Volunteer Stories

How a former pupil and teacher reunited through volunteer tutoring

13 December 2023

An unexpected reunion between a former pupil and a revered teacher made possible by a shared passion for education.


In the vibrant city of Bristol, Gemma Ray, a finance compliance officer and volunteer with Action Tutoring, arrived at the bar to join other volunteers for a socials quiz. After a busy academic term of supporting young people in local schools to improve their knowledge and confidence, our volunteers converged at the riverside hangout, in high spirits to connect, share experiences, and face off in teams for the games.

Just before the line-up of activities began, Gemma was greeted by a familiar yet unexpected face, jogging her memory from about 12 years ago. It was Andrew Fagan, her further mathematics teacher from North Bristol Post 16 centre, Cotham and Redland.

“I didn’t recognise him at first when he said hello, as it had been a very long time, but he still looked just as he did back then. I was surprised he recognised me after all this time and with so many students.”

Crossing paths with Andrew at the socials stirred sentiments of nostalgia and appreciation. Gemma recalled a crucial algorithmic error in grading that was rectified through Andrew’s guidance, which ensured her rightful admission to Bristol University.

“It was actually between Mr. Fagan and another teacher, Mr Williams, that I learned about the algorithm which calculated the A level grades for maths and further maths when you did both of these together at the time. It is only because of this knowledge that I was able to set the record straight and secure my place at the university in 2011.”

Gemma reunites with former teacher
When Gemma reunited with Andrew at the Bristol tutor social

A deep love for maths

For Gemma, mathematics has always been more than calculations; it has been a lifelong passion – one she pursued ardently despite societal perceptions.

“I always loved maths from a young age, choosing to do it in my free time at home and in my ‘golden time’ at primary school. This was not seen as ‘cool’ so I have some experience of bullying and can relate to that. I did my maths GCSE one year early as recommended by my secondary school and I always wanted to do maths at university as there was no other logical option for me at the time. I graduated with first-class honours in 2014.”

However, Gemma admitted some level of struggle in maths during her sixth-form year, empathising with how underperforming pupils feel about mathematical concepts they find difficult to grasp.

“In my second year of 6th form, there were only two of us left doing further maths with the others having dropped out after or during the first year. The other student who carried on did not always attend the lessons so it was a bit like having a personal tutor for further maths, which was very beneficial as it was quite a bit more difficult than the ordinary maths A level, and I admit that I found it quite hard at times.”

Like many of the pupils that Action Tutoring supports who are identified by their schools as being at risk of not meeting expected standards in their finals, Gemma had a fleeting experience of that moment in maths.

“One time, I had 2 mock exams on the same day so I chose to revise for one and not the other. If it had been the real test, I would have failed the further maths that day. I remember Andrew being shocked and maybe a little bit worried for me, but all was well in the real exam at the end.”

Volunteer tutor, Gemma
Volunteer tutor, Gemma Ray

The journey of volunteering

As the world grappled with pandemic lockdowns, Gemma’s employer, DAC Beachcroft, embraced flexibility and encouraged staff to engage in community projects including volunteering as tutors with Action Tutoring. Fuelled by her passion for mathematics and a desire to support young people struggling with the subject, Gemma signed up to volunteer with Action Tutoring in November 2022 to support young people struggling with maths in Bristol schools.

“I have enjoyed the programme so far. It is nice to know that you are making a difference to individuals who may need extra support. They are so engaged and ready to learn. You find that your mindset changes, you become more patient and you start to see the problems from their point of view.”

Conquering fears

Gemma said one of her fears before starting tutoring was the phobia of making mistakes in a session with pupils. However, tutoring has since helped her to confront that anxiety and not worry about making mistakes and correcting them.

“You also learn not to worry about making any mistakes because if you do make any silly mistakes, it will only cement in their minds that mistakes are okay and that they are only a normal part of life – and that adults make mistakes too.”

The power of volunteer tutoring

Through this volunteer initiative, Gemma discovered the transformative power of tutoring and mentoring young people and the need for additional education support, especially for disadvantaged students.

“Many disadvantaged students would benefit from more one-on-one tutoring, and as we all know this is not always possible with the teacher in the classroom themselves, because they are only one person and the workforce is stretched thin with very large class sizes in some schools now.”

Gemma also emphasised the accessibility of tutoring, urging others to contribute, and highlighting the impact even minimal commitments can have on a child’s educational journey. Inspiring others to embrace tutoring, Gemma reflected on the gratification derived from witnessing pupils eagerly engaging with content in the session templates and interactive learning methods.

“You can simply tutor online from the comfort of your own home with no travel time. You spend as little as 70 minutes out of your working day. You do not need to commit very long term. Know that every session you do will count and will make a small difference in a child’s educational journey. You do not need a lot of experience to be a tutor.”

