Just over five years ago, I spent a Saturday morning at a school in South London, with a passionate teacher, a small group of volunteers and a gathering of 15-16 year olds looking anxious about their fast looming GCSEs. They were duly matched up and swiftly got down to some work. That morning in March 2011 turned out to be the catalyst for what would grow into a national education charity, benefiting hundreds of young people a year. In that moment, the link teacher and I looked at each other and realized we might just be on to something good. Little did I realize just how swift the appetite for what we were embarking on would be from schools, volunteers, funders and pupils themselves. With the support of a grant from our first funder, the Shine Trust, Action Tutoring was off.
Fast-forward just over 5 years to this Monday evening (13th June) and we found ourselves celebrating 5 years of Action Tutoring in none other than the Mansion House. This was thanks to the generosity of the Rt Hon the Lord Mayor, who personally came to welcome our fantastic gathering of volunteers, staff, trustees, funders, corporate supporters, link teachers and fellow organisations who had come together to celebrate all that the organization has achieved so far. What a moment! Jordan, our link teacher from Lilian Baylis Technology School shared with the crowd, “Every tutor has been consistent throughout the year. This has allowed Action Tutoring to tailor each programme individually to the student. The tutoring has improved the grades of all the students involved.” Jordan was followed by one of his pupils, Dehjon, who bravely got up to share his experience of the programme, telling the audience, “From Action Tutoring you get more confidence and help on your weaknesses.”
Going back to the basics, Action Tutoring was founded on two main premises: one, that access to educational opportunities should be fair, recognizing that sadly in the UK we’re still a long way from achieving this. The second was that tuition has the power to be a really effective intervention and can make a life changing difference to young people at a crucial point in their education. The limit to it, is that usually it is very expensive and not everyone can afford it, yet it’s on the rise, with an estimated 1 in 4 pupils across the country having private tutoring. That figure rises to nearly 1 in 2 in London. In the UK, just over 60% of pupils leave school with 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, but for pupils eligible for free school meals that figure nearly halves, to just over 30%. But we believe it doesn’t need to be like that. Other countries around the world do significantly better at closing that attainment gap and many of the schools we work with are managing to do it too.
Action Tutoring is trying to play it’s part in tackling educational inequality by making the benefits of tuition more widely available. This goal though, has only been realized by the fantastic willingness of so many volunteers to support us by giving up their time to tutor in our partner schools with our young people. When Action Tutoring first started, we never imagined so many people from so many diverse backgrounds would come forward wanting to get involved and it’s their commitment that’s enabled us to keep growing at such a rapid pace. This year alone, over 650 volunteers have tutored with us, supporting 1200 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds preparing for GCSEs.
How might we sum up all that’s been learnt in these first 5 Years? There’s so much I could share, and there’s definitely potential for another blog on this, but in the meantime here are a few key points:
- Relationships with our partner schools are key. We’ve been so impressed by the commitment of our link teachers to make the programme a success, working with us to ensure tutorials focus on the right areas, selecting pupils and ensuring they attend.
- Pupils themselves want to achieve. Staying after school at the end of a long day to do extra maths or English work isn’t always the most appealing prospect, but week in week out pupils turn up at their sessions, some on Saturday mornings or even before the school day starts, because they want to do all they can to ensure they achieve.
- There’s no one size fits all to what makes for a great volunteer match with a pupil. So much is about personality, whether the tutor is young or old and whatever their background might be.
- Measuring impact takes time but is achievable. It is well worth investing resource, time and energy into to get the systems for it right. Having strong impact data and systems for tracking activity has been key to securing funding as we’ve grown.
- Finally…. If you don’t ask you don’t get! Starting something from scratch isn’t straightforward but a bit of perseverance and passion goes a long way in opening doors that can lead to amazing opportunities and connections. People want to help a good cause and are excited to get behind something they can see is making a difference.
What might the next 5 years hold? Firstly, we’re really excited that in September we’re going to be launching in Primary schools, supporting pupils in year 5 & 6 not yet at national standards, to help ensure they’re as ready for secondary school as possible. Having been lucky enough to have tutoring myself in year 6, I know it set me on a fantastic path for the next stage of education. If we can intervene earlier, we can help pupils get off to a really good start at secondary school, setting them up well for their GCSEs further down the track. We’ll very much be continuing our work with GCSE pupils though and we’re already signing up new schools for September, looking to grow our work by 25% over the next two years. Beyond that, we want to expand to some new cities too, with planning underway to launch in a new city in 2017-18.
Crucially though, we want to get the message out that education in the UK still isn’t equal and to encourage more people to join us, doing their bit to tackle inequality to ensure that young people have the best start in life possible. So many people have joined us on this journey so far and to them, I want to say a massive thank you. Our job is far from finished though and we want to take forward all that we’ve learnt so far to drive our work further to benefit even more young people. We know that with your help, we can achieve even greater things. Please join us in any way you can!