Action Tutoring’s 10th anniversary!

12 May 2022

On Monday, we marked ten years since Action Tutoring registered as a charity, with a celebration last night at a wonderful event in parliament kindly hosted by Alex Norris MP and with a guest keynote message from the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza.

So much in the sector has changed in the last decade. Ten years ago, tutoring was very much a private industry, with limited access to it for those without the means. We were established to address that. But a decade on, tutoring has become significantly more mainstream, thanks both to charity efforts and of course the arrival of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP). The NTP has certainly been an amazing opportunity for Action Tutoring to grow.

However, one thing I’ve consistently said since its introduction is that Action Tutoring was here long before its arrival, and we intend to be here as long as it takes the attainment gap is closed — that’s at the heart of the work we do. The NTP is an incredible opportunity to roll out the benefits of tutoring, which we have known about for years, on a significantly larger scale. Our long-term hope is that it can become embedded as a lasting feature of the education system.

10 year anniversary celebration event

Thinking back to those very early days of Action Tutoring, two seminal moments stand out. The first was a focus group with a group of enthusiastic teachers and potential volunteers crammed into my flat. This group, dreamed it had to be possible to level the playing field when it came to tutoring. We soon concluded that this idea to be successful, partnerships with schools had to be its heart.

That remains true to this day. The second moment was a few months on, during the very first ever tutoring session at a school in Peckham. It was on a Saturday morning and there were many nerves as to whether the pupils — and indeed tutors — would turn up. But they did. Once they were all settled, the Link Teacher and I looked at each other and just said, “Wow – This is actually working!

Their positive feedback afterwards convinced me of the imperative to replicate what was going on at a scale across the country.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done: by the end of this year we’ll have supported 26,000 pupils with the support of over 9,000 committed volunteer tutors from a fascinating range of backgrounds, with eight main areas of operation across the country.

Using high-quality volunteer tutors has always been central to our approach. We attract tutors from all manner of backgrounds, many of whom would have no interest in tutoring for financial reasons. They have so much to give and with the right structure and support, provided on our programmes, the quality of the interactions they provide is outstanding. Pupils are often amazed when they hear that our tutors volunteer for love. It empowers empowers them to think that people want to give up their time to help them succeed, as well as build social connections.

As one of our Link Teachers put it, “And all of your tutors volunteers? I think this is just the greatest act of kindness!” Pupils often reference the kindness of their tutors and how helpful they are, both key attributes that help to boost their confidence and in turn, their grades. One of our Year 6 pupils in London summed this up perfectly, “My tutor is very kind and she always helps me out. Whenever we get stuck on a question she will always be able to help us out. Tutoring really gives you a boost at school. You feel more confident.”

Whilst our ten-year milestone is certainly a moment for celebration there is much more to be done. We won’t be satisfied until we see a significant shift in the attainment gap, which sadly has only been further exacerbated by the pandemic. We know it doesn’t have to be this way — our own evidence and data tell us that — but there are many more young people to reach before we can to close it.

10 year anniversary celebration event

So what next for Action Tutoring?

We’re an aspirational organisation and we have four main priorities for the coming years that remain our goals, whatever the NTP may bring:

  1. Reach – We’ve demonstrated through our online programme and through pilots this year in new locations that it should be possible to deliver Action Tutoring in almost any school in the country. We want to significantly expand the number of schools we’re working with on this model outside of our current eight regions, to ensure we’re reaching young people that really need our support where programmes like ours are less available.
  2. Growth – Achieving a model that can deliver much more widely geographically gives us a springboard for further growth. We aim to be supporting 12,000 pupils a year in five years’ time.
  3. Impact – Being evidence based is one of our values. We want to keep building our evidence base of impact, especially for our online model and as we expand to new areas, so that we’re continually reflecting on what’s working and what could be better, learning and improving.
  4. Advocacy – We want to use our voice and experiences to ensure that the National Tutoring Programme leaves a lasting legacy and that tutoring for pupils facing disadvantage is permanently embedded in the education system to narrow the attainment gap.

To achieve all of this, collaboration – another core value – will be critical to success, with sectors partners, funders, schools and tutors and our wider network. We look forward to working with all of you over the coming years to achieve these aims, working together to ensure that no child’s future is limited by their background.

Now is the perfect time to get involved as we expand our reach!

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NTP Announcement Response

31 March 2022

Action Tutoring are pleased to hear Nadhim Zahawi’s plans, announced today, to reform the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) and re-open procurement for a supplier for 2022-24. We welcome the proposals to simplify the programme, both for schools and Tuition Partners, and are delighted to see quality assurance identified as an essential role of the supplier. We appreciate and commend the Government for their willingness to take on board feedback about the programme and to act.

Today’s announcement is a positive step towards getting the NTP back on track and ensuring it achieves its potential. We urge the Department for Education to ensure that the programme maintains a core focus on reaching disadvantaged pupils, in line with its original aims, and encourages high engagement across the country to reach its ambitious targets.

Action Tutoring has built up a decade of experience providing impactful tutoring to disadvantaged children and young people across the country. We are proud to play our part in delivering the NTP. We look forward to working with the Department for Education and the future supplier to further strengthen the programme.