Gemma’s story is a testament to the enduring bond between teachers and students, the transformative power of education, and the rewarding spirit of giving back. As she continues her tutoring journey, she stands as a beacon, inspiring others to bridge the academic attainment gap and shape brighter futures for disadvantaged young people, one session at a time.

How volunteer tutoring has shaped my outlook on life

7 December 2023

I initially heard of Action Tutoring through one of my lecturers. I am a third year BSc Sociology and Psychology student at the University of Greenwich. For my final year of university, I chose to complete a placement and wanted it to be in the education sector. From my experiences, I have often been on the receiving end of teaching and therefore wanted to expand on my knowledge of the teacher’s end and help inspire other students to learn.

Levelling the playing field in education

After hearing about Action Tutoring, I decided to conduct my research into the charity. Action Tutoring not only aims to help socio-economically deprived students but also creates a safe and equal atmosphere for pupils in primary and secondary to have the same level of access to education and therefore achievement as their non-disadvantaged peers. I believe social factors should never influence the access students have to a good education and opportunities should be equal.

For students who may face these difficulties, it is out of their control and often therefore presents knock-on effects when it comes to further education, for example gaining a degree. By becoming a part of Action Tutoring’s volunteer scheme, I aim to help all students have confidence in themselves and achieve academic success.

Why volunteering matters

Tutoring is giving me an insight into the teaching side of academics, but the main factor that motivates me to volunteer knowing the impact I can have on the students. Being able to provide them with a safe and supportive space that allows them to feel fully confident to push themselves and aim higher is such a big motivator for me. 

This is especially true, as I know a lot of people who would have loved to have this amazing opportunity presented to them. I can give the pupils hope and get them to believe in themselves. Volunteering should be something all individuals should participate in at least once in their lives, as the happiness you feel knowing you have made an impact will forever stick and guide your morals. Volunteering brings people together, contributes to communities, and creates connections It is beneficial for both those who volunteer and those on the receiving end of it.

Laura – student tutor

The power of games and peer instruction

I am a strong believer that education should be made fun, otherwise students will not pay attention., I always ensure that icebreaker games within the lesson – points for completing the work, hangman games, maths bingo – all of these engage the students and make them eager to learn. Personally, I believe that this is vital as otherwise, students aren’t able to engage as much with the information being taught and therefore cannot improve on the skills they are struggling with. 

Another way to have a successful session is to see if the students who understand the information can teach me or teach the students who are struggling with what they have learned. This has a positive correlation with retention when students are struggling, as often as a tutor I may not explain in a way that is easy for certain students to understand. As peers, they are more likely to know each other better than I do and may help explain it in the way they understand from my teaching. Through this, I can then test the students again to see if they are still struggling.

A memorable tutoring moment

Some of my English students had previously done a text that was quite difficult to understand, so I decided to use a difficult word from the session in a game of hangman. They initially struggled to figure out the word, however, when they finally realised what it was, the look on their faces was pure excitement! I was hoping they had remembered why I had chosen the word, which they did and were able to tell me the name of the text without looking back. They could even explain how that word was relevant and summarise the text. I was extremely proud of how far they had come and how much they were able to recall. It gave me a sign that I was doing a good job at tutoring, which further gave me confidence in teaching future sessions.

A pupil receives tutoring online

Seamless tutoring experience

The main thing I love about Action Tutoring resources is their accessibility. All training sessions, extra resources, and programme workbooks are stored via one app called Loop. It is a really effective tool when it comes to accessing training events, as it presents all upcoming training sessions with their timings on the main home screen.

There are opportunities to do smaller Bright Ideas training sessions in your own time, which makes it easier to manage, especially if the online sessions do not suit your availability. Lastly, you can directly download the relevant workbooks for your tutoring subject and year group – it includes answers and solutions to all the questions, making it even simpler when it comes to planning lessons effectively. 

As someone who tutors a minimum of 6 sessions a week, I expected difficulty in contacting Action Tutoring’s programme coordinators, however, each session, apart from 1, had a different coordinator. This not only makes it easier to contact them, but it also makes communication smoother, as there is no risk of getting mixed up with the sessions or the students that are being discussed.

Highs and lows

The hardest thing about tutoring is controlling pupil behavioural issues. Personally, I have only had these issues with virtual learning because online it can be harder for me to control and redirect to positive behaviour when they’re not in the room with me. If these moments occur, I attempt to engage them back into the lesson or provide them with a mind break if I believe this to be the reason they were acting up.

Although sometimes tutoring can be hard, it also has a lot of benefits. Volunteering has positively impacted my overall life, often contributing to other aspects. I can carry myself with confidence, which presents more within my degree and therefore has a positive impact on my learning. Before volunteering, I was more reserved however this has since improved and now I can achieve my goals with more ease. My experience with Action Tutoring has been motivating and thrilling – it has developed my confidence in my teaching skills and allowed me to see the side of the education system that students rarely have access to.

