A day in the life…

The secrets behind the Bonas MacFarlane tutor recruitment method.

Top of the leaderboard, with an average rating of 4.88 (out of 5), can Bonas MacFarlane keep up its success and write itself into the record books? Establish itself as the finest tutoring company in the UK and sit alongside the most formidable teams in the country, continuing its run of form so that even Gary Wiltshire will take a bet?

Rumours of taking a Simon Cowell approach to their tutor recruitment process might be pushing it – they would prefer closer association with George Martin. In truth it is the result of organising tuition for more than four decades, combined with a youthful tutor management team who have all been tutors themselves, which helps them spot the nuances and skills required to inspire the next generation of learners. 

Inspired by McCarthy’s marketing framework: The Four P’s, we take a look at Bonas MacFarlane’s unique approach.

1. Preparation: The time spent preparing for a tutorial is critical and will determine its success. As part of the interview process we ask tutors to prepare and present a lesson of their choice. This experience allows us to assess their communication skills, organisation and subject knowledge. We are able to critique their plans and also offer guidance to ensure that every lesson is well thought out with clear aims. Parents interviewed by the Good Schools Guide have previously paid tribute to our professional approach:

‘BM plans tutorials with meticulous detail, yet let the child dictate the pace – it’s a delicate balance, but one they get just right,’ says one. 

‘The tutors never talk at the children – they work with them, using the same techniques as experienced teachers,’ says another.

2. Punctuality: Fortunately tutors are no longer having to use the A-Z to find their way around London and, in future, tutors on scooters might become a reality to avoid relying on public transport. Although it sounds simple, arriving on time is of paramount importance. It sets the tone for the lesson if the tutor is punctual and lays the materials out on the desk before the student arrives. We expect our tutors to act as positive role models: it is key to earning the respect of both pupil and parent. 

‘I have been extremely impressed by Henry right from his introductory email. He is always very punctual and therefore reliable which I value and he has managed in a matter of a few sessions to change Claire’s mindset and she is now loving her sciences. He is really excellent’

3. Philosophy: This relates to our core belief that we want children to become successful and happy adults. To help pupils become lifelong learners we ask tutors to assess the individual’s learning style before building a program of study. Taking this approach often results in the tutor not being seen as a teacher but a mentor. Pupils are able relate to their tutor, making it easier to discuss where their weaknesses lie and what improvements they need to make.

‘If I could give Susan 6 stars, I would. She is courteous, conscientious, very thorough and exceptionally talented at explaining complex ideas. Obviously, she knows the material well, but she is not at all condescending when she is providing tuition. I feel very lucky to have had her help. Thank you, Susan!

4. Personality: We all have experiences of teachers which have affected the enjoyment of a subject. Those teachers often change how we think, how hard we studied and ultimately helped us decide what to study at university. Equally, we have looked up to role models who have helped shape our opinions and develop our wider interests. The magic behind being able to choose a tutor which meets the individual needs of a student is transformational. By knowing our tutors we are able to skilfully meet the needs of the pupil, as highlighted in these two placements we arranged this summer:

‘John’s effectiveness in relating to Edward, and supporting me as the single parent in the house, is quite exceptional. John is a rare talent: incredibly supportive, imaginative, very flexible, always ready to go the extra mile – if not going well beyond the call of duty. He is both respectful and ruthless in his honesty, yet caring and compassionate. Any success Edward has achieved, has been in large part his doing.’

‘I was absolutely blown away by how committed and talented Georgina was as a tutor. She knew exactly when to push and when to guide. We were able to cover a staggering amount of work together, mostly because she gave me such confidence in my own abilities. We were able to work out a highly effective system of breaking down our working time into smaller, more manageable time slots. Her general cheeriness and good humour kept my spirits up during extreme deadline stress. As a residential tutor, it was a delight to have Georgina to stay. She joined in family meals and was great fun.’

