Innovative Practice - Equality of opportunity

3rd August 2012 at 01:00
Use university students to provide affordable tuition for pupils in disadvantaged areas

The background

The idea was hatched over a lunchtime chat between two colleagues at Transport for Greater Manchester. Nick Bent and Abigail Shapiro had both previously worked in different fields, Bent as a special adviser to Tessa Jowell when she was a Labour minister and Shapiro in communications for organisations including the ATL education union.

Over lunch in 2010, their conversation turned to schools, and an article in The Times that day about a company providing high-quality tuition. They were concerned such support would worsen inequality in the school system, as it would only be available to well-off families.

"We wondered if there was a way tuition could be more democratic," Shapiro says. "That was where the idea started."

The project

Shapiro and Bent decided to set up a not-for-profit organisation, the Tutor Trust, that would train university students to act as good-value tutors and send them into schools in disadvantaged areas in Manchester.

They quickly gained support from professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Manchester team of the law firm Pannone, which helped them to establish the charity.

The Tutor Trust then received the major boost of being one of the first four projects funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, a fund set up by the coalition government to improve the education of disadvantaged students.

The trust began looking for potential tutors last autumn, gaining hundreds of applicants from the University of Manchester with help from the university's career service and Teach First.

The 90 successful applicants then received two days of intensive training from a pair of experienced former teachers in areas including what makes a high-quality tutorial session and how to plan for student progression.

Since January, tutors have been placed in 11 secondary schools in Manchester and have worked with hundred of pupils, including 350 preparing for maths and English GCSEs.

How the pupils have received their tuition has varied, with some offered it during lesson time and others outside the school day; some taking part in small group sessions and others learning one-to-one. The trust has also gained a contract with Manchester City Council to offer tuition for looked-after children in Year 11 across the city.

Shapiro says that the fact the Tutor Trust is not-for-profit has made schools more willing to pay the #163;18 an hour it charges for tuition.

Tips from the scheme

If you have an idea, go for it. "We kept expecting someone to tell us why our idea wouldn't work, but they didn't," Shapiro says.

Find organisations that share your vision. The Tutor Trust has benefited from plentiful support, including free offices.

If you are interested in setting up a similar scheme, contact the Tutor Trust for advice.

Evidence that it works?

The National Foundation for Educational Research has carried out interviews for a qualitative study, and quantitative research on the scheme is due to be completed in the autumn of 2013.

The anecdotal evidence is strong, with many schools praising the scheme. David Ainsworth, head of Trinity Church of England High School in Hulme, says the school has been "exceptionally pleased with the quality and organisation" of the project and the tutors, and that "the response of our learners has been very good indeed".

The Tutor Trust is already starting to expand its work to more schools and age groups.


Approach: A not-for-profit scheme using university students as tutors for pupils in disadvantaged areas

Started: September 2011

Co-founders: Abigail Shapiro and Nick Bent

Partners: The Education Endowment Foundation, SHINE, Teach First, the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council

Schools involved: 11 in the first year

Number of tutors: More than 90

Number of pupils: More than 350

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