National Tutoring Programme target for poorer pupils removed

4 March 2022

Schools Week has announced that the target of 65% of Pupil Premium pupils participating in the National Tutoring Programme has been removed for Tuition Partners. This comes as a surprise since the 65% pupil premium requirement was initially a key performance indicator between the DfE and Randstad.

Below you will find our joint response with other Tuition Partners to the removal of the Pupil Premium target.

We are writing to you as a collective of organisations committed to the success of the National Tutoring Programme and with specific expertise in working with disadvantaged young people.

We are disappointed that the target of 65% of Pupil Premium pupils participating in the National Tutoring Programme has been removed for Tuition Partners, following the communication from Randstad today. We consider this a dilution of the core original purpose of the programme, to support disadvantaged pupils to recover from the pandemic. The programme now fails to focus on the disadvantaged pupils who need this support the most, which was its original aim. We believe that in the long run, this will only serve to widen the attainment gap further, surely a consequence no one would wish to see from the NTP.

The tuition partner KPI of 65% of Pupil Premium pupils still allowed schools the discretion to add pupils not eligible for the pupil premium, something we recognise was important and needed. It was a balanced approach to ensuring support was reaching those that needed it most, whilst rightly allowing schools some flexibility to adapt to their contexts.

We are concerned that this target has now been lowered due to Randstad’s apparent failure to deliver on the pupil premium target and to ensure uptake of the programme overall. The solution to that is surely not to then change a valuable and needed target, but to review the design of the programme and address Randstad’s ability to deliver the programme in line with the original aims.

We would urge the DfE to reconsider this change and to ensure that supporting disadvantaged pupils remains a top priority of the National Tutoring Programme.

Yours sincerely,

Susannah Hardyman, Action Tutoring
Nick Bent, Tutor Trust
Adam Alagiah, TalentEd
Paul Singh, Equal Education
Robin Chu, Coach Bright
Nathan Sansom, The Access Project
Aisha Washington, Get Further
Gina Cicerone and Janeen Hayat, Fair Education Alliance

Action Tutoring announced as an official National Tutoring Programme Tuition Partner

2 November 2020

If you cast your mind back to the warmer and lighter days of June, you might well remember that the government announced a large package of support to help children catch up on the lost learning from Covid-19, including announcing the introduction of a National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

Action Tutoring played an active role campaigning for this initiative, culminating in giving evidence to the government’s education select committee in early June on the impact of Covid-19 on pupils and how a programme like ours could be scaled up.

To get a programme of this size and scale off the ground inevitably takes time, but today we are thrilled to share that Action Tutoring has been approved as a National Tutoring Programme Tuition Partner.

We know the NTP received a large volume of applications, only taking forward a small number that met the quality and scale criteria and we are very proud to have made the final provider list.

Closing the attainment gap through tutoring

Long before the NTP was announced by the government, Action Tutoring’s mission was to make the benefits of tutoring available to those that couldn’t otherwise afford it, ultimately to help narrow the attainment gap and give pupils the best possible chance of progressing well to further education, employment or training. That’s always been our mission and the NTP doesn’t change that.

We believe though that what it does change is the public recognition of the importance of this mission, why it’s a good idea not just for the individual, but for society as a whole and the potential to scale it to have a national impact.

Since we registered as a charity in 2012 and particularly since we began working with Impetus in 2014 we have developed and refined an impactful, proven tutoring model that’s delivering results for children from disadvantaged backgrounds at risk of not succeeding in English and maths.

To do that hasn’t been easy. Understandably, pupils don’t always want extra lessons in a subject they are likely finding difficult. Schools have a lot of pressure and demands and making partnerships between schools and external organisation work well requires effort on both sides. Finally, none of our work would have been possible without the huge numbers of high quality volunteers signing up to tutor with us.

“Our children need champions. Champions – who never give up on them, who understand the power of relationships and insist they become the best they can possibly be. That’s just what the volunteers from Action Tutoring are doing.”
– Lynne Gavin, Headteacher, Pakeman Primary School

But over the years, we’ve learnt what works and we’re excited to now be able to deliver that on a much larger scale, including expanding our geographical reach and significantly expanding our online tutoring.

Expanding Action Tutoring’s work across England

Our ambition through the NTP is to double our reach and the NTP is giving us the support to do this, and indeed the scale for other organisations too, to help us grow at a rate we couldn’t on our own in order to make the benefits of tutoring as widely available as possible.

Partner as a school     Become a volunteer

A recent Bloomberg article has highlighted the scale of the NTP as a great education experiment that could be the game changer needed for social mobility. At Action Tutoring, we certainly believe that has the potential to be the case.

There is fantastic evidence that tutoring works; that’s precisely why so many parents will pay for it for their children. But the tutoring industry will only be a driver of widening the gap in social mobility if it is not made available to those that can’t afford it too, especially those that are struggling most in their education.

That’s why Action Tutoring was founded and we’ve built strong evidence we can make tutoring work for disadvantaged pupils to drive results and close the attainment gap.

Action Tutoring commissioned an external evaluator, NIESR, to carry out an evaluation of the work we do with our pupils. The headline results, from this piece of work, suggested that:

  • The programme has a positive impact on GCSE point scores equivalent to 1/3 of a grade with just 5-6 sessions.
  • For those pupils who attend 7-8 sessions an additional 1/2 a grade progress was found.

For context, typically, in a whole academic year, schools would expect pupils to make one grade of progress outlining the impact tutoring, and in particular, our work has been having on disadvantaged pupils.

