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Susannah Hardyman: Education Charity That Exists To Support Disadvantaged Young People To Increase Their Academic Success and Enable Them to Progress in Education, Employment or Training

Action Tutoring is an education charity that exists to support disadvantaged young people to increase their academic success and enable them to progress in education, employment or training.

We partner high-quality and trained volunteer tutors with disadvantaged pupils to help increase their subject knowledge, confidence and study skills.

Our vision is to create a world in which no child’s life chances are limited by their socio-economic backgrounds.

Tell us about yourself?

Having witnessed first-hand the difference tutoring could make to give children a better future, I established Action Tutoring in 2011 to increase the access and benefits of tutoring to young people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

I started my career in the charity sector, but occasionally in the evenings did some private tutoring work. From these two experiences, I spotted the potential to make the many benefits of tutoring more accessible to children that wouldn’t otherwise afford it, harnessing the power of volunteers.

I’ve always been passionate about social justice and it really bothered me that tutoring was the domain of those that could afford it and wasn’t reaching those that really needed it. Over 25% of 11-16 year olds have a paid for private tutor – it’s a huge industry, but it’s not a level playing field.

I have lived in Peckham in South London, for most of my life. Action Tutoring started here in my local community, as a pilot programme with a local school. A funder became interested in what I was doing, which then enabled me to pilot Action Tutoring on a larger scale with 15 London schools.

Today, we are offering tutoring sessions to over 7,000 children across England to improve their academic performance.

My experience in education was further bolstered during my roles as Chair of the Teaching & Learning Committee and as a school governor at a secondary school in south London.

I hold a Masters from King’s College London in Politics, Theology and NGOs and wrote my dissertation on the interplay between state welfare and the voluntary sector – this got me particularly interested in the potential of using volunteers for a model like Action Tutoring’s to bring about positive social change.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Be adaptable and dynamic in any situation you find yourself in. Two years ago, no one knew for certain how disruptive a pandemic would be for the world. As a solely in-person tutoring charity, our fundamental delivery mode was challenged by the school closures and city lockdowns.

However, we rose to the challenge and shifted very rapidly to online tutoring and that has seen a significant expansion of our operations because we can now reach new areas and be supported by volunteers who we couldn’t previously engage.

What problem does your business solve?

Pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds often have less access to the tools that support them to progress academically in school. This means they are unable to reach their potential and don’t do as well in their exams as their wealthier peers – often referred to as the attainment gap.

To illustrate this, approximately ⅔ of all pupils reach national standards in English and maths in their GCSEs, but for those eligible for free school meals, the figure is just ⅓. It’s not just about grades for the sake of grades – achieving national standards in English and maths is fundamental to supporting young people to progress to further education, employment or training.

That’s good for them, but it’s also good for wider society and the economy.

One of the tools that helps narrow the attainment gap and ensure all pupils get the same support is tuition.

There is a wide body of evidence that points to the impact tutoring can make, with a key study from the Education Endowment Foundation showing that a course of tutoring can add 5 months of progress.

Tutoring is prevalent – over 25% of 11-16-year-olds have a private tutor at some point – but it is expensive and as such is simply not an option for disadvantaged pupils.

Our solution at Action Tutoring is to use the power of volunteer tutors to bridge the gap and ensure that tutoring support can be accessed by every pupil who needs it, not just those who can afford it.

We do this through partnerships with schools and through a structured programme that offers plenty of support and guidance to schools, volunteer tutors plus pupils and focuses heavily on quality assurance and impact measurement.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

I was inspired to start Action Tutoring by seeing the difference that targeted, extra tutoring support can make to young lives, following my experiences as a private tutor.

At the time, I was also involved in volunteer youth work in my community in Peckham and grew really frustrated that many of the young people I spoke to had big aspirations and dreams and wanted to do really well at school, but were lacking the opportunity to access the support that tutoring could give them to unlock their potential.