Written by: Laura Shepherd

Tutor spotlight: Eleanor Grandchamp – future children’s speech & language therapist

2 October 2023

Today we are shining a spotlight on an Action Tutoring volunteeer, Eleanor Grandchamp. Tutoring has been an instrumental part of Eleanor’s journey to becoming a children’s speech and language therapist. It inspired her choice of career, as well as being valuable experience that helped her land a job in a school and a spot on a competitive language therapy master’s course.

Eleanor Grandchamp

Please tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m Eleanor and I have been a tutor and advocate for Action Tutoring since 2020. I currently work in a primary school delivering speech and language therapy and behavioural support to a named child. I am due to start my master’s in Speech and Language Therapy at Reading University in September. I hope to be qualified as a paediatric SLT (speech and language therapist) with my own clinic one day, delivering free sessions in schools in economically deprived areas of the UK.

I learnt about Action Tutoring at my fresher’s fair at the University of West England, where I joined a local tutoring programme in Bristol in my first year (2019). I chose to help different year groups every time: Year 5, Year 6, Year 7, and Year 11.

Because of this, when I graduated, I found a job in a primary school rather than secondary school as I had already found that my teaching style resonated more with primary school children and I wanted to develop that further. Without Action Tutoring, I would not have been sure what year group I enjoyed teaching the most.

How do you feel your tutoring experience has helped you in your current role and how has it helped you secure a place on a speech and language therapy course?

My current job as a SEN LSA (special educational needs learning support assistant) in a primary school is very similar to tutoring but on a one-to-one basis instead. Action Tutoring taught me how to follow a programme and personalise it for each child. My employer was impressed with how prepared I was to teach and this was due to my time tutoring every week with Action Tutoring. Having tutored on and off for 3 years both in person and online, I had a large amount of contact hours with schools and teaching, which is what I needed to qualify for my job role. 

Through working with Action Tutoring, I developed a passion for speech and language therapy. I saw how it impacted a child’s educational and personal development and researched ways to overcome this, such as becoming a paediatric speech and language therapist. 

When applying for my master’s course, the university was impressed with my dedication to tutoring during my own studies. It showed my dedication to improving the education sector in my local Bristol area.

What are your goals for the future?

My goals for the future have been inspired by Action Tutoring. Once I am a fully qualified paediatric speech and language therapist, I would like to offer free speech and language therapy training for the staff working in schools with children affected by these disabilities, or free speech and language therapy sessions for the children and their families. 

Similarly to tutoring, there is a long wait until resources can be accessed by the children and by then it may be too late or not fully provide what is needed to help them. I would like to be part of the movement Action Tutoring has started to create equal opportunities for all children regardless of economic background. to give them a fighting chance to achieve their goals.

Volunteers take on Hackney Half Marathon to raise funds

22 June 2023

The six runners raced for 13 miles at Hackney Half to raise over £2700 to support tutoring


The atmosphere at Hackney Marshes, the start and end point for the Hackney Half Marathon, was electrifying. Throngs of supporters had lined up the streets of the 13.1 mile course.

From shaking tambourines and blowing loud whistles to chanting runners’ names, motivation from the hundreds of thousands of cheering crowds was on full display.

A field of 24,000 runners who signed up for the half marathon were ready to push their minds and bodies to the finish line. Among the runners were six volunteers – Sam, Rhea, Tom, Luke, August, and James – taking on the challenge to raise funds in support of Action Tutoring’s mission.

The run started from the Hackney Marshes, through some of East London’s creative and popular spots including Broadway Market, Hackney Empire, Hackney Wick and Victoria Park.

Ramon, a finance administrator at Action Tutoring, was one of supporters cheering the runners on, alongside their family and friends at the finish line.

It had a festival-like atmosphere with music playing, buzzing energy and a great community spirit to encourage runners to push through to the very end.

Ramon

Physical toll

Running for 13.1 miles, an equivalent of 21 kilometres, is no mean feat and presents a massive challenge to the body. It exerts a physical toll that Tom, one of our brilliant volunteer runners, found out quite early-on in the race.

Tom volunteer runner
Tom – volunteer runner

I had sort of shin splints and knee problems throughout the entire race, but I just had to dig deep. I kept it going, one foot in front of the other.

Tom

For Tom, the core takeaway from this challenge is doing something amazing in the name of charity, regardless of time or speed.

It’s about having a good time, but it’s also about finishing the race and being part of the whole event and not pushing yourself too hard.

Tom

Our volunteer runner, Rhea, also found the race painful but the reward was soothing.

It was so painful for a lot of it. But the whole time, it was amazing mentally yet physically terrifying.

Rhea

Staying motivated

To take on a big challenge like this, you need motivation to keep you going from mile to mile, or even at tougher points, step to step.

Our runners said the big motivators for them included the support from friends and family was a big motivator, people who donated to their fundraising pages and fans who cheered them on as they ran.

I saw people that shouted “Action Tutoring”, and that they have a brother and sister who has been tutored by the charity’s volunteers.