Now, through the NTP there is an opportunity for this work to be delivered on a significantly bigger scale.

The National Tutoring Programme must continue beyond next summer

In order for the benefits of the NTP to be embedded and make a game changing difference to social mobility, it will need to run for more than a year and while we’re delighted today to be beginning our journey as an NTP Tuition Partner, we hope it won’t be one that finishes next summer.

The NTP has been kickstarted by the need for covid catch up; with covid highlighting just how big the inequalities in our society are for children and young people. But prior to covid the UK already had one of the largest attainment gaps in the developed world and evidence from the EPI has shown that in recent years the progress to close that gap has slowed. If the NTP is extended, it has the potential not just to support covid catch up, but to actually help close the UKs attainment gap significantly further. Progress on that really would be something huge to celebrate, benefiting wider society as well as individuals.

So as this new ‘education experiment’ gets underway, we look forward to playing our part for the long term, to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their background, are supported to achieve the best they possibly can.

Partner as a school     Become a volunteer

For more information about the National Tutoring Programme, please visit our dedicated page.

Open up the doors

20 August 2020

This GCSE results day, CEO Susannah Hardyman explores how Ofqual’s exam grading system reproduced the long-standing disadvantage that Action Tutoring exists to tackle, and looks at the consequences of the government’s grading U-turn for this and next year’s school leavers. 

Unlike the A Level ‘fiasco’, as it is being widely termed in the media, this GCSE results day we know what’s coming – the government’s U-turn on Monday awarded centre assessment grades (CAGs) to pupils for both A Levels and GCSEs following outcries of injustice at the A Level grading system used.

Initially, instead of using CAGs, the government planned to use an algorithm developed by Ofqual for this year’s results. While overall this produced A Level results that looked broadly in line with last year’s, it didn’t take long to reveal that some big injustices lay under the surface. 40% of grades had been downgraded from the original CAGs submitted by schools and colleges, infuriating pupils and teachers, and when studied more closely it emerged that:


Why did this happen? The algorithm favoured smaller class sizes, where there were fewer pupils for teachers to rank, and also subjects with fewer entries like Classics. Both factors favoured the private school set-up and disadvantaged significantly larger colleges.


Further outcry ensued when it transpired there was no clear plan for an appeals process, with a lack of clarity on A Level results day on whether appeals would have to be paid for by schools and pupils (which would put those who are better-off financially at an advantage). Ofqual initially published appeals guidance on its website on Saturday, only to rapidly take it down again a few hours later.


This blog from our friends at the The Access Project – a charity that works to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into top universities – described the challenges faced by pupils that had not been given the grades they’d hoped for as they battled through the clearing process. These students suddenly found themselves in the midst of disappointment, having to advocate for themselves and argue their case to admissions tutors, a skill that many would not be equipped with if they didn’t have strong support from teachers and families.


The U-turn on Monday to award CAGs at GCSE and A Level has resolved some problems. I believe that given the circumstances and concerns that had emerged, it was the right thing to do. However, there is no doubt that other issues have been created, as highlighted brilliantly in this piece by Maria Neophytou, Interim CEO at Impetus, one of Action Tutoring’s largest funders. Evidence shows that disadvantaged pupils are more likely to have grades under-predicted by their teachers, so CAGs still can’t guarantee a fair result – a concern flagged very early in this process and a key one for Action Tutoring. Universities now face a huge challenge as more pupils than ever receive the grades they need to secure places, creating a huge pressure on admissions. Deferring may be the answer for some, but it will not be straightforward filling their year out in the middle of a recession. This also creates more pressure on places next year.


Inequality in education in the UK is not a new problem. That is exactly why Action Tutoring has existed since 2012, to tackle the attainment gap, with successful results. Lockdown has exacerbated these inequalities whilst also bringing them to the public’s attention. But, as Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee, Rob Halfon MP, said this week: This is a long-term problem which was hiding in plain sight in GCSE results before this year’s extraordinary events. It requires a long-term, targeted solution to tackle the persistent disadvantage.” 


Ultimately all of this matters because pupils’ lives and futures are at stake. Grades make a difference to where you can study, the course you can take, the jobs you might be considered for. It was a favourite mantra of my headteacher at secondary school, emphasised at the start of every September while informing the whole school assembly on that summer’s performance, “Grades open doors,” – they may not be the only thing that gets you through the door, but they give you a fighting chance of getting it open. When I was dropped off at university by my parents, feeling totally overwhelmed and unbelievably lucky to have been offered a place at Cambridge, the college had this beautiful huge door that opened up to the grounds. My mum looked at it and said, “See – Mrs Freeman was right. Grades opened doors.”  Yet, last Thursday, it must have felt to many pupils that Gavin Williamson was slamming the door firmly shut.


It’s precisely because grades open doors that GCSE results day matters so much. For pupils to progress into further education, employment or training, they need at least to meet national standards in English and maths. Action Tutoring focuses relentlessly on those at risk of just missing out on these pass grades, because without them, prising those doors to opportunity open becomes much harder. It would have been a travesty if GCSE pupils had faced the same results day as those picking up their A Levels last week, with all manner of longer term consequences for disadvantaged pupils who were more likely to be downgraded by the algorithm.


