The education world has been rocked by changes over recent years: extensive curriculum updates, a reformed GCSE and SATs grading system and school funding has been tighter than ever.
Not to mention the exam restructuring: coursework has been scrapped and material formerly found on higher papers now appears on foundation papers. Inevitably, with all these changes, it takes time for teachers to fully get to grips with it all – there are fewer sample papers and predicting grades can be a challenge without a precedent. The current cohort expecting their GCSE results this Thursday really are the guinea pigs for the new system.
On top of all this turbulence, an embarrassing and substantial attainment gap still exists in education in the UK between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. The recent Education Policy Institute Education in England report highlighted that there has been little change in recent years at primary level, with disadvantaged pupils on average leaving school 9.4 months behind their peers. That’s nearly an entire school year. At secondary level 2/3 of all pupils achieve national standards versus just 1/3 of disadvantaged pupils and the rate this gap is closing has slowed significantly. In fact, the EPI report suggests if this pace continues, it will take over 100 years before disadvantaged pupils and their peers are reaching similar outcomes.
Tackling this gap is not straightforward and multiple solutions are required. At Action Tutoring we’re committed to making an impact on it. By matching disadvantaged pupils who are at risk of leaving school without basic qualifications with high quality and inspiring volunteer tutors, we give them access to the benefits of tuition that as many as 42% of pupils in London benefit from privately. For our pupils, paying for private tutoring would never be an option, but the chance to work 1:1 or in a small group not only makes a huge difference to their subject knowledge, giving them space and time to overcome their obstacles, but crucially builds their confidence and mindset that they can achieve and equips them with the tools to study independently too.
In the midst of all these challenges teachers’ commitment to their pupils has been unwavering. At Action Tutoring, we work with over 80 schools across the country and are constantly so in awe of the dedication teachers show to supporting their pupils. That’s why they bring in our programme: they want to give their pupils access to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, to give them every chance of succeeding in the future. Our aim is that our primary pupils can start secondary school in a position to excel and our secondary pupils can access further education, employment or training. We want to set them on a firm footing for their futures, because we know there is a clear link between qualifications (or lack of them) achieved, and the risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).
This year at Action Tutoring we’ve supported over 2,000 pupils through a network of over 1,000 volunteer tutors across seven cities in England. Pupils like Lucky, who attended both maths and English tutoring with us in Bristol. In his 2017 GCSEs he achieved a grade 5 in English and a grade 4 in maths, both a grade higher than what he was on when he began the programme. These results meant he was able to go on to study for his A Levels.
Our impact and evidence base is ever growing (you can view our 2016-17 Impact Report here) and the early indications from our SATs results are hugely encouraging. At the start of the year, just 10% of disadvantaged pupils we were working with were working at the expected standard to reach in Year 6; by the end of Year 6 over 70% of our pupils had reached this crucial benchmark. This means that they start secondary school on a trajectory far more likely to succeed in their GCSEs and to eventually go on to further education, employment or training.
This coming Thursday, we’ll be waiting anxiously to hear how our GCSE pupils did up and down the country. We’ll be celebrating with them and recognising the incredible journeys they’ve each been on. Exam results are not the be all and end all in life, but key qualifications in English and maths are pretty much essential to progressing beyond school. The education landscape may be turbulent, but we trust that our programme and the dedication of our incredible volunteer tutors will have made a difference to our GCSE pupils and that come Thursday, their futures will be looking brighter. We won’t be sitting still for long though – before we know it the new academic year will be underway and we’re excited that we’ll be growing again next year, expanding our programmes and deepening our reach in each city we’re working in.
To find out more about getting involved as a volunteer tutor, school or funder visit www.actiontutoring.org.uk.