Why do education charities exist and why do people volunteer for them?

May 9, 2017, 10:34 a.m.

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It has been a very busy year at Action Tutoring. We have worked with 48 schools, where 570 volunteers have given up over 9,000 hours of their time to tutor 1,035 pupils. From Liverpool to Brighton, our volunteer tutors and school pupils have been working incredibly hard all year and are now gearing up for those crucial summer term examinations.

We have been bringing volunteers into schools to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and this is not unique to us: you see the same pattern occurring across so many education charities: The Access Project, Think Forward, the Brilliant Club to name but a few... But why does this pattern exist among education charities and why do volunteers give up so much of their time to support them?

Figures recently released by the Department for Education showed that in 2015/16 only 33% of pupils on Free School Meals received the required minimum standard of five A*-C grades at GSCE level, including maths and English. Yet 81% of young people belonging to a family with an income of over £78K achieved that minimal standard. That’s a difference of 48%. Education charities exist to try to tackle this alarming inequality.

This is not a blip at either end of the scale, the study shows that once a family earns over the median £20k and their children no longer receive Free School Meals, the number of pupils in this group achieving the same five A*-C grades jumps to 65% and then gradually increases by 3- 5% for every £5k-10K extra their families earn. This trend is not just seen around the GCSE measure, it is also reflected in the English Ebacc results, the KS2 SATs and the new Progress 8 score, demonstrating that the more money the family earns, the better the results.

Yes, richer parents can afford a private school education or extra tuition but a big difference is made when a parent can offer a positive influence on their child’s view of education and a positive home environment. Generally, parents with a higher income can provide more stability, more one on one attention and more opportunity for their children to express themselves, ask questions and be inspired. 

These subtle aids are often missing from the lives of young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and this is where volunteers come in.  Their help is crucial in providing this support to pupils who wouldn’t otherwise receive it. Bringing local people, from different backgrounds, different ages and different professions into the school gives disadvantaged pupils an environment where they can ask questions, express themselves and, most importantly, be inspired.

So why do so many volunteers get involved?

When speaking to our tutors, often the most common responses when asked why they help are “I want to give back” or “I enjoy being able to see young people learn and improve”. However, increasingly many are stating, “I feel removed from young people and the education system and I want to help those who are struggling”.

As a result of the various changes in our society today we are now much less likely to socialise or integrate with people from a different economic situation to our own. The socio-economic gap is increasing, both financially and socially, and education is a great way of changing this. Spending time with young people from any background is incredibly rewarding, particularly with pupils from disadvantaged areas who often have very little experience of engaging with adults from outside of their community. 

For example, the community in which one of our Bristol primary schools is situated is one of the most deprived in the country.  The vast majority of parents at the school attended the same school as their children and families. Many of the children rarely interact with adults, other than their teachers, from outside of their tightknit community. Through our work the pupils have been able to meet and work with a whole range of adults from their city.  They have loved being tutored by our volunteers and the volunteers have loved working with them. Volunteering with these young people can be challenging but it is also eye opening.  

Volunteering in these schools is a great way to help to tackle the socio-economic gap that currently exists, but it is also helps you see another side to things, from a difference perspective. I would like to thank everyone who gives up their time to support, in whatever way – you are making a big difference to these young lives. 

Written by Adam Geach, Regional Manager
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