Keen not to rest on our laurels we continue to meet and interview tutors on a weekly basis, aiming to unearth the next generation of talent. Watch this space because Gertrude Street will soon become known as the Abbey Road of education – with a little help from our tutors!

by Harry Cobb, Director of Tuition, Bonas MacFarlane

The great boarding schools of Britain: Ivory Towers or incubators of technical innovation?

One of the great myths surrounding boarding schools is that they confer an unfair advantage on children by hothousing them for exams that decide their university admission. In reality, any hothousing has to co-exist with participation in a wide variety of activity. The overriding objective of boarding schools is actually to balance academic study with the vocational, non-academic skills that make for a truly rounded education. In just about every non-English speaking country, the ‘best’ schools are state run, predominantly academic focused preserves of metropolitan elites. It follows that the anti-hothouse culture of British boarding schools reduces competition to academic degrees for children from less privileged backgrounds. 

Charles Bonas, Bonas MacFarlane Education

And this culture is overwhelmingly positive. Benjamin Franklin remarked that the world is full of ‘educated derelicts’. When academically inclined students do not achieve quite the grades demanded by the top ranked universities, they still access slightly less competitive entry point courses that might better managed and even offer higher employment prospects. Meanwhile, they will have acquired at school lifelong practical and communication skills that are so intensely relevant to every type of industry and enterprise. Some public schools have their own farms; all champion volunteer work in the community; technical education in design and technology is placed at a premium; enterprise societies abound; practically based activities are celebrated just as much as the learning of abstract theory. 

Not so long ago, a good number of independently educated children went straight from school to family businesses and then acquired the industry specific skills that are taught so well in the Further Education Sector, that was wrongly stereotyped as a low grade, ‘blue collar’ provider of training just for the working classes. There is now a movement back to apprenticeships and away from humanities degree courses. The extraordinary diversity and choice provided by the Further Education sector, with it’s focus on practical employment driven skill acquisition, is possibly more similar in accessibility and culture to the independent school sector than public schools are to the ivory towers of Oxbridge. 

Freedom to select education choices and the celebration of hands-on creativity and practicality are not uniquely British qualities, but still attract tens of thousands of Asian students here. Parents from these countries are astounded but intensely respectful when I tell them that the Queen’s nephew, David Linley (now The Earl of Snowdon) effectively trained as a carpenter: he applied the joinery skills learnt at his progressive school (Bedales) to develop a fabulously successful business.

A second myth is that independent schools are the preserve of the wealthy. The most expensive have increased their bursaries to a level where up to a third of pupils are given substantial assistance with fees. Within a generation schools such as St Paul’s aim to become ‘needs blind’ to the ability of applicants to pay any fees whatsoever. And then there are the thousands of schools where the fees are relatively low; the average school fee according to the 2018 Independent Schools Council Census is £17,232. Many children from households that are not wealthy access at least two years of independent education. For those who may need a smaller or specialist school than is offered to them by the state, this is a life changing opportunity. 

Charles Bonas

Sit Down with Charles Bonas

Nihan Alyanak, our MD at Bonas MacFarlane, Turkey has created a series of short videos with Charles Bonas.

Launching October 2020, the new series tackles key questions our school placement team gets asked on all aspects of choosing schools and educating children.

Charles Bonas, our founder, will be answering these key questions, which will be posted on our socials every Thursday and updated below.

#️BonasThursdays #BMThursdays Follow and never miss a post again https://www.instagram.com/bonasmacfarlane_/

How do you decide if a school is a good fit for a student?
Charles Bonas, Founder of Bonas MacFarlane.

Some families consider school league tables are the most important criteria when choosing a school. Do you think this is an important factor or is there more to consider?
Charles Bonas, Founder of Bonas MacFarlane.

IB Vs A Levels

Charles Bonas gives his take on the International Baccalaureate® and why over 5,000 schools teach the programme vs. the more mainstream A Level programme. IB Vs A-Level a classic parent conundrum!

US and British University Applications

Charles Bonas explains how we work with students and optimise their portfolio and application for both British and American Universities. How the method and process developed by Bonas MacFarlane since 1999 suits a dual application, with success at Harvard, Stanford and many other Ivy League Colleges.