With the government having made the decision to trust teacher judgment (and now looking set to rely on school based assessment for BTECs too, albeit with a very last minute change affecting half a million pupils), given the incredible circumstances we find ourselves in this year I would much rather risk grades being over-inflated than underestimated, with everything pupils have already been through. For anyone moving from Year 11 to the next stage in their life, getting back into learning again since school closures in March will be an enormous challenge and the job market will not be favourable for young people for a long while to come. Giving them the benefit of the doubt with their grades would seem to be the least we can do to help them with their next step, rather than risking giving them grades that under score them.


Whilst at Action Tutoring we had to say an abrupt goodbye to our Year 11 cohort, we are looking forward to getting back to what we love doing in September: running tutoring programmes, building pupils’ confidence and seeing their satisfaction as they finally grasp concepts they’d struggled with. With the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) on the horizon, the unprecedented need for catch-up support and now the option to run our programmes online, we know it’s going to be busier than ever. We are calling for the National Tutoring Programme to be extended beyond one year. Pupils need and deserve sustained support and the NTP could have the real potential in the long run not just to help pupils catch up from lost learning from covid-19, but to work to close the attainment gap in the UK further. However, we can’t deliver on our mission without the hundreds of volunteers that sign up to tutor with us every year. Would you or someone you know consider being one of them, or spreading the word to others? You really can help to open those doors for pupils, at a time when it’s never been more needed. 


Susannah Hardyman, CEO.

COVID-19 set to further widen attainment gap between the UK’s 28% of disadvantaged children and their more affluent counterparts in state education warns charity CEO

2 April 2020

Susannah Hardyman, CEO of education charity Action Tutoring discusses COVID-19 and the impact of school closures on children from less well-off backgrounds. 

March 2020 marked a seismic shift in education, with schools nationwide closing their doors to all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable, whilst grappling to implement online solutions in a bid to provide effective teaching and learning to pupils. The shift also prompted unprecedented demand from affluent parents for private tutoring – an industry with an annual income of over £2bn – keen to shield with online support their children from spring/summer learning loss.

But what about the 28% of pupils in state education deemed as disadvantaged – pupils who may not have access to high bandwidth broadband to facilitate remote learning and likely won’t have space to work in which to work easily in cramped accommodation.  Currently every year 75,000 disadvantaged children leave school without basic qualifications in English and maths. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not less academically able, but lack of access to tools and resources means currently only 41% of this group pass English and maths GCSEs, compared to 69% of all other pupils.

Motivation is also set to prove a challenge. We all know that it is far easier to engage with a pupil in person than it is to motivate them to work online, especially if their parents are not available to support and encourage them or that child is struggling academically. Forcing attendance of online sessions will, I believe, be highly difficult to enforce or even encourage. 

Sadly, it seems inevitable that the current national crisis will further widen the attainment gap. While many schools are doing all they can now to mitigate this, and are proving themselves in so many ways as the fourth emergency service, disadvantaged children are going to need more support than ever before to catch up in the months to come. That support will no doubt need to take many forms, but tutoring is a well known, effective intervention that can play a big role in raising attainment.  

As a key provider of school-based intervention programmes incorporating tutoring solutions provided free to disadvantaged pupils, Action Tutoring is calling on the government to provide catch up funding for disadvantaged pupils once schools are back to normal business in addition to the Pupil Premium funding. This could enable schools to provide extra support such as additional tuition for disadvantaged pupils – who are already 18 months behind their more affluent counterparts by the end of secondary schools – to help prevent them from falling even further behind. In the short term, Action Tutoring, along with other organisations, are lobbying the Department for Education to provide laptops and broadband access to those that need it to facilitate home learning more easily.

Whilst exams may have been scrapped for this year, learning is for life and not just for exams. Good standards in English and maths in particular are crucial to progressing well in further education, employment or training. Schools will be and are doing all they can safely to alleviate the immediate impact of the current crisis on their pupils. This crisis has seen an incredible outpouring of community spirit, whether through food banks or local groups setting up to look out for their neighbours. But COVID-19 is going to have a long lasting impact on society. 

Volunteers and charities will be needed more than ever before, backed by the government, to help schools pick up the pieces and enable their pupils, whatever their background, to flourish in every way. The immediate volunteer and charity efforts are hugely encouraging but as many are saying, this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. Those efforts are surely going to be needed for a long time to come.

Over the last few years Action Tutoring has built up healthy reserves, which we are very thankful for at the moment. We are also grateful to our many funders who are standing with us through this period. However, we are facing a loss of income due to not being able to deliver in schools. Therefore, any donation would be very gratefully received to help us compensate for this and ensure we can be in a strong place to be ready to support our pupils as soon as we can safely do so. 

We also hope to engage many more volunteers to ensure we can help these pupils get back to where they should be.  

Apply here to volunteer or visit our fundraising page to donate – thank you for making a difference in a very challenging time.

We are also working hard to prepare an online offering of our tutoring model.  It’s still early days, but please do register your interest here if you would like to hear more about these developments.

How party manifestos can deliver fairer education this December

15 November 2019

As the election fast approaches, it’s unlikely education is going to be at the top of the list on manifestos or necessarily a priority in voting decisions. Yet, as Nelson Mandela so famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So many other issues dominate the debate in this election. But failing to invest in and prioritise education not only damages the potential of individuals, but damages wider society too. We all stand to benefit from a strong, holistic education system, which in turn fuels employment, a strong workforce and a strong economy.

