledge. That’s just a standard. Second of all, I think there is an argument to be said that, so for example, when I started teaching, I remember teaching one particular topic, and for love nor money, my kids weren’t getting it, my students were doing it wrong. And I had to really go- thankfully, I had the sort of the platform to evaluate my practice, where I could really unpick everything and go, Okay, they’re not getting it because they believe this preconception, which is a misconception, so I need to dismantle that before I can even start building right. And so I think a good tutor will inherently have to be able to spot that straight off the bat. And I think that generally comes with experience and somebody who’s been tutoring for a long time will start seeing that.

I also think that someone who can strike the balance between encouragement, and building confidence, as well as sort of laying a line of authority and discipline is a really useful one. You want your student to be wanting to do well, not necessarily for you, but for themselves, but in the first instance, it’s really useful if they want to do well for you. Because then you can push that back on to actually, ‘You‘re doing well for you, students, not necessarily for your teacher’, but whatever it is, you actually just want the students to start going, ‘No, no, I’ve got to do my bit of extra homework’ or ‘I’ve got to understand that’ or ‘I’ve got to revive this little thing, because I know I’ve got a little test coming up, I really, really want to do well’. So, you know, I think a tutor who can evoke that in a student is onto a winner there as well.

Ludo Millar 24:21
Yeah, and I think that’s really important for one of the huge benefits of tutoring, which is setting your student up for a lifetime of interest in learning, not necessarily academics, but in learning. So if you’re able to instil a bit of discipline for that in them, then you’re setting them up, not just to achieve well in upcoming exams, but also to always have that ability to want to learn more and to go further.

Matthew Curnier 24:55
The ability to want to but also the ability with a variety of tools that you give them, you know, even if it is a revision strategy or the knowledge of how to go about conducting research, I don’t know what the answer is, what am I going to do to go and figure that out just a manner in which they can achieve and access. That’s, I think, probably the biggest plus of any teacher really.

***

Ludo Millar 25:24
Now, a few words from last week’s guest, Amy Solon.

Amy Solon 25:31
I’ve been out of the formal education system for quite some time. And participating in the podcast was a great opportunity to reflect on what’s going well within the system, but also a good chance to reflect on how we can best support young people and of course educators as well, in areas where there are challenges. So thank you for creating a space where we can bat those ideas around and hopefully give others food for thought also. For any potential future guests to the podcast, well, I would definitely recommend getting involved. Ludo is a most engaging host, and it was loads of fun. Thank you so much, again, for having me.

***

Ludo Millar 26:21
Now, Matthew, I’m afraid we are drawing to a close. It feels like these conversations go so quickly. You’ve really packed a lot into that, Matthew, there is so much experience behind what you’re saying. And you are speaking to such a huge proportion of the tutoring industry, parents, students and also fellow tutors, and even fellow agency leaders, there was so many tips about how to create a good culture of your business. I’ve got two final questions to ask. The first is, I presupposed in the brief introduction I gave you at the start, but have you brought your acting skills into a tutoring session before? Are there any famous memories you have of where you really thought God, I was able to make that session come alive because of [my acting].

Matthew Curnier 27:18
Oh my gosh. [LAUGHS] Well, I’m laughing because one of the things that my fellow teachers would say to me, and or parents would say to me, once I’d finished a lesson or a tutoring session would be, ‘Oh my God, that was literally like a full on musical in there’. Not that I can sing, by the way. But I think yeah, there’s a lot of energy and one of the things I really enjoy making sure that I do in a lesson or a tutoring session, is if I’m doing too much work, then I’m doing it wrong. And I really mean that. So the proportion I give is 80% of work should be that of the students and about 20% should be mine, whilst I’m having a tea and a biscuit … [LAUGHS]

Now, slightly tongue in cheek of course, but is there a particular memory? Yeah, I guess there was one section in the biology specification, which is classification. And I guess I used to get my students to do like a Charades thing outlining what the characteristics of each sort of phylum or kingdom are to represent themselves, I guess, very much coming up pretending to be starfish or octopus or whatever it might have to be. It was always a lesson that went down quite well.

Ludo Millar 28:47
Yeah, I wonder if the kids ever came across any of the films you were in and came running back in the next day, ‘I saw Mr. C in this or that’. I think that’s an exciting thing. As a kid, you always hold your teachers in this kind of hero-standing, to see them on TV would be amazing. I remember there was a teacher at our school who had been on TV the night before on BBC News. And everyone came running back in next day, ‘I saw Mr. so and so on TV!’.