For lots more videos please visit https://www.youtube.com/user/schoolsshow09 and subscribe to The Independent Schools Show Youtube Channel.

Making your US college application truly stand out

We were delighted to welcome sixth formers, teachers and parents from across the UK to this recent forum hosted by the Independent Schools Show.

Our specialist US College Consultant, Jamie Boygo was joined by admissions teams from Tufts University, Northeastern University and Tulane University to discuss what makes an application truly stand out from the crowd.  

Decolonising the curriculum – re-evaluating past memories

By Joseph Bell

The last few months have been flooded with debates surrounding our past. In particular, questions have been asked of the way Britain remembers its history. Important conversations have been started by the Black Lives Matter movement, questioning the way we present our heroes and the voices we choose to amplify within our history. School curriculums are key in shaping perceptions of Britain’s past, which play a huge role in our culture and beliefs. A burst of online petitions and protests have demanded we ‘decolonise the curriculum’, but what does this mean and how can we do it? 

 A large part of this movement is the obvious need to promote works from more black and minority voices across a range of subjects – especially English Literature and History. This is another hugely important discussion, but as a history tutor, I will focus mainly on the content I have taken issue with in schools’ curriculums over the past few years. 

I have had moments of disbelief when teaching from clearly outdated textbooks. Few offer a balanced view, with the British Empire still portrayed as a force of good across the world and minority voices often pushed to the side. 

As one example, a common entrance revision guide I was recently using to help teach a Year 8 student had a whole section about 19th century Imperial rule in India. The 19th century was a brutal period of colonial rule, with British officials disregarding local customs and stripping India of resources, resulting in mass famines. Despite this, the revision guide in question only used one case study to highlight rising tensions – the Indian mutiny, where Indian soldiers rose up against the British and killed unarmed British civilians. Whilst it is important to view cases like these in context, highlighting this one event alone helps feed the narrative implemented in school history curriculums from a young age that we are historically the ‘good guys.’ Although the killing of civilians was a shocking moment, the British soldiers also responded brutally, burning villages and killing Indian soldiers and civilians in return. There is no mention of this in the revision guide, which chooses to focus solely on one atrocity against the British during colonial rule rather than offering a balanced perspective, which would find that there were many more atrocities committed by the British Imperials than suffered by them. There is no mention of the hundreds of thousands of Indians who were killed or starved to death due to brutality and misgovernment around the same time. Instead, the guide chooses to ignore this part of Imperial history.  

Even as far back as the Crusades, textbooks have a tendency to create one-dimensional British heroes. On the same page, one history textbook describes Richard the Lionheart as ‘devout, strong and courageous’ before writing of how ‘he openly massacred… several thousand Muslim prisoners.’ Despite bringing light to this event, Richard is still named as ‘courageous’ and ‘brave’ and sent to ‘free the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims.’ Again, few Crusader atrocities are mentioned pre A-level and no effort is given to portray Saladin and the people on the other side as anything more than a vague mention of ‘the Muslims.’

It wasn’t until university I found out about the horrendous atrocities committed by the British Empire. I remember feeling physically sick when reading about the methods of torture used by British soldiers against the Mau Mau people in the 1950s, anger at the slaughtering of Indian civilians at the Amritsar Massacre in 1919 and confusion when finding there was more to Winston Churchill than just the cartoon-like grumpy yet charming war hero we are taught from a young age to know and love. My school history lessons rightly covered the horrendous loss of life during both world wars, but never once taught me about the over one million Indian soldiers who served in World War One, or the 2.5 million African soldiers. In addition, the curriculum is quick to tell us about the importance of the Magna Carta in building modern Britain, but less so about the Windrush generation brought into reignite the economy after World War Two. There is a distinct lack of minority voices among historians, primary sources and textbook authors throughout school curriculums. When looking at History, students should grow up with a view that considers everything.

In a 2019 YouGov poll, 32% of British people stated they were proud of the Empire, with 19% saying they were slightly ashamed and the rest unsure. So that’s 49% of people who don’t know enough to express an opinion about the Empire, a key part of our history.

