Student

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

Student Volunteering Week 2024 – what to expect

20 October 2023

Student Volunteering Week 2024 is approaching and you might be thinking – what is it? What’s the point? And, most importantly; how can I get involved?

What is Student Volunteering Week?

Student Volunteering Week is an annual event that celebrates and promotes student volunteering across the UK. It encourages students to:

  • Engage in volunteer activities
  • Develop valuable skills for their future
  • Make a positive impact on the communities in which they live.

When will Student Volunteering Week 2024 take place?

Student Volunteering Week 2024 is happening from Monday 12th to Sunday 18th February 2024.

What to expect from Student Volunteering Week 2024 

If you’re a student, it’s likely that your university will be hosting one or more events during the week. These might include:

  • Sessions on getting into volunteering
  • Charity spotlights, or volunteer days with specific charities
  • Volunteering fairs
  • Taster workshops

You can check your university volunteering service, careers or student union page for information on what activities they’re hosting throughout the week.

What types of volunteering opportunities are available to me as a student?

The world is your oyster! There are a huge range of opportunities to get involved in, depending on your interests and skills. Here are some common categories of volunteering you can get involved in:

  • Conservation: opportunities include tree planting, cleanups and habitat restoration.
  • Education: tutor or mentor younger pupils who would benefit from your help. 
  • Community: students can volunteer at local community centres, food banks, or shelters.
  • Elderly: provide companionship or assistants to seniors at home or in nursing homes.
  • International volunteering: some students choose to volunteer abroad, contributing to projects related to education, healthcare or construction.

Why do students volunteer?

Most of the reasons students volunteer are shared by all volunteers – to give back, explore interests and build a sense of purpose.

Another key motivation is that volunteering provides an opportunity to gain practical experience in a specific field. Volunteering can help students build their CVs and enhance their skills in preparation for future careers. 

Some students get involved in volunteering as part of their university course. This can be in the form of a placement, volunteering module or a work-based learning module.

It’s also a great opportunity to network. At Action Tutoring, many of our staff members volunteered with us before taking the opportunity to join our staff team!


“During my university placement, I tutored both online and face-to-face and really enjoyed seeing the impact of the work I was doing with the pupils in real-time. I enjoyed tutoring more and more with every session.

My interest in the charity sector and my passion for reducing educational inequality spurred me on to apply for the role of North West Programme Coordinator! This role has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the education charity sector and develop within myself as a young professional.”

– Laura, North West Programme Coordinator

How can I find out more about volunteering with Action Tutoring?

To find out more about volunteering with Action Tutoring this Student Volunteering Week 2024, just head to our volunteer page, or check out our role description.

Already an Action Tutoring volunteer, and want to get involved in Student Volunteering Week 2024?

There are a number of ways in which you can get involved and help us to grow our volunteer community.

  • Post on social media about your experiences volunteering with us. This could be your “why”, sharing our impact data, your top tutoring tip or a volunteering highlight. Don’t forget to tag us! 
  • Get creative on TikTok. It goes without saying that you can’t film your pupils, but we’d love to see your journey to/from your programme, session highlights or any advice you have for new volunteers who are thinking about getting involved.
  • Write a blog on your experiences volunteering. Most university volunteering or careers services have a blog to share volunteer experiences and shine a light on different charities.

So, we hope you’ve come away with at least one idea of how to get involved in Student Volunteering Week! A huge thank you to all students who are already volunteering alongside their studies and making a difference in their communities.

Action Tutoring honoured with Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award

21 December 2022

Action Tutoring has been honoured with The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award, recognising the service and impact of our inspiring volunteer tutors on disadvantaged young people across England. This one-off service award was created to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and 20 years of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS). The aim is to celebrate fantastic work by national charities and their volunteers to empower young people and provide them with skills and opportunities.

Over the last decade,  Action Tutoring has been delivering academic support to disadvantaged young people through the dedication of our volunteer tutors and in partnership with schools. Since 2012, we’ve supported over 26,000 primary and secondary school pupils, with the support of over 11,500 dedicated volunteer tutors.

We are thrilled to have our work recognised by this award, particularly for the incredible service of our volunteers and the impact they have on the young people we support. We simply could not do what we do without them.

Susannah Hardyman, founder and CEO of Action Tutoring

The Jubilee Award recognises 20 national charities whose work empowers young people aged 16-25, with volunteers playing a pivotal role in delivering this. The award submissions were judged over the summer by an expert panel chaired by Sir Martyn Lewis CBE (Chair of QAVS). It included members from each UK nation as well as two youth representatives. His Majesty The King personally approved the 20 awardees, following the panel’s selection.

These awards highlight the indispensable role that the voluntary sector plays in targeting help, advice, and guidance where it is needed most. These awards should also be seen as a tribute to the millions of volunteers and donors who, in difficult times, provide the resources of time and money which contribute so powerfully to the social fabric of our country.

