After two years of spending evenings and weekends relentlessly scrutinising over whether the paragraph in front of me was a 4a or a 4b and carefully tinkering with the colour scheme of tomorrow’s interactive whiteboard presentations – treading the awkward tightrope between “depressingly bland” and “distractingly vivid” – it was a confusing sensation walking away from teaching and getting all my free time back. For me, leaving teaching came with a realisation that skills that I had put so much effort into developing during my time in the classroom might be thrown on the scrapheap, never to be used again.
The most obvious solution to this was tutoring. Sitting next to a pupil for an hour and providing intensive English support would keep all these skills alive (save colourful powerpoints). There would also be a refreshing lack of unnecessary noise, mass seating-plan coups, and all the other classroom incidents that used to fuel my nightmares. I knew a few others involved in tutoring so it seemed like the perfect solution.
However, another thing that stayed with me from teaching was the drive to “close the educational gap” between pupils receiving free school meals (FSM) and their peers. Over half the pupils in my placement school were FSM pupils and all staff underwent a great deal of training to identify and support these pupils in the classroom. This persistent focus on pupil premium really cemented my realisation of the advantages non-FSM pupils wielded in schools. Considering tutoring in light of this, it didn’t seem fair that these valuable interventions could only be accessed by those whose parents could afford it.
Enter Action Tutoring: A charity which helps pupil premium students in their learning through connecting them with volunteer tutors. Operating across the country, tutors commit to short term, after-school or weekend programmes where they are paired up with children to support. As there are a lot of partner schools, selecting a programme to suit both my location and the time I could be available was straightforward.
My experience so far has been great, I am currently involved in my second 7-week programme at Chessington Community College, supporting Year 11 pupils on the C/D borderline as they prepare for their GCSEs. Armed with some engaging activities and a bag of Haribo (the constant barrage of evening Leading Self sessions during Teach First taught me to never underestimate the restorative power of Starmix after a full day of lessons) I set to work supporting individuals or small groups. The intensive intervention makes a rapid, visible difference. Support with exam skills and coursework guidance makes a huge step forward in making sure the children have the best possible preparation for their GCSEs and boosting their future opportunities.
Both the school and the charity are incredibly supportive. As many of the volunteers don’t come from a teaching background, materials and guidance are provided which helps to make the sessions easy to prepare and deliver. Because of the pupils targeted, absence is an issue but the staff at the school also work hard to communicate with parents and keep the tutors updated.
Considering how much the charity sounds like a product of Teach First (Brett clearly missed a trick) I’m surprised there aren’t more ambassadors volunteering. With the amount of participants that choose to move on after two years, this is a great way to keep your teaching skills and knowledge alive. Also, as a lot of students volunteer, it’s a great chance to promote Teach First. For anyone thinking of moving on from teaching at the end of your two years, I would highly recommend looking into whether Action Tutoring operates in your city.
– Matt Biggs, Teach First Ambassador and Action Tutoring Volunteer