The government has dismissed the need for an overhaul of the history curriculum, which is a mistake. Black Lives Matter has opened new opportunities to revisit uncomfortable debates and we should be seizing them with both hands. Positively, schools such as Winchester, St. Pauls and more have taken this moment to ‘reconsider’ their curriculums, investigating a lack of attention on Britain’s role in the slave trade and the darker parts of Imperial history. Children should be learning everything about our historical figures and events – the good, the bad and the ugly. We appear to be ashamed of admitting the flaws of our heroes and national figures. Instead of ‘Winston Churchill was a wartime leader who did no wrong’, why can’t we have ‘Winston Churchill was an important, intelligent and charismatic wartime leader, but also held controversial opinions and was partly responsible for a manmade famine which killed many people in India.’ We need to present students with a balanced view, instead of raising our heroes on pedestals and erasing the bad bits of history. Now is the time for a rethink of our national curriculum, embracing both the happiness and the pain that Britain has caused in its long and bloody history.  

Useful / well-rounded resources: 

  1. Lucy Campbell, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jul/30/history-young-black-britons-race-schools-policing , accessed 10/9/2020.
  2. Mason Boycott-Owen, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/20/private-schools-look-decolonise-syllabuses-black-lives-matter/ accessed 11/9/2020.

Back to school? Here’s how to help your child adjust

by Lucy Vallance

Has time lost all meaning? Even our most trusted and reliable metric seems to have succumbed to the endless bedlam of pandemic life. Just yesterday we were grimly addicted to a sombre tea-time address from three men on podiums and now, we’ve had a couple of reduced-price suppers, cancelled (then rebooked, then cancelled) a few holidays and suddenly it’s September, the heatwave is over and it is back to school.

It’s all a little unsettling. Here’s how you can help your child adjust:

Reinstate Routine – Much research has gone into the efficacy of routine in helping children handle grief and trauma and the same applies to adapting to major change. The return to school will enforce some structure back into family life. It will no longer be acceptable for them to be eating Wotsits in their pyjamas at 2pm. Whilst this may feel like a major imposition on their newfound liberty, having to be showered, dressed, homework completed, school bag packed etc will restore purpose, giving them a timetable and more definition between work and play. If some of their extracurriculars have been cancelled, insert a few yourselves. Family games night on Wednesdays, Zoom with the grandparents on Sundays, pizza on Fridays. The reassuring recurrence of these events will provide some certainty in a most uncertain time. Establish as many as you realistically can keep up.

Admit when you don’t know the answer to a Corona related question

Will we see our cousins at half-term? When will things go back to normal? Why does Mrs Wilkinson’s mask make her look so weird? 

Parents and teachers are often held up as gatekeepers to all the world’s information but it is absolutely ok to explain that we are dealing with something highly unusual here, many variables are unknown and some of what we think we know, we might get wrong as the situation is constantly changing. Don’t attempt to conceal your uncertainty and worry by not talking about it. This will increase the fear it conjures in young minds, not unlike horror films, the most effective of which you never actually see the evil, you only sense it. Bring Covid out of the shadows and into the light and the whole thing becomes less scary. Joke about it, explain that everyone is having to ride the coronacoaster and all of us (including the politicians) are having to wing it.

Accept that all safety precautions and preventative measures implemented by the school will not succeed all the time. My primary school teacher friend had me in hysterics regaling her dismay at duly quarantining the class rubbers for 72 hours after each and every use, only to find her pupils licking each other in the playground during break. They are only 6 years old. Encourage your children to adhere to all safety efforts but let’s not get overly neurotic. If everyone does their best, most of the time, then with any luck, it should be enough. Which brings me on to…

