Quite often I receive enquiries from students or teachers about working for, or through, the Centre. I am always happy to respond. Sometimes a caller will be able to offer a specialist training or background which a student needing to draw on might find it hard to access at short notice - for example tuition in A-Level Sciences or Maths. I like to be able to refer a student with a specialised demand to a potential provider. It is more satisfying than professing ignorance and blankly apologising. So I try to maintain an up-to-date file of experts.
Only occasionally do I have approaches from people thinking of setting up a tuition centre business for themselves, but this is what I want to consider in this post. What are the means to do it? What are the difficulties? The cost?
The answers to these are various and could run to many pages. Serious prospectors will need to enquire further - but by way of introduction, I will outline how I began.
I began the way many independent tuition centre owners have begun - with a franchise. In my case the idea and the business model came from Kip McGrath Education Centres, which arrived in the UK from Australia in the 1990's and built up a considerable network of centres - about 250, eventually. Kip McGrath could offer teachers an alternative career in education to school or college, and this appealed to me in 2006, when, having returned from a teaching career in Singapore, I found myself bemused and ill-at-ease as a schoolteacher, and eager to try something else.
The franchise did not provide an instant income, and was quite an expensive purchase - about £12 000, for the training and the materials. A further £8000 or £10000 were required for set-up costs including the fitting and furnishing of 41b Dover Street. But Kip McGrath centres seemed viable in the long run, given good sense and hard work on the part of franchisees: and in the year that elapsed between hearing about Kip and opening the Canterbury centre I visited centres that were running successfully in other towns.
Four years later, up and running, but now well into the Recession, things looked different, both to myself in Canterbury, and 25 other centres across England, Scotland and Wales. The time we felt had come to leave Kip McGrath and form an alliance of centres that would pool ideas, expertise and materials in a professional not-for-profit way. This was 2011, and the Association of Professional Tuition Centres (APTC) came into being during the summer.
Two years further on, as I write this, I think it fair to say that the APTC has survived its birth (there are now over 30 member centres) and is performing well its function of support. So far so good. What it has yet to do - or we collectively have yet to do - is set up an advice or training programme for would-be new proprietors who do not have previous experience running a centre. Such a programme could be essential for the long-term future of the Association, and should be good for the participants in its development, making them - us - think more critically about what we do, and how we go about it.
But in the mean time, while this gets off the ground, if you do happen to be thinking of setting up for yourself, do approach an APTC centre - either me, or someone nearer your territory if not in the South East. A centre tour will cost nothing, and a little work experience could be arranged as an eye-opener.