Sir Martyn Lewis CBE, the QAVS Chair

Volunteers are at the core of Action Tutoring’s work and remain an invaluable resource in driving our purpose and impact. We are tackling the stark academic attainment gap by optimising the power of our passionate volunteer tutors to specifically support disadvantaged young people across the country.

Action Tutoring is proud of its diverse pool of volunteers from different backgrounds and between the ages of 18 to 82,  including university students, full-time or part-time workers from different sectors of business, and retired professionals. The varied range of volunteer tutors, motivated by their selfless devotion to our mission, bring unique perspectives and experiences to improve the subject knowledge, confidence, and tolerance of the disadvantaged young people they support.

I never expected the sense of pride and accomplishment I would be feeling, not just for myself, but for the pupils experiencing academic progress. This volunteering opportunity has allowed me to contribute meaningfully to the education of young people, which has been so rewarding that I can’t even begin to express my gratitude.

Eve, a university student and Action Tutoring volunteer in Liverpool, said in a recent blog, sharing her tutoring experience.

In spite of the challenging backdrop of Covid-19, Year 6 children eligible for the Pupil Premium supported by Action Tutoring were more likely to achieve the expected standards in their SATs than other disadvantaged pupils across the country — by eight percentage points in both maths and reading — despite being considered at risk of not reaching these standards. This year’s GCSE results showed that 61% of disadvantaged pupils passed their English and 72% of disadvantaged pupils passed maths, after attending at least 10 tutoring sessions with Action Tutoring – notwithstanding being considered at risk of not achieving a passing grade and two challenging years of pandemic disruption.

From Action Tutoring to StreetGames, these 20 charities deliver outstanding work to help give young people the skills they need to grow and succeed.  Ensuring young people get the best possible start in life is a priority for me and the Government, and there is no more fitting way to celebrate these brilliant charities than a unique edition of the highest award for voluntary service.

Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan

Action Tutoring has been working to help narrow the academic attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers at both primary and secondary levels – which is at its widest for ten years. Tutoring is an intervention with proven impact to help narrow the gap and give disadvantaged young people a stronger head-start in life.

This award and recognition will help us to reach new audiences and encourage more people to come forward and volunteer their time to help change the future prospects of thousands of young people across the country.”

Susannah Hardyman

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.

How volunteer tutoring is helping me rediscover my purpose

2 December 2022

“When I grow up I wanna be… A builder? A ballerina? A butterfly?!”

I knew I wanted to be the next Darcy Bussell when I was five years old. Pretty sure I was ‘dancing before I could even walk’. Or is that just what my nan used to tell everyone?

I have recently been fortunate to start volunteer tutoring with education charity, Action Tutoring, through a university placement scheme, teaching GCSE English at a school in Liverpool. As a student at the University of Liverpool, I feel this is a perfect set-up for me.

At first, I was a bit sceptical. I thought a group of 15-year-olds would question whether I was on the right side of the classroom and if I should actually be joining them. As at only 20 years old, I might not seem old enough to be the one tutoring the class. That was my first worry, then came what if I am actually just not good at this at all?

Don’t get me wrong, I did the training and the two-hour Zoom call had my undivided attention, but that is no comparison to sitting in a library with three 15-year-old pupils looking to you to offer them help and guidance. Safe to say, volunteering with Action Tutoring is a test for me to see if teaching is a profession I could genuinely see myself doing in the future. I mean, as soon as you say, “I study English at uni”, the question that usually follows is: “Do you want to be a teacher?”, so I thought I should give it a fair trial.

Of course, the tutoring resources provided by Action Tutoring have been helpful and all I have to do is work through them for an hour each week with assigned pupils. However, I feel like I wanted to provide more than that. I really wanted to walk into that school and change lives. Unsurprisingly it was a bit awkward at first but my pupil group is now doing extremely well. We’ve already come such a long way in the last five weeks we have been working together.

I never expected the sense of pride and accomplishment I would be feeling, not just for myself in keeping it together for over a month, but for the pupils experiencing academic progress. This opportunity has allowed me to contribute meaningfully to the education of young people, which has been so rewarding that I can’t even begin to express my gratitude.

student volunteering

To other undergrads out there, I can offer only words of wisdom based on my experience over the past several weeks.

I advise that you throw yourself into the whole tutoring experience – put time into preparing for the sessions, believe in your ability to teach other people, and revel in a chance to work on your social skills with the teens of today, which is a plus in itself.

Now I definitely don’t want to be Darcy Bussell, as glamorous as she is. Being a builder is out of reach as I complain about grating cheese, hence manual labour doesn’t seem to be the right fit for me. But you never know; when I graduate in eight months’ time, maybe I’ll go down the route of teaching to help young children achieve academic greatness, with a side of “Miss, when can we go home?” in there.

Author: Eve Wickham


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.