I’ve been chatting to the Action Tutoring team about what they think the next government should prioritise for education. Our staff spend a huge amount of time in schools up and down the country, they hear first hand from teachers and pupils on a regular basis and see all too often the challenges that both face. Here are a few highlights of what we, at Action Tutoring, would love to see in the parties’ manifestos and from the next government:

Increase funding for all schools and protect the Pupil Premium

No doubt this is the most obvious place to start! We see daily how hard teachers are working with stretched resources, but there’s no doubt that money helps and schools have been ever squeezed over the last few years. Schools should have the budget to ensure there is a safe, warm, comfortable place for excellent teaching and learning to happen. We’d love to see not only an increase in funding for schools, but in particular protection for Pupil Premium funding, with schools sufficiently well resourced so that the Pupil Premium really can be used to support those it’s intended for and not just to plug other gaps in the system.

Early intervention to close the attainment gap

Although Action Tutoring works with children in Year 5 and above, we’d advocate to see early intervention made more of a priority by the next government. We know that the disadvantage gap has already opened up before children even start school and that high-quality early intervention can make a big difference to a child’s learning and attainment down the line. Yet the full allowance of 30 free hours of childcare is only available if parents work at least 16 hours per week and is not yet universal. Surely an easy way to make a difference here would be to open up the 30 hours of nursery provision, regardless of whether parents are working or not, to make sure children facing disadvantage are not left behind.

Further commitment to reducing teacher workload

Here at Action Tutoring we hugely admire the teachers in our partner schools. They work so hard to make a difference for their pupils. Yet, we see how stretched they are in so many directions and the toll that their workload takes. There has been much said recently about reducing teacher workload and it’s something the current Education Secretary has expressed a commitment to continuing to work on. We want to see this priority reinforced, so that teachers can focus on the real reason that most come into the profession: to make a difference to children and young people. We think a reduction in workload would make a big difference to teacher recruitment and retention too, another pressing issue in education.

I want the government to commit to increasing budgets to allow for additional funding for CPD for teachers. So many training opportunities don’t exist anymore and CPD for teachers is at the worst I’ve ever seen it in my career. Quality-first teaching makes the biggest difference to all learners – that’s what the government commitment should be.”

– Assistant Headteacher at an Action Tutoring partner school, Brighton

Invest in pupils’ wider wellbeing

Since Action Tutoring started in 2012, we’ve seen a significant increase in concerns raised by both teachers and volunteers about pupils’ mental health and wider wellbeing, with teachers now warning that pupils’ mental health is at a crisis point. We think this is an issue the next government cannot afford to ignore, with greater investment needed in CAMHS to ensure shorter waiting times for referrals, plus better support for teachers to deal with these issues. Teachers can’t do everything and we would advocate for more services, such as each school having an in-house counsellor to support pupils’ wellbeing.

The next government must recognise the importance of investing in our youngest citizens. This will only be achieved through investment in the provision of outstanding outcomes for pupils that include their mental health and wellbeing alongside their academic standards. Schools need to be fully inclusive, including with the expectation of zero exclusions, funded adequately to be able to educate all mainstream pupils with sufficient additional SEN [Special Educational Needs] provision across the country. Education ministers need to value more the excellent work of Ofsted and all the staff who work across the teaching profession.”

– Headteacher at Action Tutoring partner school, South London

Post-16 opportunities

Post-16 education isn’t Action Tutoring’s main focus, but we certainly hear a lot about it from teachers and charity friends working in the post-16 space. Further Education has been poorly funded in recent years, with many considering it at crisis point. The current government pledged an additional £400m but reports say this still leaves colleges 7% down on their 2010 figures: clearly more is needed if this is an area the UK wants to take seriously. And we absolutely think it should: young people leaving secondary school are at a critical point in their lives and the right qualifications and support can set them up to flourish personally and contribute to society.

It’s not all about what happens post 16 though; careers support varies hugely from school to school and is often not introduced until late into the pupil’s school journey. We would love to see a commitment to a qualified, well-trained careers advisor in each school working with pupils right from Year 7.

Support evidence-based practice

There is now some fantastic evidence available about which practices and interventions are most effective in schools and how disadvantaged pupils can best be supported. But this evidence-based approach needs to be more widely adopted and shared. The EEF have made great strides in that, but we want to see a commitment from the government to facilitate schools to form networks, share the most effective evidence-based approaches and learn from those schools experiencing success in tackling disadvantage.

Keep pupils at the heart of decision making
Our final message would be this: keep pupils at the heart of decision making, not results. Too often, Ofsted and league tables can incentivise schools to make decisions based on results rather than the experience and development of the individual pupil. Recent stories of schools excluding those pupils predicted to get poor results is an example of this, although thankfully it has already been cracked down on. Each pupil is an individual with huge worth and value, and we want to see that cherished and the best decisions made for them, whatever that might be and without fear of the system.

“Protection of the Pupil Premium funding should ensure that disadvantaged pupils have access to wider opportunities within school and are able to receive the academic care and attention they need to help them become the happiest and healthiest versions of themselves. There’s too many disadvantaged young people who are missing out right now because of school funding cuts. Change is possible, and it needs to happen soon.

