News & Insights 17 May 2019

Reflections from a tutor: The Action Tutoring experience

Written by Elaine Garrod

Elaine is a graphic designer working for KPMG and tutors English with Action Tutoring at Chelsea Academy.

It is generally said that moving house is one of the most stressful life events one can have. I dare say general advice would be not to take on other new ventures at the same time, if it can be avoided.

However, one afternoon last spring as I was heading to my work’s restaurant for lunch in a state of angst over my impending house move, I was approached by a man who was trying to recruit KPMG staff members to volunteer for a charity called Action Tutoring. I work for KPMG as a graphic designer and the company allows its staff time during working hours to volunteer with all sorts of charities and activities as part of its ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.

The man from Action Tutoring explained to me that the charity supports pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve a meaningful level of academic attainment, with a view to helping them progress to further education, employment or training. It does this by getting volunteer tutors to help pupils with maths and English. Despite the pressure I was under at the time, I agreed to become a volunteer tutor. Why, you ask?

I try to live Green Party values, be a useful member of society and do good in the community. In the Green Party, we promote equal opportunities and believe that every child has the right to a good education and the right to have the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever their circumstances. Children from poorer backgrounds can face challenges such as having to care for younger siblings or sick/disabled parents. They might live in a crowded home and not have anywhere quiet and private to do their homework. They might not get enough to eat. Issues like these can seriously affect the time they have for studying and their ability to focus on their studies, not to mention their confidence and aspirations. I wanted to do something to help them.

To become a tutor you need to have at least ‘A’ Level in the subject you’re going to teach. I can therefore only teach English: as I tell my pupils, if we were in the maths classroom they would be teaching me!

The first steps were to apply for DBS clearance and attend an induction course with other new tutors where I learned some shocking statistics about how poorly pupils from less privileged backgrounds do in their exams compared to their more privileged peers. We were shown the workbooks we would use, although we were told we could use our own material and teaching aids too, so long as we ran them past the coordinator first. We were given a few rules regarding safety for ourselves and the pupils.

Soon after that, I was invited to look through the list of schools where tutors were required and apply for a position. I chose to apply to teach GSCE English to Year 10 and 11 pupils for an hour a week during term time at Chelsea Academy. There are primary school roles available too but they are at 09:00 and I’m not a morning person! The secondary school sessions are in the afternoon.

The benefits to the pupils are fairly obvious: the tutoring, which is one-to-one or in small groups can help them get better grades in their exams which will boost their chances of getting into higher education and a good job. However, there are also benefits for me.

Teaching English writing and reading comprehension makes a change from work for me and inspires me to think more creatively which is useful for my job, as is gaining skills and confidence in teaching as my job sometimes involves buddying apprentices. I find that helping the pupils to understand and analyse different types of text sharpens my own analytical skills and enhances my appreciation of what I read, be it a novel or a newspaper article. I’m always on the lookout for text that I could use for a good comprehension lesson so I read all the more attentively, looking out for interesting structures, forms, and language techniques. I find myself thinking back to books I’ve previously read and revisiting them to mine them for texts to use for a lesson. I’m re-learning a lot as I go along, and reading the different texts with the pupils is broadening the range of things that I read too. Another way in which it is good for me is that while I’m teaching I’m completely absorbed in it and focused on my pupils and their progress: I’m not thinking and worrying about other things (which I’m given to doing).

I was a little nervous before my first lesson as I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the venue and the pupils. When I arrived at the school I joined the coordinator and other tutors, who are quite a diverse bunch, in the foyer. Most of us were there early so we had time to chat amongst ourselves before being led up to the classrooms (one for English and one for maths) to meet our pupils. I was supposed to have two pupils but only one of them, a Year 11 girl, ever turned up. This was in May, so I only had her for about three sessions before she started her final exams; then we were introduced to our Year 10 pupils. It can be a little awkward at first until we get to know each other. I start off by asking them questions about what subjects they enjoy in school and what they want to do when they leave school, and I tell them a bit about myself, or get them to play a guessing game as to what I do for a living and so forth. Sometimes we then play a game like ‘Taboo cards’ as a warm-up before the lesson proper.

Although we are provided with workbooks, it’s advisable always to have a ‘back-up’ lesson as sometimes we are given different pupils due to absences. Rather than disrupt what I’m doing with my usual pupil, or what my temporary pupil is doing with their tutor in the workbook I find it’s better to do a ‘stand-alone’ lesson in these cases. I’ve found all my pupils to be polite, respectful and hard-working and I hope to continue tutoring for the foreseeable future.

If you’re interested in giving up some of your time to help disadvantaged pupils visit the Action Tutoring website: