In the next in our CuparNow KnowHow series, we caught up with Neil Baillie of Kip McGrath … the tutoring company who have just relocated from their offices in Cupar’s Granary Centre to their new home on St Catherine Street …
Neil served in the RAF for over 26 years, including 11 years on Mountain Rescue. He’s climbed some of the biggest peaks around the world and served in a number of conflicts on different continents.
He left to become a teacher and qualified as a Secondary English teacher at the University of Edinburgh.Neil says: “I have taught in private, state and international schools – including 2 years in Shanghai. After returning to Scotland I decided to start working for myself and in 2018 set up a tutoring franchise teaching English and maths to primary and secondary school students.”
His franchise employs four other teachers – including a specialist ‘early years primary’ teacher and a high school maths teacher. Neil explains their recent move, saying: “We have grown steadily over the last 3 years and have now moved to larger offices to allow us to expand further.” He adds: “Our students love coming to us and we love seeing them grow in confidence and ability and reaching their full potential.”
So why the need for tutoring? Neil had tutored at various times in his teaching career and knew that it was the way to really help those who were struggling or needed to be pushed further. He says: “As a high school English teacher, I loved sharing my knowledge and passion for language and literature with my students. However, working with 30+ students in each class, it was sometimes difficult to make the personal connection and progress with every student. Tutoring gives all the benefits of teaching without the stresses and difficulties.”
The thought of giving up a secure profession to strike out on his own was something that he struggled with – but, in his own words: “I’m so glad that I made that change. I still keep in touch with my old colleagues and can see the great challenges that they have to deal with every day. The need for that extra, personalised support is greater than ever.”
Neil and his colleagues recognise that the pandemic – and all that it has entailed over the last 18 months – has only made things more urgent, with so many students struggling with nearly a year of home schooling and dropping further behind.
“We are here to help and my military background has given me a wide range of skills and abilities which enable me to deal effectively with most situations.” He explains that, in particular, his training in mountain rescue gave him skills on which his life, and the lives of others, depended. “As a Team Leader I was often called upon to send my team into dangerous situations, often in extreme weather, and in unfamiliar terrain. For me, teaching English and maths is much the same – it is all about preparing young people for life and giving them a wide range of skills to help them cope in a wide variety of situations.”
Communication is Key
Neil adds: “Communication is vital in any job, in any social interaction and in any relationship. English is all about learning to communicate and express yourself accurately, appropriately and effectively. Numeracy skills are essential in every day life too, whether it’s working out if loose fruit is less expensive than packaged fruit, or working out the best deal to finance a purchase. We give these skills to our students and teach them how to apply them.”
Neil takes time to explain their work and what they are able to offer – and it is very much based on a personal approach. “There are other tutors and educators out there, but ours are special in a number of ways.” All KipMcGrath’s tutors in Cupar are fully qualified and experienced teachers. Their resources – developed over 40 years and continually updated – ensure every child has their own, personalised learning plan based on the results of their free assessment. He adds: “Each activity they complete is scored and graded to ensure full understanding before progressing – if we see ‘red’ scores, that highlights an area which needs special attention and consolidation.”
Neil and his colleagues regularly reassess their students to show them – and their parents – how well they are progressing. He says: “All of these things, combined with a friendly, relaxed learning environment, make it a wonderful place to come and learn and to work.”
The KipMcGrath Team
Neil talks through their team on St Catherine Street. “We have six staff. Elizabeth is one of the Directors and runs the office and administration of the business. Without her, nothing happens!” Rada is their specialist high school maths teacher focussing on high school and exam level students – and has “a wealth of knowledge about the exam syllabuses and how to prepare students for these vital examinations“. Catherine is a high school English teacher who also works with primary students for English and maths. Neil says: “She has a very patient nature and is a great encouragement to her students.”
Maureen is a retired primary school teacher. Neil adds: “With over 35 years of experience and knowledge, she has seen and done it all! She brooks no nonsense and will get the best out of all her students, whether they are catching up at school or are pushing ahead.” Kirsty is their early years numeracy specialist working with some of their younger students who need more help with the basics. Neil says: “She is very skilled in helping them to visualise and understand the concepts of numeracy and start to apply them.” And that leaves Neil: “I am an English high school teacher. I take many of the English exam level students but I also teach primary English and maths and high school maths up to National 5. I loved maths at school but ‘discovered’ English when I completed my Masters at St Andrews much later in life.”
Pursuing A Dream
Neil left what he describes as ‘very safe careers’ to step out on his own to pursue his dream. “Both of my previous careers were very ‘safe’. Yes, I served in the RAF through 5 conflicts, but it was safe in respect of job security. I always knew how long I had left to serve and was signed on for more years after each promotion.” He left voluntarily only to take up teacher training and to start a new career. “Even in teaching, I quickly secured a permanent post with Fife Council.” Leaving those kinds of secure jobs to pursue a dream and step into the unknown was “a big risk” but, as Neil explains: “I’ve been really fortunate that things have worked even with some sleepless nights on the way!”
The successes of his students keep him going. “The letters of thanks and reviews from grateful parents are always a real boost for us. One particular success was a student, who had some issues, that came to us struggling with maths. In fact, even the word ‘maths’ often triggered emotional outbursts. After being with us for 6 months they were given an award at the school End of Year Awards, as the greatest advancement in maths for their whole year group. It was a very emotional group of tutors who received that piece of news!”
As with all those who feature on our Blog profiles, we asked Neil what he would recommend to someone visiting Cupar for the first time – or for the first time in a long time: “I have always been delighted and refreshed every time I’ve taken a walk along the River Eden, especially through the parks in the town centre. It is a beautiful, open and serene experience that I would encourage everyone to experience. The mixture of parents and children playing on the swings, fitness enthusiasts using the exercise equipment, dog walkers and others, all sharing the open space and passing the time of day with each other, is a wonderful example of the friendly and welcoming people of this town.”
Kip McGrath (Cupar and St Andrews) can be found right in the heart of Cupar on St Catherine Street.
The team serve Cupar, St Andrews and all of NE Fife providing qualified teachers to help children with English and maths.
“From reading, spelling, writing and comprehension we can develop your child’s English skills from primary school all the way through to Higher English. Our specialist maths teachers are also on hand to nurture and develop numeracy skills from the times tables all the way to Higher Mathematics qualifications”
If you feel your child would benefit from a personalised tutoring programme, to support and develop their learning, then call KipMcGrath on 07365 269035 or call in for a free, no obligation assessment.
Thanks for reading.