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.

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.

Is university still worthwhile in this new, Coronavirus blighted world?

Imagine this… you slaved your way through the relentless pressure of GCSE’s and A Levels, spent hours freezing on a hockey pitch, shocked everyone by reaching Grade 8 with some pretty questionable violin technique and survived an unnervingly odd cookery residential which you were told was essential to your Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award… Later, you nailed the subtle nuances of a UCAS statement that was both personal and profound, flattering yet humble. You’ve done it, you’re leaving home, flying the nest, off to a limitless future that is yours for the taking… except you’re not… you’re in a Zoom waiting room with the rest of the Class of 2023’s untimely incoming Freshers…

Sadly it doesn’t take much imagination as this is the reality facing this year’s university applicants hoodwinked out of a ridiculous first term of parties, new friends and wide-eyed fun. Without these hard won rites of passage and with the prospect of glitchy lecturing, awkwardly constricted to the parameters of our screens… is there much point still ‘attending’ university? If this unexpected (I refuse to say unprecedented) predicament now applies to your child then (and apologies for trotting out another of the government’s most overused pandemic phrases) you are not alone.

Will the next academic year at university be the same? 100% no. It cannot be. Should they still go? Categorically yes.

Allow me to explain why. First off, let me manage your expectations. I do not claim to possess any prophetic skill and although we share a surname, Sir Patrick Vallance is not my Dad, hence I am privy to no insider information. Yet it is my suspicion that a recovery will come sooner than expected. Last month Cambridge spearheaded the move to online tuition and other Universities are predictably following suit. I don’t believe this will be a permanent move. Although there are some clear advantages. My own Land Law lectures would have been substantially more palatable had they not mercilessly began at 9am following another raucous night out. The ability to pause and rewind would have also been incredibly useful when a professor muttered another intricately complex legal theorem. So perhaps for a short period only, lectures will suit the students timetable and learning style at the sacrifice of the small amounts of socialising we crammed in en route to our seats (I soon found that chatting during lectures themselves was the quickest way to be hated by both the lecturers and my more conscientious peers).

My general impression of the human spirit suggests that anytime we feel something has been taken from us we overcompensate to make up for it. Did you see the queues outside Primark when it reopened? Why anyone would queue for a £1 thong in a global crisis is beyond me, but hey, whatever gets you through. In a less déclassé example, the Roaring Twenties directly followed the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 so we may well find this pent up need to party like it’s ‘99, results in the time of their life when they finally are released into the wild night.

Compounding this hope is the fact that universities themselves are fiercely competitive, it is not in their economic or reputational interest for students to have a bad time. They will be keenly aware of the limitations of remote classes and I expect them to work hard to make up for these shortcomings. Perhaps tutorials will continue in person, welfare provisions will be enhanced, socialising in small groups will be enabled and encouraged.

Furthermore university towns rely on students to frequent their bars, restaurants, clubs and shops so for the sake of our battered economy and the thousands of associated jobs, they will want the students back in person, posthaste, stealing traffic cones and singing songs about tea drinking penguins as they meander home at 3am.

I’d like to caveat my argument thus far with the exemption of one demographic who I think would self-identify quicker than they would self-isolate. If your child is not academically inclined, if every essay has felt insurmountable and you doubted whether they would emerge from an exam hall alive, then this Corona-induced situation is the strongest get-out clause imaginable. With remote learning, excruciating tuition costs and an especially volatile graduate jobs market converging to form an unholy trinity, never has the pursuit of a vocation seemed as strong a prospect. One of my least academically successful friends is killing it as a personal trainer… and although I doubt she would regret one second of her three years spent drunk at Bournemouth, her degree has not aided her lucrative career enough to justify the time, (mild) effort or expense.

If you were questioning your child’s fit for a traditional university long before Wuhan’s wet markets hit the news, then this is the perfect time to reassess. Talk to them. When do their eyes light up? I can guarantee there is a course or apprenticeship to match whatever sparks a fire, no matter how esoteric or useless it may seem. Did they bore you with the minutely detailed analysis of their new Topshop skirt? London College of Fashion. Are they so obsessed with Call of Duty that they haven’t left their room in weeks? The Marines. (Or perhaps Games Design at Staffordshire University dependent on athletic ability). Have they neglected their coursework because they are in an electro-pop band? Brighton Institute of Music. Do they like money but are hopeless at time management? We need more electricians and plumbers. Be the coolest parents ever: allow them the liberation of choice, it will serve them better than having to dogmatically adhere to the accepted narrative of the conventional epistemic path.

I must now attempt to be ‘woke’ enough to check my own privilege: I do not underestimate the substantial financial commitment of a degree, exacerbated by the lack of Covid fee reduction, when the finances of so many are under strain. If you can afford it however, I think the cost: benefit ratio still pays dividends. Whilst the UK may suck at virus control, it excels at further education. Our institutions are some of the oldest and greatest in the world and I would urge anyone considering studying here from abroad to not be put off by the political blunderings that have caused international embarrassment.  Much research is done into the value of a degree. Some is easily quantifiable: job opportunities, increased salary potential etc. Others are less tangible but arguably more important: friendships, living away from home, the expansion of one’s horizons. To be surrounded by bright, creative young minds is endlessly inspiring whether you are deconstructing psychotherapy in a seminar or drinking in a pub (still discussing Freud, possibly). 

Both the opportunities offered during your degree and those resulting are amplified. On graduation I was flukey enough to be offered a job at Channel 4, a place on the BBC’s grad scheme and a place at drama school. In the final interview stage of all three, the panel were only ever superficially interested in my Law degree. What they all wanted to talk about instead was the play I had written, produced, directed and starred in, in my final semester when I should have been balls deep in the Law library. Children of the Underworld was a study of mass hysteria, a collection of dark tales and scenes that I staged in promenade at night in a brutally cold February. It was the first time a play had taken place outside the theatre but I just saw too much atmospheric magic in having my actors set their stories amongst the misty lake, woods and eerily magnificent buildings standing proud against a real life backdrop of stars. 

Running around a frozen campus donning a long coat yelling ‘follow us, but take care, the ground is treacherous underfoot’ to the shivering audience my audacity had just endangered, like some Dickensian Russell Brand, directly translated into running around a muddy field with the BBC at Glastonbury yelling stage times at Ed Sheeran. I could not be more grateful for either of these experiences and the many, many more.

It is true that the greatest creativity is born from pain, that humanity progresses because it has to solve problems and the solutions generated don’t just push us beyond the problem, but on further. We are adaptable because we have to be, university life must continue because life has to continue. It may be a lighter experience for 6 months or so, but your time at university enriches your full life, not just the 10 week terms it occupies. It is greater than the sum of its parts. It endures: the knowledge, those places, the people, they echo down the corridors of your life, long after the books are shut, the caps flung and that joyous orange traffic cone has been returned to its rightful place on the newly quietened, the temporarily quietened street.

c. Lucy Vallance, Bonas MacFarlane