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Are tutorial-style lessons the key to A-Level success?

As A-Level results day approaches, Toyo Sadare, a student who is going into his final year at Oasis Academy Enfield after achieving 4 As at AS-level, reveals how external one-to-one tutorial-style lessons provided by charity The Access Project improved his chances of success. Before results day, he and his tutor Olly Southwick, a UCL PhD maths candidate, sat down to explain why schools should replicate the format.

Toyo: I have just finished Year 12 at Oasis Academy Enfield and I am now waiting on my AS results in maths, further maths, physics and chemistry.

To help with my studies, specifically in maths, I applied for a tutor pairing through The Access Project towards the end of year 11. The Access Project is a charity organisation that helps students at schools across London to get into the best university they can – mainly by organising regular one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors, but also by making sure students are taking part in ‘super-curricular’ activities that make their personal statement a cut above the rest.

You are required by The Access Project to have your tutorials at your tutor’s place of work, to give you a gist of where your career path could take you if you took the subject into further study. This is a clever idea that can only benefit the tutee.

My tutor, Olly Southwick, is a PhD maths candidate at UCL, so I was presented with the dauntingly prominent Wilkins Building before I met him. This, as well as the fact I’d never had a tutorial before then, made me quite anxious as I waited to meet Olly for the first time. Thankfully, all of those feelings of anxiety were long gone before the end of the tutorial, as Olly quickly sought to make me comfortable and confident in front of him before anything else.

Time spent at UCL has shown me that study can be under a much more relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere than I initially thought, and seeing first-hand what university can be like has only made me want to go more than before.

Olly: Toyo is a very bright student, so I push him beyond the syllabus. Over the past year, we’ve explored challenging and fun maths problems, problems that demand creativity and sharp thinking instead of formula books and calculations. Toyo has developed critical and independent thinking: confidently exploring new problems and testing his own thinking by asking himself how he knows something is true or how he can test a rule.

Toyo: This year I have had tutorials with Olly nearly every week. The sessions are more personal than my classes. Olly knows my strengths and weaknesses and he can tailor each lesson so that we’re focusing more on what I need help with. It was Olly who encouraged me to take external further maths lessons because he thought I could do well. These lessons were for students whose schools don’t include further maths in their curriculum, and took place each week after school at UCL throughout last winter term.

Olly: Toyo has excelled at further maths and is one of the best and most enthusiastic students in his class. This is an example of when relatively little external help can be a catalyst for a big impact for a student. With a little intervention to get Toyo onto the course, he’s put in a huge effort over the year and got great results out of it. I only needed to suggest it once for Toyo to apply for and be awarded a Nuffield Research Placement and he also got himself a place on the highly competitive UNIQ summer school in Oxford.

Toyo: Tutorials have greatly helped me throughout AS maths, and the outcome has been a more confident approach to my A-levels as a whole. I am hoping to apply to the University of Oxford to study maths and to take all four subjects to A2. Next year, if tutorials were to continue, they could be used to prepare for potential interviews, which would also be very beneficial.

Olly: A university application will likely be a completely new – and quite strange – process for a student. This is a great place for a tutor from The Access Project tutor to offer help, particularly if, like Toyo , the student is applying to Oxbridge. There are many myths about Oxbridge and its applications process, so having someone to help dispel these is important. It’s key that smart, motivated students like Toyo realise that they are exactly what Oxbridge is looking for.

Toyo: One-on-one tutorials have provided me the space to think beyond the curriculum. It’s important that we follow the syllabus carefully, so that we are prepared for exams, but it may be more beneficial in the long run for teachers to dedicate time to questions that require harder thinking for the students and to encourage them to tackle such problems in their own way.

Tutorials have also shown me that active learning, even if it's simply answering a question on the whiteboard, can make all the difference to how engaged a student is in lesson. It encourages students to share ideas with their peers whilst building the confidence needed to answer a question aloud without worrying about being wrong.


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