Give everyone a 25% margin of being a covidiot. I got yelled at by a lady ambling out of a supermarket the other day. She was ignoring the massive arrows and exiting through the entrance.’That’s not 2m!!!” she shrieked. My eyebrows shot up. “I’ve got vulnerable people at home” she added, as if it were case closed. Honestly, reader, I was seething at the pure injustice of it. Yet it has taken me years to realise there is no point arguing with idiots. – it does the blood pressure no good. Emit a silent sigh and bite your tongue because we never fully know the burden someone else is carrying. This woman and I are not operating under the same circumstances. We all have vastly different home set-ups, family demographics, health concerns, attitudes to risk, anxiety levels, political ideologies and we certainly all have different theories on how we would have handled this better if we were in charge. Allow everyone – teachers, pupils, other parents – a margin of getting it a little wrong and extend that tolerance, compassion and empathy to yourself too. Trust me, it’s a better way to live.

Look for the good. Sorry to go all ‘gratitude warrior’ on you but dwelling on the positive where you can is crucial. It becomes easier the more often you force yourself to do it and will have a knock-on effect on the perceptions of those around you. Yes, it has been an awful time, but hey, it’s also been fascinating. Humanity has had to rapidly innovate and adapt to survive. There have been notable winners as well as losers (shout out to anyone who bought shares in Zoom at the beginning of the year). Our human spirit has found benefits to this new life, salvaged from the wreckage. That’s the macrocosm but in the microcosm find as much joy in the minutiae of family life as you can, celebrate each and every achievement even if it feels insubstantial in the grand scheme of things. This morning one of my students was dancing with happiness on scoring 41% in a maths test. Not impressive in isolation but given that she used to hit 30%, this was a milestone. Celebrate them all. Attitude is everything.

Take-away tutors

by Harry Constant

I recently heard someone say that they are looking forward to the moment when things become precedented again after Covid 19. I think we can all agree that a little normality would go a long way towards calming the storm whipped up in the wake of all the changes we have seen. Schools and universities have been hit hard by the UK’s attempts to navigate the best course through the pandemic. However, there are some common, perhaps subconscious assumptions about teaching and learning that Covid 19 has given us cause to question. In the long term, I think that the true value of private tutors will be better understood as a result.

We often associate learning with a specific place and time. For many, school is a limiting factor on their education, a place that bounds and confines the potential for new opportunities and challenges. Now, parents may rightly be questioning whether there are other options for their children. Whether out of concerns for safety, the demands of practicality or the preferences of individuals, people are seeking out alternative times and places for their children to learn. One of the more obvious options available is hiring a tutor. 

The greater flexibility and more personalised learning experiences that having a tutor makes possible has always been useful, but never more so than now. Perhaps more families will take the opportunity to hire a live-in tutor now that we are advised to keep social contact to a minimum. I expect that many will come looking for tutors because of the pandemic, but that they will continue to use them long after the present crisis is averted. Tutors are a little like academic umbrellas. Most people go about their lives without bothering to use them. Most of the time, the rain is only a little annoying, sometimes the weather is even sunny. In most cases, parents only look for tutors around exam time or in other important moments in a student’s development, but, much like umbrellas, once you get used to having one around, it is difficult to imagine how you ever got by without one.

If I tried to list all the advantages of using a tutor, we would most likely have a new head of Ofqual by the time I finished. Tutors provide a learning environment free from the pressures and expectations of peers. In a classroom, it might seem more important to crack a joke than note down that physics formula. In a Zoom class, there is often no need for any engagement at all. With a tutor, your questions are not lost in the maelstrom of considerations even the best of teachers cannot overcome all the time. Even the most dedicated teacher will struggle to give each individual student the degree of attention that a tutor can. And now, the value of having the chance to learn in the comfort and safety of their own homes has probably never looked more appealing to students. 

So many things have become available to us in our homes lately. It seems as if you can find a take-away option for almost anything at the moment. The tutors from Bonas MacFarlane are no exception. Unlike a standard take-away, Bonas MacFarlane does not make a mess of your kitchen or give you a stomach ache the next morning. In fact, the report system used by our tutors helps to ensure that you are kept in the loop and able to tailor the experience to best suit your children. There is no need to put all of your academic eggs in the uncertain basket of the UK’s school and university system. Get a take-away tutor. They deliver results. 

