Lynne Gavin is the headteacher of Pakeman Primary School in Islington, London. Approximately 70% of its pupils are living in poverty, another 15% considered working poor, 75% of children speaking English as an additional language and many children come from a refugee background.
“When I first arrived at Pakeman, I was constantly surprised that so many of the things that I tookfor granted were new to our children. For example, can you imagine rarely stepping outside of your local environment? Never having been to the cinema? Or being asked to write about the seaside if you have never seen the sea, paddled in the water and felt the sand beneath your feet?
“The fact is that disadvantage is still determining destiny for far too many children. Life chances are being determined by the parents they are born to and the postcode they are born in. These children are no less capable or intelligent, but there are serious obstacles that need to be overcome in order for them to have the same life chances as their more affluent peers.
Being disadvantaged can significantly impact on a child’s ability to learn. These children may not have a solid foundation of good physical, mental and emotional health; they may lack good language and literacy development; they may not have the material and physical support systems that other children have.
“But disadvantage is not just a label – it’s about lives. Our children’s lives. In our school, we have pupils growing up in families affected by drug and alcohol abuse, or with a parent in prison. We have children who are new to the country as refugees. We have children who are acting as young carers for parents with mental health issues, which means they aren’t always in school, or arrive hungry having not been fed breakfast. We have pupils living in temporary accommodation because they are fleeing situations of domestic violence and have seen things they should never have witnessed. Then there are the pupils whose parents want to help support their learning, but are hindered by their own poor literacy skills. Each child has a different story, a different need and often the odds are stacked against them.
“Working together we can turn things around for these children. Schools that serve disadvantaged children have to work hard to counteract the impact of disadvantage. We know it can be done – but we need the right resources and the right support. The more resources that a child has at their disposal, the better the chances of optimising learning and enabling them to experience success.
Partnership working helps us to provide these additional resources and support. Action Tutoring is one of the partners that we work with. When something is working well, you get a buzz. You can feel it, you can see it and you can hear it! I can feel it. I was impressed with Action Tutoring from the moment they came into school to talk to me about the project. They care passionately about improving outcomes. They have high expectations. They are aspirational. They listen and want to improve what they are doing. They are reflective and thoughtful.
“I continue to be impressed by the way that our lovely Action Tutoring Programme Executive, Emma, manages our sessions so beautifully each week, with great care and attention. I can see the impact sessions are having every time I drop in. Tutors have good subject knowledge, provide clear explanations, they inspire the children and are great role models.
“Children enjoy the sessions – there are high levels of engagement, motivation, interaction and encouragement, children are working hard and are being challenged. The children are proud of their work and happy to talk about their learning. Finally, I can hear the impact from my teaching colleagues and the pupils themselves.
Champions. 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. They are making a difference by championing our children.
“The volunteers are ordinary people who care enough to want to make a difference, who show the children that they believe in them. They are ordinary people who put their energies, resources and skills into helping the children meet their goals, experience success and reach their full potential.
But I am wrong. I am wrong about them [volunteer tutors] being ordinary people. I think they are quite remarkable people. People who are prepared to give of themselves to make the lives of others better. I often think how wonderful it is to imagine our children moving on to lead happy and successful lives – all because the people around them helped to fight for them and to make a difference.
“Nelson Mandela said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” These remarkable people are helping us to do just that. So, I’d like to thank them for that, thank them from the bottom of my heart on behalf of Pakeman and the other schools but most of all on behalf of the children whose life chances are improving as a result of what they do.”