James
James - volunteer runner
James – volunteer runner

Eye on the prize

Another big motivation for the six runners through the thick and thin of the half marathon was the cause. Keeping in mind the altruistic reason they had taken on the huge challenge in the first place as the ultimate prize saw them through the race.

All funds raised will help increase access to tutoring for pupils from low-income families across the country. All our runners have previously or currently volunteered on our programmes. Action Tutoring works with volunteers to provide academic support in maths and English to primary and secondary pupils facing disadvantage.

While running, Rhea remained steadfast by thinking of the work and impact of Action Tutoring. 

I’ve signed up for a half marathon before and not followed through with it and then this opportunity came up with Action Tutoring and I just thought that’s an amazing cause to be running for and that I’d love to push myself to be doing something more for them.

Rhea

She urged people wishing to take on a challenge for a cause such as this to definitely go for it, as the pride in personal achievement and charity is worth it.

Definitely do it! Even though I know I just described it as very painful, that is going to be something I can look back on and be really proud of.

Rhea
Rhea - volunteer runner
Rhea – volunteer runner

Planting important seeds

Tom said he felt inspired by his fulfilling tutoring experience and decided to take his support one step further by taking on this challenge.

I’ve been a tutor for over seven months now and I’ve seen the great work that Action Tutoring does. This was just a different avenue that I could the help the charity reach more disadvantaged children and hopefully spread awareness about their work.

Tom

James also shared that the charity’s cause was close to his heart, elaborating why raising awareness for Action Tutoring was important to him.

I know people who have learning challenges or haven’t had the best upbringing or families that don’t necessarily understand the importance of education. I know the value of tutoring. For people to give up their time to help young people, they’re planting seeds – important seeds.

James

Fundraising success

Luke - volunteer runner
Luke – volunteer runner

Our runners not only worked hard at the race, but with their fundraising efforts. A staggering total of £2705 was raised collectively, smashing the original group target of £1800, or £300 per runner.

The raised amount translates into purchasing over 450 workbooks for face-to-face tutoring or 108 headphones for online delivery.

We are so proud of our runners for taking on this incredible physical feat whilst fundraising for Action Tutoring. Thank you to all the runners and all those who donated and supported each runner’s fundraiser. We can’t do our vital work without your support and advocacy.

Hannah O’Neill, Head of Philanthropy at Action Tutoring

With the raised funds and visibility from the Hackney Half Marathon, Action Tutoring will continue to work tirelessly to inspire disadvantaged young people and help them unlock their academic potential.

Thank You Day 2023: An Ode to Volunteers

21 June 2023

Thank you to the unsung heroes of charity


When we think of superheroes, our minds often evoke images of capes, masks, and incredible superpowers. The true heroes among us aren’t necessarily blessed with X-ray vision or the ability to fly.

They are extraordinary ordinary people who selflessly give their time and efforts to causes that make a difference. Volunteers are the backbone of charitable organisations. They’re the ones who turn compassion into action, showing up day after day, ready to tackle any challenge. 

From feeding the homeless to cleaning up parks, from tutoring underprivileged children to rescuing adorable furry friends, these wonderful individuals are everywhere, making an impact, one selfless act at a time.

That is why we are joining the rest of the UK to mark the third annual Thank You Day on Sunday 2nd July. 

What is Thank You Day?

Thank You Day began with a handful of organisations looking for a way to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who helped the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then the campaign has grown and an astounding 15 million people have taken part in Thank You Day celebrations. Last year, 61% said that taking part had made their communities feel more united.

The impact of small actions

It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that changing the world requires grand gestures or infinite resources. But small actions can create profound ripples of positive change.  Even the tiniest effort can make someone’s day a little brighter. 

Whether it’s a heartfelt smile, a warm hug, spending an hour to support a young person or a simple “How can I help?”, these unsung heroes understand that the impact of their actions extends far beyond what meets the eye. Their dedication, combined with their unwavering belief in the power of compassion, transforms communities and touches lives in truly immeasurable ways.

Volunteer tutors

The timeless gift of time

Imagine a world where everyone was too busy for kindness. Luckily, volunteers graciously donate their most precious resource – their time – to make a difference. Amidst their responsibilities and commitments, these extraordinary individuals carve out moments to lend a helping hand, becoming the living embodiment of the saying, “time is the most valuable gift.”

From organising food drives to planting trees, from tutoring pupils to comforting the lonely, volunteers invest their time to improve the lives of others. They are like time travellers, moving between the past, present, and future to create a better world for all. Their acts of kindness ripple through time, leaving a lasting impact that resonates with the souls they touch.

The magic of connection

Volunteers possess an uncanny ability to forge connections. They are the bridge builders who effortlessly bring people together, fostering a sense of community and belonging. In a world that sometimes feels disconnected, these unsung heroes have the power to create bonds that transcend barriers and unite us all.