The Case for a US College Education

by Jamie Bogyo, US College Consultant | Bonas MacFarlane.

It’s been a rough couple of months for US Universities. Students have had to pack up and leave campus, schools are still scrambling to determine how they should balance remote vs. in-person learning, and Ivy League universities are either suing the US Government over immigration laws or being sued by the US Government for discriminating against white people in their application process. The situation is – to borrow from the verbose tweets of America’s current leader – “Sad!”           

In this fraught time for US universities, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own collegiate experience, and the value of US higher education at large. I entered Yale fully expecting to major in Mathematics. Math was by far my strongest subject in high school, so when I walked through Yale’s gothic gates I imagined the wonderful world of Differential Equations, Combinatorics and Analysis would await.  

What I didn’t expect was to bounce between majors throughout my undergraduate career – careering between my interests in medieval history, theatre, astronomy, classical civilization, creative writing, and music – before finally settling on theatre studies with a playwriting concentration as my official major. Four years since receiving my undergraduate diploma, I’ve graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where I trained as an actor for three years, and am a playwright with a top literary agent. My life now has no resemblance whatsoever to the one I envisaged when I first arrived on Yale’s campus, cracked open the now digitised “Blue Book” containing more than two thousand undergraduate courses, and decided I’d done so much math in high school that maybe I’d give it a rest for the first semester, just to see if there was anything else I liked.  

This, in a nutshell, was what my college experience was all about: the freedom to explore and the opportunity to discover new passions. Also a whole lot of singing, but my musings on undergraduate a capella groups might have to wait for another time. Nowadays, as the chair of Bonas MacFarlane’s US Admissions Team, I help students gain acceptance to universities where I hope they too will uncover new interests from the smorgasbord of academic opportunities offered to them. Whether it’s in sociology, psychology, biology, Egyptology or something that doesn’t end in –ology, there is a whole world of courses and disciplines available at American universities, and I encourage every student I work with to make the absolute most of them during their education.  

Because that, in a sense, is their education – not just what they learn at university, but the experience of choosing what it is that interests them and pursuing their own interests, as opposed to following a pre-ordained path decided when they were seventeen. There are several hugely important differences between US and UK Universities (four years vs. three years, cost, Freshers week vs Frat life etc…) but the most fundamental pedagogical difference is the flexibility of the US system.  

Students at US Universities don’t have to declare a major until the end of their second year – and even then they still have the option to switch majors, as I continued to do until the fall of my senior year. Ultimately, a student’s chosen major – whether “declared” in freshman or senior year – will still only account for roughly one third of the classes they will take at university – which leaves a whole lot of room for exploration and discovery.  

If this sounds like a model that would work for you, you’re in luck. US universities have never been more interested in international students than they are right now. Top schools across America are fearful of the impact Covid-19 will have on their draw to international students and are going to great lengths to expand their international recruitment. Schools are also becoming increasingly flexible with their standardized test requirements. Some are even dropping the tests altogether, removing one obstacle that’s traditionally been a major deterrent to international students who aren’t as familiar with standardized testing as their American counterparts. Additionally, rising fees in the UK and falling fees in the US, not to mention the existence of several “need blind” US universities, means that the price- gap between the two countries is lower than ever. 

My academic journey at Yale was one I could never have foreseen when I was accepted. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For international students who aren’t sure what interests them most, or are open to studying multiple disciplines in parallel, I always recommend they look at applying to US universities. These universities, in turn, look for an intellectual curiosity and proactiveness from applicants, as these are the students who will make the most of a university’s resources!  

I’m incredibly grateful for what Yale afforded me, and I would never have had the freedom to embark on the path I ultimately chose in any other higher education system. I encourage every international student looking at universities to look past the headlines and explore what the US really has to offer. As I learned from my own time in college, you never know what you might find.  