I also received tutoring myself at the end of primary school, to help me pass the 11+ (I grew up in an area dominated by the grammar school system) and this significantly boosted my subject knowledge and confidence.

Even at that age, it wasn’t lost on me that the only two children out of a group of 12 that sat the 11+ and passed were the two that had had private tutoring to help us. I think even at that age, it felt unfair to me that that should be the case.

I recognised that tutoring opportunities shouldn’t just be available to those whose parents can afford them, but instead to every child who needs it to increase their academic performance and self-esteem.

What is your magic sauce?

I think our magic sauce is the passionate people we work with. People make things happen and I am constantly so inspired by the passion and commitment of the staff team at Action Tutoring, the volunteer tutors that want to join in with our mission and the teachers we collaborate with to make our partnerships happen.

I remember hearing once that one of the big keys to success is ‘getting the right people on the bus’ – I’m so proud of the people we have on the Action Tutoring bus!

The other point I would add is the relentless focus we have on quality and impact measurement. I think this marks us out as different from a lot of other tutoring organisations.

It’s required a lot of work and investment but it means we can have confidence in what we’re delivering to pupils and schools and can demonstrate the difference we make.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Over the next five years, Action Tutoring has ambitious plans to reach more regions across the country, continuing to tackle the attainment gap.

Through our online tutoring model, over the next five years we want to be able to offer our programme to any school and pupil in the country that needs our support.

We recognise we have a role to play in advocacy, born out of our practical delivery experience at scale and will work hard to remain the go-to organisation for tutoring models that support disadvantaged pupils and tackle the attainment gap.

We don’t want to take our eye off our impact work either and this will continue to be a big area of investment, particularly to understand the differences between online and face to face delivery and how both can be as impactful as possible.

The global pandemic has brought us to an inflection point to reimagine our collective potential as an education charity to meet the increasing demand for quality tutoring and more importantly, to narrow the attainment gap over the next five years.

This includes reaching areas with fewer volunteer groups through online tutoring while working at improving our diverse pool of tutors.

We will continue to forge meaningful partnerships with corporate organisations interested in volunteering, funding or advocating for our cause – improving the access and quality of tutoring for disadvantaged young people.

Through the support of the National Tutoring Programme, we will continue to take significant steps closer to actualising our vision to create a world in which no child’s life chances are limited by their socio-economic background.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

With the level of growth and evolution Action Tutoring is experiencing, our biggest challenge is to recruit and retain more volunteer tutors to match the increasing demand of tutoring and the needs of disadvantaged pupils, exacerbated by the pandemic. The numbers of people already volunteering are impressive, but we always need more!

The time lost to school closures in the pandemic has created more disruptions and harm to the academic life of many young people.

Our responsibility as an education charity includes confronting this challenge by expanding tutoring to more young people to meet the increasing demand and minimise the impact of the global health crisis on education for the next generation.

Pivoting rapidly to an online delivery model has been game changing and while it wasn’t easy to get off the ground and we’re still refining how to make it run as smoothly as possible, it has so much potential to mean there are no limits to where we can work.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

We wouldn’t be able to make a greater impact without the incredible support of our volunteer tutor network. We are keen to welcome more volunteer tutors to Action Tutoring. Volunteer tutoring has immense benefits and is one of the most rewarding ways to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged young people.

Seeing the moment pupils click ‘get it’ when they’ve been working hard at something is unbelievably rewarding! We hear so many comments such as ‘I used to dread maths, but now thanks to my tutor I actually enjoy it and believe I can do it!’
Beyond developing your skills as a volunteer, you will directly support disadvantaged pupils to build their confidence and help ensure they leave school with the grades needed to build a brighter future.

If you are interested in changing the life of a young person with an hour of volunteering each week, click this link to find out more or send us an email at: [email protected]

Action Tutoring is an inclusive, equal opportunities organisation and we’re always looking to attract the best volunteer tutors from the most diverse and widest possible talent pool. We’re committed to ensuring that all applications are treated fairly throughout the recruitment and training process. Join us and let’s make a difference together.

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