“My favourite thing about Action Tutoring is going back to the classroom and being more confident answering questions and taking part.” Pupil, Sussex
Action Tutoring has been working with Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (previously the Office for Civil Society) over the last five years. Nesta is an innovation foundation, focused on backing new ideas to help governments reform public services and improve citizen engagement through smarter use of people, data and technology. They have provided us with both financial and non-financial support, through two grants and with practical advice, helping us to grow from a small start-up charity to a national charity with proven impact.
We first worked with Nesta from 2013-14 when we were awarded a grant from its Social Action Innovation Fund. This grant enabled us to develop our volunteer recruitment process, substantially grow our programmes outside of London and effectively evaluate our impact. As a result of our evaluation work, we achieved a level 3 on Nesta’s standards of evidence and were one of only two charities to achieve this level. With the support from Nesta, and other funders, we have developed a clear model that has proven impact and have embedded systems to manage growth.
The second grant was awarded in September 2017 and was used to help expand our work across the country, particularly in primary schools: supporting more young people at an earlier stage in their education. Our expansion was focused on rapidly growing the number of primary school pupils we worked with, expanding into a new city (Newcastle) and growing our secondary programmes too.
The Nesta grant supported us to develop partnerships with 46 new schools in 2017-18, our biggest expansion to date, meaning we needed to recruit more volunteers to support more pupils, and manage more school relations than ever before.
“Seeing my pupils grow in confidence and ability has been an absolute delight. I feel really lucky to be a tutor with Action Tutoring”. Orlagh, English tutor, London
Like many frontline charities, volunteers are crucial to our work. In order to reach our ambitious growth targets, we needed to significantly increase our numbers of volunteers and the Nesta grant supported us to do this.
The funds enabled us to establish a new staff role in our marketing team, which is responsible for the sourcing and engagement of volunteers, and to cover the DBS costs and travel expenses for our extra volunteers. We managed to recruit almost 1,200 volunteers to our programmes in 2017-18, over 400 hundred more than the previous year.
Recruiting, training and developing this volume of volunteers had its challenges, however we had established a structured tutor journey in previous years which enabled the growth to be sustainable. The biggest challenge came with ensuring we had a pipeline of volunteers who met our criteria and were available to support on our specific opportunities. There was no option to ask a volunteer from Liverpool to travel to Bristol to tutor two pupils. We developed a more detailed analysis of the tutors we recruited to help us predict any potential gaps, giving us the ability to adjust our recruitment focus when needed.
“Action Tutoring has proved to be a very good way of supporting some of our disadvantaged pupils academically. I have been impressed with the support provided by Action Tutoring particularly the organisation, teaching resources and evaluation reports given to us. Our pupils have benefited from the enthusiasm and dedication of the of the volunteer tutors.” Headteacher, Birmingham
Schools are inspiring spaces, full of driven motivated teachers and ambitious hard-working pupils. They are a pleasure to work with. However, as with any partnership, it can require coordination and consideration to fit together. As we grew our number of schools, we found each had its own individual needs. Inevitably, as there are so many groups of pupils we could support in schools, we received requests asking us to help in ways that did not fit with our model. This did result in us not being able to meet the needs of some of the schools and, as a result, not helping every young person our schools put forward. However, the more we evaluate and measure our impact, the more confident we feel about our model and how it can be applied most effectively. So as a result, the pupils we did work with were getting the impactful and effective support they needed.
With the support of Nesta and DCMS, we have increased the number of schools and pupils we work with. This included dramatically increasing our primary provision in London, Birmingham and Bristol and launching our primary work in Sussex and in Sheffield. The motivation for this expansion was so that we could support pupils to give them a better grounding in maths and English before they reach secondary school. Our grant helped us to provide tutoring to over 900 primary pupils across the country.
“I would say that my interactions with my tutors are the best part of my job! I think that they get a great sense of achievement through passing their knowledge on to their pupils, as well as sharing their tutoring expertise with other volunteers.” Stevie, Newcastle Programme Coordinator, Action Tutoring
Ensuring sufficient funding is secured is always a priority for charities, however attracting and securing this funding, especially the right type, can be a challenge. Understandably funders want to support front line costs that directly impact young people, but charities also need to fund core running and office costs. The Nesta Grant was focused on supporting both sides of our charity, for example; providing funds to recruit an additional member of our marketing team, increasing our capacity to recruit more volunteers; and also funding additional training for our Senior Management Team (SMT). This investment to help them become better leaders and managers will impact our charity now, and as we grow.
The original Nesta grant (2013-14) funded our growth outside of London, driven by the belief that academic support for disadvantaged young people should not just be focused in the South East but across the country. This latest grant has specifically helped us to expand our programme to reach pupils in a new city – Newcastle. The North East is an area in desperate need of support: in 2016 only 38% of pupils receiving free school meals achieved an A*-C grade in maths and English, compared to 51% of pupils in London. When we met with school leaders and volunteer communities in the North East, the overriding message was there are not enough charities working in the area and many are crying out for more organisations to help. The support and encouragement from Nesta has enabled us to reach these communities and the young people who would not have otherwise received this kind of provision. We hope Nesta can continue to back charities to expand out of London to reach all corners of the UK.
The grant from Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, along with backing from our other funders, has enabled us to provide tutoring support for over 2,400 young people, across seven cities, in 2017-18. We are confident that this help will ensure they achieve the grades they need to go on to further training, education or employment and not to get trapped in the spiral of unemployment. We have ambitious plans to continue this growth over the years, building on the support Nesta has given us to reach even more pupils across the country.
To find out more about getting involved as a volunteer tutor, school or funder visit the other pages of our website (www.actiontutoring.org.uk).
“The Report Card 2016/17”, Fair Education Alliance, September 2017
“Action Tutoring’s small-group tuition programme”, NISER, March 2016
“The Attainment Gap”, Education Endowment Foundation, 2017