Kill the Black One First: An Intersection between the Police and Society

Gbenga Ojo-Aromokudu reviews A Search for Belonging by Michael Fuller

Over the past few months, you have likely heard many discussions about defunding the police, and calls to stamp out racism on an individual, and structural level. It is essential that everyone engages with these topics, or British society will never reach an equitable solution to the problem that is racism.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement began in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer.1 Since then, there have continued to be a disproportionate number of killings of Black people at the hands of the police, both within the US and beyond. Scores of names have unfortunately been added to the list of the deceased, while the perpetrators in many cases have gone unpunished, or simply lost their jobs.

The United Kingdom is by no means innocent when it comes to racism and racist policing. While it is helpful to make comparisons with the United States, it is important to say that being “not as bad as the US” is not inherently good enough. Racism very much exists here and is a problem that must be addressed irrespective of what goes on abroad. To give just one, very recent example, the current Metropolitan Police commissioner recently denied the existence of institutional racism in the force, in response to accusations of racial profiling.2 This is particularly important, given that the Macpherson report of 1997 did in fact label the force as institutionally racist.

For most people, our understanding of the police is based on the present, but not on the past that lead us to be here now. This is what makes Michael Fuller’s book so timely. A Search for Belonging (Bonnier Books), was first published in 2019 when it was titled Kill the Black One First. The book is a memoir by Michael Fuller, who in 2004 became the first Black Chief Constable in the United Kingdom. Fuller examines his experiences as a senior police officer, as well as his life leading up to this appointment. 

Fuller was born to Windrush-generation3 Jamaican parents, which provides an additional dynamic to his relationship with British institutions and makes his story particularly important to reflect upon. In this review I will focus on three crucial important moments in Fuller’s story: his decision to become a policeman; an encounter with skinheads; and coming face to face with rioters.

In the second chapter, Fuller recounts the moment he stated his desires to become a policeman to his father and his friends. “They all stared at me as if I had just announced I wanted to be an axe murderer.” Those in the room gave multiple examples why Fuller could not become a police officer, like Don’t you know they are our enemy?“. However as Fuller attests, the gap between the police and Black communities is not one straight border, but a nuanced and individual relationship. Black police officers do indeed exist. 

But when acknowledging the existence of racism in the police force, where does a Black police officer align themselves? 

Fuller describes going to a Black barbershop and choosing to conceal the fact he was a policeman, to avoid being ostracised amongst the other customers. The same day, he intervened when passing a Black man being attacked by skinheads, using his police status as a lever to defend the victim. This is a perfect example of the duality (or multiplicity) of the Black identity. Many people want to join the police force with a goal of helping others. While a noble intent, this will only be possible if you as an individual are accepted and supported by your colleagues. 

What happened next is both literally and metaphorically an example of the reality of being Black. Fuller entered a phone booth to call for help, and the skinheads continued to threaten and insult him, calling him a “Black bastard.” Fuller notes that Most criminals did that. It wasn’t enough to call me a bastard. My colour was an important part of their hatred and always had to be named.” Ultimately a police car arrived and the assailants scattered, but had they chosen to physically assault him or worse, his status as a member of the police would not have saved him. If you are Black in a racist system, no amount of accolades or titles can protect you from the danger that your Blackness might attract.

Later, Fuller describes the experience of being on a bus with colleagues and commenting on people on the road outside. These were the events that led up to the book’s title. It was a moment of multi-faceted intersections. While sat on a bus full of white police officers, hearing all manner of racist comments and slurs he had to decide whether or not to speak up. Crucially, he recalled advice he was once given to “not taking it personally” and “sit tight and complain through the official channels“. All the while his “official channel”, namely the Inspector, was engrossed in a crossword. This is so emblematic of discussions around race in the United Kingdom, both then and now. Black people have to spend energy bringing attention to the very existence of racism that is occurring in plain sight, before even getting into the possible solutions.

This episode evokes very clear imagery. Fuller was sat on a bus, with the glass windows reinforcing the metaphorical and physical barrier between the police and the public. Although both parties could see each other, it does not make them one and the same. The other officers spoke with full knowledge that there would be no negative consequences for their words,  rendering Fuller himself almost invisible. However, this is contrasted harshly a few pages later, when in a confrontation with rioting crowds, he was anything but invisible. Fuller recalls, “a strange lull and then suddenly a single cry rose from inside the crowd, ‘Kill the Black one first!'” Fuller’s Blackness separates him and isolates him from both the Black public, and the White police force.