– Hannah, Action Tutoring Programme Coordinator in Liverpool

In the UK we are lucky to have a brilliant, free education system that many around the world can only dream of. But it is not yet serving disadvantaged pupils as it could be and there is plenty of room for improvement. The Action Tutoring team’s theme for the year is ‘Doing Good Better’ and we would love to see the next government adopt this in its education policies: commitment to making our education system even better and ensuring that it really does benefit every pupil, from pre-school right through to life-long learning.

500 years to close the gap – we need a new approach to make education fair: reflections from the Labour Party Conference

26 September 2019

September is always a flurry of political activity and news, as party conference season gets underway. This year, I had the privilege of sharing about Action Tutoring at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference, hosted by the Fair Education Alliance (of which Action Tutoring is a member) and the Education Policy Institute.  A recent EPI report has highlighted the worrying trend that the rate at which the attainment gap is closing has stalled, especially at secondary level, predicting that at the current rate of progress, it could take 500 years to close the gap[1]. In response, the FEA is calling for a new, collective approach to tackling the attainment issue, the crux of our debate and discussion. Fellow panelists included MPs David Lammy, Tracy Brabin (shadow minister for early years) and Emma Hardy, plus Emma Knights, CEO of the National Governance Association. Excitingly, it was standing room only, with so many people wanting to engage with the topic.

Susannah Hardyman speaking at the Labour Party Conference


Each panelist had five minutes to make an opening statement on the topic. Tracy Brabin kicked off by highlighting the importance of the early years in laying foundations for children, drawing attention to the loss of Sure Start and the lack of a universal offer for nursery hours.[2] She called for 30 free hours of nursery education for every child, re-investment in Sure Start and upskilling of the nursery workforce.

David Lammy shared openly his own experience of beating the odds to become the first black student at Harvard, but expressed huge concern that so many of his peers were left behind, citing entrenched, systemic issues as a key reason for this. He made a strong plea to stop tinkering at the edges on the issues of social mobility and for more radical change, breaking entrenched privilege.

Emma Hardy, an ex teacher, drew attention to the causes and roots of inequality and poverty stating that we can’t just fight fires in education without tackling these. She also highlighted issues in the system of teacher retention and off rolling by schools, as key issues that need urgently addressing. Emma Knights cited evidence from a recent NGA survey about the importance of Pupil Premium funding and that it’s played a key role in focusing governors’ minds on the attainment gap. She expressed concern at crumbling public sector services, when they are so important for schools to be able to work with.

The Action Tutoring story I shared I hope served as one concrete example of a programme that can work to tackle the attainment gap. There was clear surprise in the audience when I highlighted just how many pupils now receive private tutoring,[3] something I believe only exacerbates the attainment gap. I drew attention to other examples of good practice that do seem to be working, including the story of the London Challenge, which saw London’s schools go from some of the worst in the country, to the best. However, my concern is that what’s working is patchy, best practice isn’t being widely shared and the right funding often doesn’t exist to replicate what’s working. However, I’m an optimist, and I do believe that if some of these issues could be overcome, then the attainment gap could be drastically reduced: it doesn’t have to take 500 years to close.

It’s long struck me that for the Action Tutoring programme to work, so many wider factors are in play to ensure success – the support of good link teachers in our partner schools to help with pupil engagement and programme delivery, support from parents to ensure pupils attend sessions and pupils also need to be in a good place to learn when they arrive at sessions. That means having foundations of good nutrition, stable housing, parental support and so on. Sadly, far too often these basic factors are not in place for the pupils we work with. We can’t address all of these complicated issues as one organisation, but we can be a piece of the puzzle that works towards better outcomes. That’s one of the reasons I support the FEA’s call for a collective approach to tackling the attainment gap. I concluded by highlighting the need for that collective approach to include:

  • A holistic approach to the whole child – schools need basic foundations of good nutrition, stable housing and family support for teachers to build on and to give pupils the right footing to engage and learn.
  • High quality, well trained teachers for all pupils, which isn’t happening consistently at the moment but is surely foundational for any child’s education.
  • Specific, targeted, evidence-based intervention for those who need it, put in place early enough to realistically make a difference and ideally to catch issues early.
  • And finally, funding, to enable the above to happen.

At the end of the presentations, there was time to take a few questions from the audience, which included how parents could be better supported, support for SEN children, the importance of raising self-belief and aspirations and school accountability structures. The discussion also considered whether the language of social mobility is helpful, with many preferring to talk about social justice instead. Funding was inevitably touched on, with little doubt that this of course makes a big difference to what can be achieved.

There seemed to be concluding consensus from the panel that complex needs have to be addressed by a range of services and schools can’t do this on their own. Given the complexity of these needs, we have to think more holistically about both children and families, which is where a joined-up, multi-stranded, collective approach can have potential. I certainly hope Action Tutoring can continue to be a key piece in this complicated jigsaw and approach, helping to unlock potential for young people up and down the country, while working closely with others to achieve that goal.

Overall, it was a huge privilege to be part of such a prestigious panel, to engage with such a thought provoking discussion. Thank you to the FEA and EPI for hosting it and for putting such an important topic on the agenda.

[1] At present, disadvantaged pupils finish year 11 (GCSEs) over 18 months behind their wealthier peers.