Through their compassion, volunteers ignite a spark of hope in the hearts of those they serve. Whether it’s sharing stories, helping to solve difficult study questions, offering a listening ear, or simply offering a warm smile, they make everyone feel seen, heard, and valued. 

In an era dominated by screens, volunteers remind us of the magic that unfolds when we connect with our fellow human beings on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Tutoring session

A heartfelt thank you

So, here’s to the volunteers who keep the gears of kindness turning. Today, we express our sincerest gratitude for your unwavering spirit, your boundless energy, and your refusal to let obstacles dim your commitment to making a difference.

Thank you for donning your superhero capes without expecting recognition or applause. For reminding us that there’s always room for kindness and that we, too, can be part of something greater than ourselves. For being the quiet catalysts of change, selflessly working behind the scenes to create a better world.

To our extraordinary volunteer tutors, thank you for showing up at every session, even when the economic climate is now more challenging than ever. Thank you for spending an hour of kindness each week to support young people facing disadvantage to build a better future and brighten their lives.

As we mark Thank You Day nationally, let’s all reach out to these everyday heroes – volunteers, supportive friends, family, and colleagues to shower them with appreciation, and let them know that their efforts are noticed, valued, and cherished.

Retiree volunteer joins King Charles’ first garden party

4 May 2023

As a recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award in December, Action Tutoring was invited to select two tutor volunteers to join several distinguished guests for King Charles’ first garden party at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, ahead of the Coronation this weekend.

Retiree Frank Plater, our volunteer tutor with the most sessions delivered in the last academic year, together with Peter Baines, the Chair of the Board of Trustees and long-time tutor volunteer, were nominated by founder and CEO, Susannah Hardyman to represent the education charity at the garden party.

I was really quite staggered for being nominated to attend the garden party. Supporting children keeps me young, and keeps my brain ticking over.

Frank said, with a beaming smile as he stood outside the gates to the Palace.

Ever the committed tutor, Frank delivered a Year 10 maths session at St Bede’s Catholic College, Bristol in the morning before catching the train to London for the King’s garden party.

Retiree volunteer, Frank Plater (left) with Chair of Board of Trustees and long-time volunteer, Peter Baines outside the Buckingham Palace ahead of King’s garden party.

Making a difference

Frank Plater drives over forty minutes from Chepstow, Wales to three schools in Bristol each week to give additional academic support to pupils in maths. He tutors at the Badocks Wood E-ACT Academy, St. Bede’s Catholic College, and Greenfield E-ACT Primary Academy.

The retired aircraft industry professional has embarked on this journey over the last five years since he began volunteering with Action Tutoring.

I first heard about Action Tutoring when surfing the internet. I really wanted any tutoring to be voluntary, but too many sites were focused on the financial reward. I wanted to give something back and try to make a difference. Voluntary maths tutoring seemed to be something I could do.

Frank recounted

Since 2018, Frank has delivered over 430 maths support sessions for pupils in Bristol.

Having worked specifically in aerodynamics and flight physics for 30 years, Frank said he gets the most satisfaction from feeling useful.

I’m currently taking action to pass on my knowledge and experience and this has made me think about helping even younger people develop themselves.

Giving heart

Beyond volunteering, Frank has donated to several fundraising campaigns run by Action Tutoring to expand academic support to more disadvantaged pupils in hard-to-reach areas across the country. 

Through his contributions to our Big Give Christmas Challenge, Champions for Children campaign, and 10th-anniversary impact celebrations among others, Frank is making a lasting difference in the lives of young people from low-income families.

Play to learn

The pupils Frank supports every week in face-to-face tutoring sessions have described him as a great and humble tutor who brings in lots of games to play during tutoring sessions. 

His approach to tutoring has garnered a lot of love from pupils in schools in Bristol.

Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award

The King’s Garden Party invitation comes on the heels of Action Tutoring receiving The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award. It recognised the service and impact of its inspiring volunteer tutors on disadvantaged young people across England in empowering young people and providing them with skills and opportunities.

Commenting on how he felt being selected to attend the garden party, Frank said: “It was a bolt out of the blue and I chuckled a bit.

‘Thank You’ notes from pupils that warmed our hearts in spring term

26 April 2023

We can think of thousands of reasons why working with children brings us joy, purpose, and fulfilment. But what’s even more heart warming is when the children you support recognise your impact on their lives and share inspiring thank-you notes of appreciation. Thank you, tutors!

Despite the odd challenge of managing children during sessions, their boundless energy, honesty and humour keep us all going.

Watching pupils grow in subject knowledge and confidence is even more motivating for our volunteers who spend an hour each week to help them improve their English and maths skills.

With summer term just beginning, let’s throwback to some of the remarkable words and notes of gratitude some pupils shared with our volunteers and programme team in schools last term.

1. Being a child’s favourite grey-haired person is indeed a compliment!

2. Sometimes, playing is learning and learning is playing. Finding the best approach for every child is essential.

3. Appreciation in poetry

Aww! Now, who’s cutting onions?