The juxtapositions of being Black and existing in a racist environment are crystal clear throughout. By communicating his own experience to the reader, Fuller does an excellent job of holding the mirror up to his reality and allowing us to see it for what it is.

Further Reading

For a more contemporary example of what it is like to work as a Black police officer in Britain, I would really recommend the following episode of the Over The Bridge Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/overthebridgeuk/over-the-bridge-black-police. Topics discussed include: increasing representation within the Met Police, addressing the necessity of the police, and an insider’s perspective on the implicit rules of policing.

Chanté Joseph on ITV https://www.indy100.com/article/has-britain-changed-chante-joseph-debate-police-itv-institutional-racism-9624041

Account of a Black Police officer https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/15/black-police-officer-met-institutionally-racist-bame-officers


  1. https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/met-police-cressida-dick-racism-bianca-williams-stop-search-a9607671.html

Kill the Black One First: An Intersection between the Police and Society
Gbenga Ojo-Aromokudu reviews A Search for Belonging by Michael Fuller

You can read a brief summary of the Windrush Scandal here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43782241, but I would encourage you to research this further

Residential Tuition

The educational landscape has shifted significantly in 2020, with online schooling and tuition becoming the norm. This has worked well for many and has highlighted the benefits, for some families, of a more flexible approach to schooling.

For a long time, I have worked as a residential tutor with children who are either home-schooled during term-time or receiving extra tuition during the holidays. Whether due to the pupil’s particular needs, complicated family schedules or simply down to personal preference, many children spend time being educated at home or while travelling rather than attending a formal institution full-time. The experience of working with a dedicated, residential tutor can be extremely positive and the results can be profound.

For many families, residential tuition provides an excellent solution when travelling abroad; a way of keeping their children’s development on track and in line with the rigorous standards at most British schools. Such was my first residential placement as a fairly new tutor several years ago, when I accompanied a family to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The two children had been attending prestigious London prep schools and the family wished to keep up with and expand upon the curriculum, enabling a seamless transition on their return. The trip was a great success; the children delighted in having their lessons tailored to their interests and abilities and made fantastic progress across the board. 

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to join numerous families on their travels across Europe, Asia and the USA. Some, like my pupils in Kazakhstan, were temporarily missing school; many others were preparing for exams or an imminent move to the UK. In these cases, residential tuition can be of great help in order to work on language proficiency and revise key skills and subjects. Likewise, many families take advantage of the summer holidays to ensure that their children keep up with their learning over the long break and return to school in September having filled any gaps and feeling ready for the year ahead. Despite the understandable reluctance of some pupils to have tuition during their holidays, most quickly come to appreciate the regular routine and to enjoy the one-on-one attention of a skilled, motivating tutor. 

One of the most unique advantages of residential tuition is having the scope to study and develop topics far beyond the school curriculum. My home-schooled students have often embarked on exciting assignments, frequently informed by the location. Favourite projects have included studying marine life whilst in French Polynesia, American History whilst in Washington, D.C, volcanoes whilst in Asia and the Great Fire of London whilst stopping off in the UK. This cross-curricular approach to research and learning is of huge benefit, and great enjoyment, to a young student. They learn to notice and appreciate their environment and collaborate on an extended piece of work, working alongside an enthusiastic and knowledgeable mentor. 

In the UK, we are fortunate in that most schools recognise the benefits of such ‘time out.’ Unlike in many countries, where each school year has to be passed in order to progress, British schools are usually happy to accommodate requests for a term or even a year to be missed in order for a pupil to follow a programme of enrichment. A residential tutor, or team of tutors, can help to optimise that time and ensure an outstanding experience for the family. As for the tutor, it is always rewarding to see the growth and transformation, both academic and personal, that can result from a successful trip. 

Lauren Williams