[2] At present, children aged 3 are entitled to 30 free hours of childcare but only if parents are earning a certain amount, so it is of greater benefit to parents in work.

[3] The latest Sutton Trust research reports 40% of 11-16 year olds in London as having private tutoring and 25% nationally.

Ensuring GCSE Results Day is a celebration for all

23 August 2019

GCSE Results Day marks the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and effort by both pupils and teachers. In recent times, schools have faced the added struggle keeping on top of curriculum changes and improving pupil grades against a tough funding climate, something we’ve heard about repeatedly from our partner schools across the country. Yet, this is a time when we really should not be compromising our support for these young people, particularly those who are facing socio-economic disadvantage.  

The recent Education Policy Institute (EPI) Education in England report showed that at secondary level, disadvantaged pupils are 18.1 months behind their peers by the time they finish in formal education.  In fact, the EPI report suggests if this pace continues, it will take 560 years before disadvantaged pupils and their peers are reaching similar outcomes – a staggering and deeply troubling figure. 

Sadly, today’s national GCSE results will no doubt be an illustration of what these statistics look like in reality, demonstrating the impact socio-economic disadvantage is having on the lives of thousands of young people across the country.  By missing out on the grade 4s, 5s and above, their futures will be a much tougher climb than their peers to access further education, employment or training. Yet, the results they receive today are not a reflection on their ability; they instead reflect the challenging circumstances these pupils are living with – without access to the same levels of support and opportunities as their peers.     

One example of these opportunities is private tutoring.  The Sutton Trust’s annual poll confirmed that 41% of pupils in London have had a tutor, and that nationally the figure remains high at 27%.  As a mother myself, I understand why so many parents will pay for tutoring: parents really do want the best for their children. If that means paying for a tutor to support them in their learning, that’s something that they will do if they have the means. But for the majority of disadvantaged young people that is simply not an option their parents can afford. 

At Action Tutoring we know how impactful tutoring can be, with strong evidence backing this up.  We are working now to provide tutoring support to disadvantaged pupils to ensure they are not being sent down the path that the research so sadly predicts.  Our aim is that they can leave school with the qualifications that will enable them to progress to further education, employment or training and avoid the cycle of becoming NEET.  The way we deliver our support is, in many ways, quite different to private tutoring: we work in partnership with schools and our tutors are all high quality volunteers – generously giving their time to make a difference to the lives of these young people. 

In 2017-18 our impact analysis showed the disadvantaged pupils we supported were able to match the national pass rate, after the equivalent of two terms of weekly tutoring, at GCSE level despite the extra hurdles they faced.  This is despite the pass-rate for disadvantaged pupils tending to fall 15-20% behind the overall national figures, in English Language and maths GCSEs respectively. We are eagerly waiting to hear how our pupils from this year have got on – we hope it’s a day of celebration for them all, and that we’ve have helped to place them on a firm footing alongside their peers. 

This year we’ve supported over 2,400 pupils through a network of over 1,100 volunteer tutors across seven cities in England, at both primary and secondary level. Our impact and evidence base is ever growing: tutoring works and we’re proving that our model works too. 

At our Impact Report event earlier this year Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, shared his support, “[Action Tutoring’s 2017-18 Impact Report] shows that it is possible to close the attainment gap and Action Tutoring has had huge success raising attainment. The pupils are proof that regardless of your circumstances, it is possible to get crucial English and maths qualifications. Action Tutoring offers a practical, structured solution. Action Tutoring’s vision is one that I fully endorse.” 

The attainment gap predictions do not have to be the reality.  We are changing the outcomes for these young people today and want to ensure that results day becomes a day of celebration for everyone. If you’re interested in supporting us on our mission, by volunteering with us as a tutor or in other ways do take a look at our website:  

About the author:

Susannah is the founder and CEO of Action Tutoring. Susannah was inspired to start the organisation following experiences working in the charity sector and as a private tutor, recognising the potential to make the benefits of tutoring available to those that might not otherwise afford it.

Susannah has worked in the charity sector since 2007 in roles including research and project management. She has a particular interest in using the potential of volunteers for social change.

Susannah graduated from the University of Cambridge, where she studied Theology at St John’s College. She holds a Masters from King’s College London in Politics, Theology and NGOs, where she wrote her dissertation on the interplay between state and third sector welfare provision. 

For more information about Action Tutoring or enquiries about further interviews please contact:

Fleur Nicholson

Marketing and Communications Manager


T: 0203 872 5894


Notes to editors 

Since 2012, the charity has continued to grow and now operates in eight cities and areas across England: Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Sussex.

In 2017-18 nearly 2,500 pupils were supported by over 1,100 volunteer tutors in 80 schools across the country. These pupils were able to match the national pass rate, after the equivalent of two terms of weekly tutoring, at GCSE level despite the extra hurdles they faced. Nationally only 44% of disadvantaged pupils are able to meet this benchmark.

In the same year 72% of primary pupils supported by Action Tutoring achieved national standards in their SATs.

Research carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation showed that pupils make up to five months additional progress, during an intensive tutoring programme.

The average cost of a private tutor in the UK is £30 per hour. Action Tutoring is able to deliver this to a disadvantaged pupil completely free of charge through the use of volunteer tutors. Donations, grants and school partnership contributions fund the cost of delivery and the Action Tutoring staff team.

