Everyone has a story. Private tutor Muhammad Ali, working from his Romilly Road home, talks about his love of maths, physics and Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird.
Muhammad Ali, Cambridge PhD, homeschooler and Islington tutor: “Maths is easier with a good tutor.
Muhammad Ali doesn’t just share a famous name with the great boxer, they also share a birthday (17 January). But that’s where the similarities stop. Muhammad grew up in Manchester, where he did a BSc in Physics. He then took a PhD in Physics at Cambridge University. “A PhD at Cambridge was basically full time and funded so less stressful than a BA or BSc,” he says. At the time he was studying ‘Thin film magnetism’. “It was pioneering research into how much data one can cram into one square inch of material – for a CD or DVD. Then a lot was funded by IBM in America so it was all square inches, it’s probably metric now.”
Absorbing as this was Muhammad changed direction after meeting his wife Catherine, moving to London in 2010 and marrying. “We lived in Gibson Square, posh Islington, in the one bed basement flat in Catherine’s father’s four storey Georgian house. He was only there every now and then but when our second child was on the way we thought the space was a bit tight.”
There followed a nail-biting search for a family house. Eventually “in 2014 we bought a place on Romilly Road. It was very run down so for a year we temporarily stayed with my mother in law in Canonbury. We moved into Romilly Road properly in August 2015. It’s an amazing place and I love the area. It’s three minutes walk from Finsbury Park tube station, all the shops are here. It’s so convenient.”
He’s even got friendly neighbours – he plays squash with the man next door.
Muhammad and Catherine, a qualified primary school teacher who has worked at Hanover Primary School and in Tower Hamlets, now have two daughters at Highbury Community Nursery on Aubert Park, and are expecting their next child in December. “Amani is nearly five so we plan on home schooling,” says Muhammad who is clearly looking forward to the challenge.
Highbury Community Nursery on Aubert Park has a garden designed for pre-school children to learn through play.
Places Muhammad Ali likes in Islington
- I love Finsbury Park. I take my girls to the playground and take my youngest to Jeremy’s Music at the Café, on Monday and Thursday. He plays guitar to about 30 toddlers and their mums/nannies… often I’m the only Dad.
- I love Blighty Coffee. I’ll have a tea when I come here with my kids. I also come here one hour a week as a volunteer tutor for the access project. It’s a charity providing tuition to under privileged children – the girl I coach is from Highbury Grove.
- Full of Beans Café at 69 Highbury Park, is a really nice place. It’s got soft play at the back and close to Highbury Community Nursery. I often go from 9-10am for an hour’s play before I take the girls to nursery. (From September 2016 this is being taken over by Highbury Barn’s Princess cafe).
- Highbury Community Nursery, 15 Aubert Park, is a great place where the children spend most of their time playing and learning in the garden. It’s how it should be, not in a stuffy classroom.
- Catherine and I like Gallipoli Again on 120 Upper Street. I love Turkish food and their kebabs are grilled, not fried, which makes it healthy. There’s a great atmosphere and they can lift the roof off to make a garden.
- “Because of my job I don’t get to see my kids from 4pm, but during the day I can take my girls to baby singing and signing, gymnastics, swimming, etc . Often I’m the only Dad. But I like socialising and it’s nice bumping into people on Blackstock Road or Upper Street.”
For the past six years in Islington (but 20 years all told) Muhammad’s been working as a full-time professional private tutor teaching maths, physics, biology and chemistry, There’s a study he can teach from at his Romilly Road home which is where he works 4-9pm on weekdays and 8am-8pm on Saturdays coaching.
“GCSE is my bread and butter, but I also coach for the 7+, 11+, common entrance and A levels. Occasionally adults want to do an MBA and have to pass the GMAT entry requirements. A lot of people haven’t done maths to any significant level since they left school – even if they have a successful career, such as being a lawyer,” explains Muhammad.
He charges £60 to £75 an hour – most students are with him for an academic year, not for an emergency lesson – and most classes are one-to-one at Muhammad’s home.
“Tuition works best if it is regular and frequent, although I do run intensive lessons leading up to exams. About 90 per cent of my tutoring is face-to-face but Skype numbers are up. Last year I taught expats based in France, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic and Turkey who were all doing the IGCSE Maths,” says Muhammad.
“I love the one-to-one interaction. I used to teach in school and didn’t like the behavioural management. It wasn’t for me – nor was the office politics, government bureaucracy or the red tape.”
For someone who admits to having gone to a run down school in Moss Side, Manchester, where all his peers went on to YTS (youth training schemes) rather than sixth form and whose parents had not been to uni, Muhammad’s stellar career is impressive. “There was no expectation for me, in comparison some of the pressure on the children I teach is terrible. One boy has swimming, tennis and drumming coaching as well as four tutor lessons a week on top of everything else. I get that it’s important to have extra curricular activities, but some people have too much pressure,” says Muhammad.
“Maths is easier with a good teacher. When I was at sixth form I had a terrible maths teacher, but an amazing physics teacher. Up until then I’d loved maths, but I got turned off. But because of Mr A J Craven (Wadham College, Oxford) I developed so much passion for physics. It’s all because of him I did a degree and a doctorate in physics! He really inspired me.”
But now coaching is Muhammad’s business, see his website www.mathematicsandsciencetuition.com. Indeed it’s grown so much over the past couple of years that he’s hiring tutors to help students do better in their English, French, Spanish, Italian, History, Sociology, Politics and Citizenship, exams, as well as UCAS applications and interview preparation for Oxbridge and medical school, see thetuitionnetwork.com “They will teach at a location determined by the parent (probably the child’s home) or on Skype,” explains Muhammad.
Even though Muhammad is clearly busy, Islington Faces often sees him out and about with his daughters so there’s plenty of chance to stop him and have a chat about tutoring. And for anyone facing exams very good luck – may your preparation be just right and the result just what you want.