4. Group high-5 for Brenda

5. World’s best!

6. The best tutor award goes to…

7. Is there anything like positive anger?

8. Tutoring goes beyond knowledge. Changes behaviours and attitudes too.

9. Levelling up

10. Certainly a good use of time!

Why we do what we do

These words of appreciation and witnessing a pupil grow from strength to strength are why we do what we do.

Why not join us and shape a child’s future by volunteering an hour a week to help them improve their academic performance in English or maths?

Be bold and cheeky: Five secrets to holding a successful charity fundraiser

13 March 2023

Ever fancied raising money for charity but had no idea where to start? Never fear! Student volunteer tutor, Rebecca, shares her tips and tricks on how she held a successful fundraiser for Action Tutoring amid a cost of living crisis

Rebecca was looking through volunteering opportunities listed on her Student Union’s website when she stumbled across Action Tutoring. Throwing herself into the experience, Rebecca tutored on three online programmes, supporting pupils in Year 11, Year 5 and Year 7.

It was a nice way to break free from lectures. I really bonded with the pupils.

When Rebecca’s ability to commit to a full tutoring programme reduced in her final year studying English Literature at Newcastle University, she remained determined to find a way to continue supporting disadvantaged pupils beyond volunteering.

I was reading about the attainment gap and thought it’d be nice to make a difference in other ways than tutoring

As the newly appointed Fundraising & Charity Officer for the Student Union’s Creative Writing Society, the answer was obvious: hold a charity fundraiser! Here’s what she learned along the way:

  • Make use of charity resources

Rebecca’s primary point of contact from Action Tutoring was a Programme Coordinator in Newcastle, who worked in partnership with the Fundraising and Marketing Teams to supply her with all the necessary materials needed to support her event. These included pre-written copy about Action Tutoring’s work for use in posters and social media posts, as well as leaflets and posters for use on the big night.

Honestly, there’s nothing they could have done more! Action Tutoring was really helpful and supportive, so definitely a good charity to raise money for!

Rebecca said, reflecting on the support she received.
  • Don’t let inexperience put you off

A self-confessed novice, Rebecca laughs as she tells me the only fundraising experience she had prior to this was a teenage bake sale. First piece of advice?

Don’t be afraid to give it a go!

Rebecca said, in an optimistic tone. 

Ideas often come organically once you commit to the project, which was the case for Rebecca. Toying with the idea of a monologue night, before concluding it would be “a little bit too exclusive”, Rebecca and the Creative Writing committee eventually agreed on the theme of their event: ‘An Evening of Creativity.’

The team quickly called on budding performers to submit their entry pieces.  Before long, they had the Gilbert & Sullivan Society and the Theatre Society on board too for an exciting night which would showcase the talent of budding writers, poets, actors and opera singers alike.

  • Be flexible and persistent

Next on the agenda was finding a location willing to host her fundraiser, which was proving slightly arduous. Rebecca recalls emailing, in her words, a lot of bars and other potential venues across Newcastle but received few responses. Unphased, she decided to change tact and target university buildings.

Her persistence finally paid off when one student union venue, (aptly called ‘The Venue’), agreed to host Rebecca’s fundraiser for free. Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to change your approach if plan A isn’t working out.

  • Teamwork makes the dream work

With performers recruited and venue secured, next was perhaps the most important step; promotion. How did Rebecca and her team achieve this? Collaboration.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help; if people want to help, just say yes. I’m not good at arts, but somebody from Gilbert and Sullivant had experience of making posters so they did that for us, which was very nice! I printed it out and put it all around the university, especially the student union. We also had digital posters in our uni’, and we managed to get it on that as well. Then, we just did a lot of social media!”

Rebecca recounted

To ensure they reached the biggest audience they could, the savvy fundraiser also reached out to similar student societies such as the Film, Writing and Reading Societies, who agreed to promote the event on their own social media channels too. Collaboration proved mutually beneficial for all participating societies as the event, Rebecca explains, “acted as promotion [for them] too.”

  • “Be bold and cheeky!”

Asking for money can feel altogether rather “un-British”, but let’s not forget that the purpose of this event was, after all, to raise funds! Tickets cost £4 for members and £5 for non-members, but where Rebecca’s team really made a difference was in their brave strategy to request that performers also bought a ticket. 

I felt so bad doing it but we said “let’s be bold and cheeky, if people really don’t like it, we’ll change our minds” and people seemed to be quite up for it; because it was for a good cause.

An Evening of Creativity

The big day rolled around quickly and despite pre-show nerves, an incredible 42 students, including three Action Tutoring Programme Coordinators from Newcastle, turned up, all eager to be entertained.

It was quite a little boost to get that number in the end as we weren’t expecting it, what with the cost of living crisis.

Rebecca said, with a grin

Programme Coordinator, Hannah, took to the stage to kick off with a brief presentation giving some context to Action Tutoring’s work and mission before Gilbert and Sullivan actors opened the show with a dazzling operatic performance. “It was really cool and also unexpected because I’ve never seen it before!” enthuses Rebecca.

