When we think of the teaching profession, an image of entrepreneurial fervor is perhaps not what immediately comes to mind. But few industries are in need of innovation and creative risk-taking more than education. And those who have made the leap from teaching to entrepreneurship can provide fascinating insights into how these vocations can merge.
Alex Dyer began his career as a Psychology teacher, working at a London school for eight years before making the move into business ownership. Having become disillusioned with the mainstream education system, he decided to move on from teaching and founded education start-up, Tutor House, in 2013. His aim was to use his teaching expertise and understanding of what’s missing within today’s classrooms to address the problems faced by many UK students. At the centre of Tutor House’s project was the question: how can we be harnessing technology to make education more efficient, personalised and productive?
As Alex explains, “class sizes are among the most pressing issues UK schools have to contend with, as they systematically prevent students from receiving the one-to-one attention they need to reach a full and thorough understanding of what they are being taught.” With so many actors on the educational stage, from parents to students to teachers themselves, unhappy with the system, Alex saw a niche and leapt at the opportunity to help address these issues from an alternative angle.
The benefits of 1:1 tuition are well documented. Access to a private tutor over an extended period has repeatedly been demonstrated to help students improve their academic performance, whatever level of study they may be at. Tutor House consistently monitors student progress and has observed that the average client receiving private tuition over an extended period can expect to improve their results by 2-3 grades.
Tutoring is an industry that has traditionally been preserved for the elites. But start-ups like Alex’s aim to disrupt this trend, putting affordability at the heart of what they offer. His large-scale vision has, from day one, been to move tutoring away from being a luxury to an integrated part of each student’s educational experience, whatever their background.
Central to getting Tutor House’s project off the ground was a focus on perfecting the mechanics of tutor client connection. In the interests of flexibility and maximum client choice, features sorely lacking within the mainstream schooling system, Alex decided to opt for a primarily online approach, meaning the development of a state of the art virtual teaching platform was imperative.
Alongside this would be a free ‘Match me to a tutor service’, encouraging students or their parents to seek out direct advice from the team’s educational experts on the best tutor for them over simply browsing the lists of available tutors provided on the website. Within this
enterprise, Dyer’s understanding of various learning styles, exam boards and study performance indicators would play a central role in his start-up’s success, allowing Tutor House to stand out from the crowd with a truly bespoke service.
Fast forward eight years and Alex’s vision for tutoring is being vindicated, with the UK government having introduced the National Tutoring Programme in the midst of the pandemic’s devastating effects on education. This indicates a recognition of the very real potential for systemic change offered by private tuition and exciting possibilities for expansion. Tutor House has been consistently growing since its inception and now boasts a thousand-strong cache of tutors. With the tutoring industry’s reputation on the rise, opportunities to branch out into B2B have allowed Tutor House to diversify and work with a variety of partners to deliver its services in the form of social mobility projects.
So what advice does Alex have for those looking to pivot within the education industry?
Alex reminds aspiring business owners that mainstream schooling has shown very little inclination towards change over the last century. But those looking to create waves within education mustn’t let this put them off.
“Teaching should not be a sector that stands still,” says Alex. “Education is sorely in need of innovation, whatever form it takes. The period imposed on us by the pandemic during which we were scrambling for the best ways to ensure as little disruption to schooling as possible has shown us how much mainstream education can take from private tutoring. This past year, perhaps more than ever, we’ve seen how valuable experimentation and entrepreneurial ambition are within the educational sphere. So never assume teaching is the only way you can usefully contribute to making the system better.”
In practical terms, for start-ups to get their idea off the ground, Alex advises realism; “it’s all very well having an entrepreneurial vision, but how viable is it in the long term? Is it an idea that risks getting lost in a haze of trends and quickly burning itself out? As a teacher, using
my existing understanding of the system and what it needed was crucial in creating a tool that students would keep coming back to.
“Once you’ve established your niche, make sure your underlying concept is strong. Actively seek out the challenges your platform may face and try to turn them into opportunities. Rome wasn’t built in a day; don’t be thrown by the difficulties you’ll inevitably encounter in the early phases of your business before you start to see progress. Your teaching days will have prepared you well for uphill battles. After years of parents evenings, assemblies and year 11 first thing on a Monday, I found I was far better prepared for the grit of early business ownership than I’d expected”.
And finally, maintaining a constant dialogue with your customers to ensure systematic improvement, as well as a willingness to innovate that simply does not run out, is what will keep you afloat during the tough times… That and having a strong team around you who share your goals for improving education.”
Written by the Tutor House content team