Matthew Curnier 29:23
I remember- so I’d left the classroom but not for that long, and I’d been in a San Miguel commercial and it was a San Miguel commercial that passed in the cinemas in front of Casino Royale. So it was very, very visible. And I was actually in Monday, Tuesday for a request from my students. Parents were like, ‘Oh my God, you’re famous’, I mean, I’m not famous, it was just a commercial. But it was very sweet to be remembered a couple of years after I’d left the classroom.

Ludo Millar 29:58
So my final question, Matthew, is what’s next for you personally? What’s next for Matthew Curnier?

Matthew Curnier 30:07
Yeah, I think for Matthew Curnier, the next step is I want to continue the good work that we’re doing at Capital Tuition Group, we’ve got a really exciting year ahead where we’re working with more and more schools. And that’s really important to me for several reasons. One is that we are able to give what I would consider really top quality tuition to the masses. And that’s always been something that’s quite near and dear to my heart. So yeah, I just want to keep on doing that.

And yeah, there are a few little things in the pipeline that we’re also sort of working on. One is a project with another tutoring company called Teatime Tutors that’s about to kick off, find out more about that by all means. And then there’s another one that I quite like. We launched a pilot on that last year, and I often get parents of A-level students who ring up and they say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re doing biology, chemistry and French at A-level’. And through the conversation, when they’re looking for a tutor, I ask them, ‘So what’s the next step? You know, what are you going into? Is the aim university or an apprenticeship? Or what are we looking for?’. And often the answer that I get is, ‘We have no idea … but we think it might be something in the world of Veterinary Science’ or ‘a translator for medical journals’ or something, and the reason for that. So whenever I have been able to, what I was trying to do at Capital Tuition Group is just get a link for that student with an industry professional. Now, at that moment it’s just industry professionals that I know or that any members of my team right now know. And we just sort of match them up and get student get to talk to Yvette for 20 minutes. And that’s a complimentary service that we offer, just so that they can see what they’re doing, these aliases for what the next step is, a bit of a motivational tool, but also as a bit of, again, like I said earlier on in the show, a bit of a signpost to go, ‘Oh yeah, that is actually what I really want to do’.

So, you know, historically we’ve done it for physiotherapist or sports rehab therapists or radiologists, radiographers, doctors, I think we’ve also done it for artists as well. So we’re sort of getting, you know, a few more bites of theirs. And I think people are becoming more and more interested, but I think it’s maybe a service that isn’t available. I know, we have careers advice, but it’s just something that- because it’s so theoretical, right, if you’re an A-level student, and you want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or whatever it might be, it’s just an idea. And it’s not based necessarily in reality, unless they’ve been exposed to someone in their immediate circle who is that person.

So it’s just trying to provide that opportunity for those students and also parents because I think parents get, you know, I think we expect a lot from parents as well, to know a lot of stuff that they don’t naturally know. So yeah, so that’s another little thing that we’re testing out.

Ludo Millar 33:17
That sounds like it’s got real legs that one because that does seem to be an area where there’s a bit of a gap, isn’t there, between the end of school or the start of university, and a career. There’s just that kind of, right, you’re meant to get through that as both student and parent, exactly how is a parent meant to know exactly where their children are meant to go professionally. So yeah, really, really cool stuff. Matthew, thank you so so much for taking us through your wisdom, your knowledge, your understanding.

Matthew Curnier 33:48
Well, thank you so much for your time, and for having me on. It’s been just been lovely. Thank you so much.

Ludo Millar 33:53
Yeah, it’s been really, really enjoyable. Matthew, if people want to reach out to you straight after this, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Matthew Curnier 33:59
Yeah, just go onto our website, which is capitaltuitiongroup.com. Or, yeah, you can reach out to us on any of our channels, which is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you can tell that I don’t deal with any of these, I’m struggling to come up with the names. But we’ve got a really fantastic marketing manager who deals with that. So by all means, get in touch with us through any of those channels, and also our phone number’s on the website. So just give us a call.

Ludo Millar 34:31
Thank you. Thank you very much. That was really a very valuable episode. And we will see all of you listeners next time. So for one final time, Matthew, thank you very much for that, and we’ll speak again soon.

***

Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualified tutor.org/training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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