With performances underway, she could finally sit back, relax and enjoy the show. “It was really lovely to see it all come together….once it had started, there was nothing else I could do,” recalls Rebecca. Overall, the event raised £176 for Action Tutoring, which is enough to provide 29 pupils with session workbooks or cover the cost of 17 volunteer tutor DBS checks!

The hidden benefit of fundraisers

With an endearing modesty and eagerness to give due credit to those who helped her, it’d be easy to underplay what Rebecca achieved, but we shouldn’t. The gruelling cost of living crisis should not be underestimated. Charities nationwide are struggling to raise the funds they so desperately need to support their beneficiaries, while supporting their own increased running costs.

More than raising vital funds, Rebecca and her team helped raise awareness of the increasing challenges and disproportionate educational hurdles facing children from low-income backgrounds, prompting a much needed dialogue on an issue that is more urgent than ever.

The attainment gap between pupils on free school meals (FSM) and their more affluent peers is now at its highest level in a decade. A staggering 29.1% of all pupils in the North East alone are currently deemed eligible for free school meals, with certain areas in the region, such as North Tyneside, recording some of the highest GCSE attainment gaps in England in 2022; a sobering insight into regional disadvantage.

Not only did Rebecca’s fundraiser inspire students living on stretched budgets to engage with charitable giving, but she also succeeded in bringing people together to connect, to laugh, to marvel, to experience live performances again and to reclaim just a bit of the social interactions they had all been so unfairly robbed of after two years of a global pandemic.

This is the hidden benefit of fundraising – the opportunity it provides to ignite social connections, challenge yourself and bring people together to support a common cause. I finish by asking her if she has any final pieces of advice for future fundraisers.

Just go for it! It’s going to work or it’s not and more often than not, it’ll end up working. What’s the worst that can happen?


Become a volunteer tutor with Action Tutoring and help disadvantaged children improve their academic strength and build a better future. With just one hour a week, you can volunteer to tutor pupils in English or maths at primary or secondary level, online or in-person. No previous teaching experience is required and we will provide you with all the resources you need.

Passing on my love for learning through volunteer tutoring

16 February 2023

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a real thirst for learning. I have vivid memories of my dad obliging in taking me, a far-too-keen seven-year-old, to WHSmith on a Saturday morning to get my hands on those KS2 English and Maths work booklets – the type where you could treat yourself to a gold star upon getting an answer right. I loved my time in school and always tried to achieve my best in class, whether it was my favourite or least favourite subject.

For this love of learning, I’m both grateful and aware of my privileged position – as this is not always the case. Not all children are lucky enough to enjoy learning or to revel in the time that they spend in school, and there are many reasons for this. One of the biggest is that not all children begin at the same starting point in life as not all are able to easily access or utilise the tools that can support them through the education system.

Whilst I’ve never aspired to become a teacher or educator due to writing being my passion, in the six years since graduating from university with a Media and Communications degree and working as a copywriter and content specialist with charitable and educational organisations, I’ve seen from a distance the impact that the pandemic and budget cuts have had on pupils’ education.

In fact, the attainment gap between pupils facing disadvantage and their peers is currently at its widest for ten years, with just 43% of disadvantaged pupils meeting expected standards in reading, writing and maths at primary school.

It’s these stark statistics that encouraged me to do what I could to help give back and pass on my love for learning and language. After hearing about a friend’s experience volunteering with Action Tutoring, I applied to be trained as a volunteer tutoring English in late 2021.

By January 2022, I was supporting two Year 6 pupils to prepare for their SATs at a primary school in Newcastle and it quickly became the highlight of my week. Finding ways to engage the two boys in my group and demonstrate how important strong literacy and writing skills are, not just for school and exams, but to also get more enjoyment out of the content that they might play, read or listen to in day-to-day life was challenging at times – but it was a challenge I definitely relished.

Following their exams, I was delighted to learn in the summer that both pupils had gone on to surpass the marks they needed to ‘meet expectations’ – a real reward for both pupils, who I’d known had possessed the determination and ability to succeed. It’s also great that Action Tutoring shares with you this detail of how your pupils do in their SATs, as this gives you a real sense of fulfilment that you’ve helped to perhaps play a small role in this.

I then moved on and began tutoring two Year 5 pupils throughout the summer months, who I continue to tutor today – the girls are now just three months out from taking their Year 6 SATs. Again, it’s brilliant to see the progress that they’ve made in a relatively short space of time.

Perhaps my favourite thing about tutoring is that not only am I helping the pupils to learn, but they’re also helping me to develop professionally and personally.

They’ve helped me to strengthen my essential skills such as listening, facilitating discussion and giving constructive feedback. They’ve also filled me in on all of the curriculum changes since I was at school – what they’re currently learning or reading, and the reasons why they are important.

