Fourteen students who act as tutors to children at East London primary and secondary schools recently gained a new professional studies module which next year should help them gain places on teacher training courses.
The college, in a borough which once suffered from the most acute shortage of teachers, has been at the forefront of measures to encourage more students to enter the profession. In 1993 it joined an Urban Learning Foundation initiative to promote teaching among ethnic minority students.
Jeannette Maddox, vice-principal for learning programmes at the college, says: "There is a lot of negative stereotyping around teaching. Young people see careers in law and medicine as having higher status and better pay."
Students from Tower Hamlets College have been taking part in tutoring programmes, regardless of whether they want to go on into teaching, for about five years. They normally visit a school for a few hours a week and work alongside pupils and their day-to-day teacher.
The professional studies module, which was introduced last November, is a way of accrediting the students for the effort they put in when they are in a school. The college's student tutoring co-ordinator, Malcolm Fenn, says: "If you don't have accreditation, students don't value the exercise so much. It's a recognition that they have achieved something."
The college stresses to students that they are not obliged to work towards the module simply because they opt to become a tutor. This year 14 out of 36 student tutors gained the module, with most of the 14 achieving two credits at level three.
All those taking the module were first-year A-level students. Next year the college hopes that more students on vocational courses will opt to become tutors and also try to gain accreditation.
To achieve the module, students must spend a minimum of 20 hours in school, complete a log book describing their classroom experiences and write an extended essay on an educational topic.
They also attend lectures looking at contemporary issues in education and at the different routes they may take in teaching. Edel Gilligan, who wrote an essay comparing traditional and modern teaching methods, says: "It wasn't much extra work so I was better off doing it."
Edel is one of ten students from Tower Hamlets who tutored at Bygrove Primary School. While five acted as general tutors, a further five took part in a literacy project which helped children improve their reading skills through one-to-one tuition.
Hazera Begum worked with two nine-year-old pupils from Bangladesh who were struggling to keep pace with other children in their class.
Hazera, who is continuing to visit the school even though she has gained the module, says: "I found it hard at first but as we went on it became easier. "
Some of the children worked on a play which they recorded on tape. Hazera Begum felt the children's reading had definitely improved. "They found it easier to work with me because I'm an outside rather than a teacher."
Jane Howard, a teacher at Bygrove, says all staff were delighted with contribution made by student tutors. She says: "The children's reading has improved and their confidence as well."
Kerry Marriot tutors at Langdon Park, her old secondary school. Every Friday she joins classes of Year Nine and Ten pupils studying English and geography, two of her A-level subjects. She says: "They tend to come to me for help before they go to their teacher. Although they get on OK with their teacher, they like someone who is that bit younger."
According to Malcolm Fenn, the introduction of the professional studies module has helped the tutoring programme to become more structured. Although the credits gained cannot be used to achieve other qualifications, he believed they will show university trainers that the students are serious about teaching as a career.
Mr Fenn says: "It's more focused than most work experience. It gives them the context for what they are doing in school. If you just brief someone and then ask them to fill in a diary they don't get as much out of it."
Kerry Marriot chose to write an essay on disruptive children. She says: "It made me think about what I had been doing. It meant more than just filling out a log book. It showed I had been paying attention in the classroom."
As well as helping pupils with their schoolwork, student tutors often become role models. Pupils at Langdon Park, an 11 to 16 school, regularly ask Kerry what it is like going on to study at a further education college. She says: "I tell them to look around and see what is best for them. They are old enough to make up their own minds."
For further information on student tutoring, contact John C. Hughes, International Mentoring and Tutoring Project, BP Oil International, Brittanic House, 1 Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7BA, tel: 0171-496 4169.