There are almost 800,000 young people leaving school each year without the qualifications to go on to education, employment or training.  Individuals not in education, employment or training cost an average £56,000 to the UK economy each year.

You can read Action Tutoring’s latest Impact Report here: and further information is available at:

“The attainment gap does not have to be inevitable.” Action Tutoring CEO reflects on the charity’s achievements and future impact

5 March 2019

My awareness of the difference targeted, extra support could make for pupils started at an early age. I had some tutoring at the end of primary school and I can still remember and picture my tutor, Mrs Shields, not least because as much as helping me grasp subject knowledge I was struggling with, she hugely improved my confidence and self-belief. Even at a young age I think I felt an awareness that those opportunities that were given to me shouldn’t just be available to those whose parents can afford them.  

At the heart of Action Tutoring lies a desire to see every child reach their potential, regardless of their background. When Action Tutoring started, we looked heavily at the evidence base for targeted, well-structured tutoring programmes and have adapted our programme to include the elements that we know will help to contribute to the best possible impact from the tutoring. Last year, we were able to work with nearly 2,500 pupils in 80 schools across seven cities.

In the UK there is sadly a large gap in attainment between poorer and wealthier pupils, beginning in primary school and only widening at the secondary level, to reach a 27 percentage point difference in attainment in English and maths at GCSE. This isn’t because of a lack of ability and many other countries manage to achieve a much smaller attainment gap.

Tutoring can be an effective way to level the playing field, especially considering that 25% of pupils nationally and over 40% in London are now having private tutoring at some point. It’s a booming industry giving many a big advantage, but for the most part serving young people that are already doing well and not reaching those falling behind if their parents are unable to afford the support.

The evidence base for tutoring as an intervention to support pupils is strong, but last night we were excitingly able to celebrate that Action Tutoring’s own programme is working, at an event in Parliament to launch our 2017-18 Impact Report. The event was hosted by Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, who visited one of our programmes last year, and with guest speaker the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Standards.

Welcoming over 100 guests representing our funders, partner schools, volunteer tutors, fellow charities and corporates, to the evening, Helen Hayes said, “the work [of Action Tutoring] plays a significant role in helping pupils to remain engaged in education for longer”, ultimately improving the life outcomes of the young people involved and bringing benefits to the wider economy and society.

Nick Gibb commenting on our work said, “this Impact Report shows that it is possible to close the attainment gap and Action Tutoring has had huge success raising attainment. The pupils are proof that regardless of your circumstances it is possible to get crucial English and maths qualifications. Action Tutoring offers a practical, structured solution. Action Tutoring’s vision is one that I fully endorse.”

In addition to hearing from Helen and Nick, two pupils from the programme bravely shared the difference Action Tutoring has made to them in their studies, with Olivia, who is now studying for her A Levels and who plans to go to university saying, “Tutoring sessions create a comfortable environment that can help to boost your confidence. The tutors paid attention to what we were doing and would check if we understood everything. Tutoring offered me guidance and personal attention that I wouldn’t find in a school setting.  I believe that Action Tutoring had the biggest impact on my life.”

Our impact report shows that on our primary programme last year, just 10% of our pupils, 90% of whom were eligible for Pupil Premium funding, were working at national standard when they started our programme, but after just two terms of tutoring over 70% achieved this benchmark, setting them on a strong trajectory to achieve at secondary school and beyond.

At secondary level, after just two terms of tutoring our pupils, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are considered at risk of not reaching national standard, were able to match the national pass rate for all pupils in English and maths, regardless of background. Achieving this crucial benchmark will significantly improve their chances of progressing into further education, employment or training, opening up paths to them that would otherwise be closed.

Our pupils face considerable challenges in their lives and I am constantly impressed at their resilience and willingness to attend tutoring sessions outside of school hours. Last week I visited one of our partner primary schools in South London. The head pointed to a small group of four pupils all on the Action Tutoring programme. He explained that of the four, one comes from a single parent family with that parent dying of cancer, another is being bought up by an elderly carer instead of her parents, one is a looked after child and the fourth lives with her mother who is very committed to her daughter’s education but is sadly herself completely illiterate. When we talk about disadvantage, these are the real challenges these pupils face. Helping them make progress against the circumstances they face isn’t easy or straight forward, but it is possible, and these pupils deserve all the help we can give them.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are reports that currently say in the UK it could take 70 years or more to close the attainment gap, but I don’t believe it has to be that way and our results point to that. We recently carried out a freedom of information request that looked at how many disadvantaged pupils pass either their maths or English GCSE, but not both. Analysis from this with our partner Impetus-PEF further showed that if the 19,000 disadvantaged pupils passing in one subject could be supported to achieve in both, then the attainment gap would in fact be halved. To put it in perspective, 19,000 is fewer than six pupils per school, or to put it another way, fewer than the total number of secondary school pupils in Manchester alone. The attainment gap does not have to be inevitable.

Action Tutoring has ambitious plans to continue to grow, especially outside of London where the attainment gap is even larger. Autumn 2017 saw us launch in our seventh city, Newcastle, and this autumn we are aiming to launch in our eighth, Nottingham.  Alongside this, we’ll continue to expand our growing primary programme and deepen our reach in current areas of operation. Last night was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all that’s been achieved so far, right in the heart of government, and we look forward continuing to ensure our programme is as high quality and impactful as possible, to benefit even more young lives.

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