Last but certainly not least, they’ve also helped me to substantially improve my hangman skills – a game that is an ever-popular hit as a cool-down activity within our school’s sessions!

I’m grateful that Action Tutoring has provided me with this opportunity to pass on my own knowledge and love for learning to the next generation. After all, knowledge is power – but we must ensure that all children across the country are provided with an equal opportunity to succeed and achieve their dreams.

Author: Samantha Lade


Become a volunteer tutor with Action Tutoring and help disadvantaged children improve their academic strength and build a better future. With just one hour a week, you can volunteer to tutor pupils in English or maths at primary or secondary level, online or in-person. No previous teaching experience is required and we will provide you with all the resources you need.

Volunteering on a placement: five employability skills our student volunteers have learnt

14 February 2023

Volunteering on a placement with Action Tutoring

Action Tutoring’s placement students actively support 1-3 young people across 10–20 weeks, building their maths or English subject knowledge, confidence and study skills. Volunteering on a placement, you can flex the number of programmes you volunteer on depending on the requirements of the module. And, additional responsibilities can be built in to ensure the full work experience objectives are met!

This Student Volunteering Week, we want to showcase five employability skills our 2022-23 placement students have learned so far…

1. Presenting topics in different ways to suit your audience

The pupils have taught me patience and creativity go hand in hand. If I can make their lessons interesting, with variation and by relating topics to them, then they will engage more with the subject material and benefit much better overall.

Cam, English Literature student at Newcastle University. Cam is volunteering with us as part of his Career Development Module

Action Tutoring provides tutors with workbooks and session plans, but you’ll still need your initiative and creativity! Tutoring hones skills in adapting your presentation style to suit different audiences. 

These skills are transferable to any role in which you would need to present, pitch or explain an idea. 

2. Empathy and understanding people from different backgrounds

Working with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds has greatly improved my empathy. Throughout my time at school, I was fortunate enough to receive the necessary educational tools to allow me to thrive academically. Volunteering with Action Tutoring has opened my eyes to the attainment gap in schools across the country, and I have become increasingly aware of the academic struggles these pupils face.

Felix, Sports and Exercise student at the University of Exeter. Felix is volunteering with us as part of his Employability Module.

Experience working with people from different backgrounds is something many employers look for. They might ask you how you can relate to others, or for examples of how you’ve adapted your communication style in the past.

Working with children (particularly if you are tutoring pupils in a different area of the country!) is a great way of demonstrating this.

volunteering on a placement

3. Patience, perseverance and motivation

Action Tutoring is a good way to improve your perseverance and patience skills, as every pupil is different and will often take a few sessions to feel comfortable around you.

Katie, Sociology student at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Katie is volunteering with us as part of her Sociology degree.

Perseverance is linked with motivation. Sometimes, your tutoring session might not run as smoothly as you’d like it to. A great way to demonstrate your motivated attitude is to explain how you overcame obstacles in your tutoring sessions. 

Did you have to try three different ways of framing your explanation before you got that “lightbulb moment” with your pupil? Did you bring in a game to help them understand better the next time? 

Tutoring experience can demonstrate that you are proactive and don’t allow challenges to keep you, or your pupil, from making progress.

4. Communication and confidence

The main thing that I have drawn from my pupils is communicating effectively. Before tutoring I felt that I had issues with my communication, regularly feeling anxious, however their desire to learn gave me confidence in my communication.

Madeline, English Literature student at the University of Liverpool. Madeline is volunteering with us as part of her Arts placement.

There are four fundamental skills involved in communicating effectively in any job: writing, speaking, listening and presenting. Tutoring can help you develop in all four areas. 

Speaking also includes the use of body language, gestures and facial expressions effectively to aid communication. Tutoring is a great way to consciously practise these, as it can make you appear more approachable and help you connect with your pupils more. Read more tutoring tips!

5. Problem-solving

Developing my problem-solving and communication skills whilst teaching my tutees English has been both beneficial and seriously rewarding. The ability to actively engage tutee’s attention whilst providing a fun learning environment has been a skill and experience I wouldn’t usually use.

Tom, Human Geography student at Newcastle University. Tom is volunteering with us as part of his Career Development Module.

Employers value those who can problem-solve; it improves efficiency and increases the productivity of the organisation. When tutoring, you may need to use initiative and think outside the box. 

How can you help your pupil understand how you got to the answer? How can you engage their attention if they’re distracted? Solving these small problems is key to an effective tutoring session. 

More information on volunteer placements

You as an individual become more employable and in my case, a more fulfilled person too. It’s the best of both worlds!

Tom, Human Geography student at Newcastle University.

For more information on volunteering as a student, visit our student volunteering page

Are you interested in completing your placement with us? Read our Placement Pack, or contact volunteer@actiontutoring.org.uk to be put in touch with our University Partnerships Coordinator. 

Are you ready to hone your employability skills by volunteering for one hour per week? 

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