Flourishing in difficult circumstances: The Access Project and online tuition
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Flourishing in difficult circumstances: The Access Project and online tuition

Flourishing in difficult circumstances: The Access Project and online tuition

Jake Farrell, Senior Impact Manager at The Access Project, explains how the pandemic has allowed them to enhance their online tuition programme.

Powerful ideas about how to help others are often forged during times of crisis, and that’s how The Access Project (TAP) started. In 2008, against the backdrop of the financial crash, a north London school teacher saw the increasing barriers faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds to reach their academic potential. He wanted to help them access the opportunities available to better off students and enlisted the support of friends to provide free tuition.

Over the last decade, TAP has worked with more than 8000 students to help them improve their grades. The charity now works in close partnership with schools in several English regions, offering the most disadvantaged students an effective programme of mentoring and personalised tuition to support them to get to top universities. We are currently providing this support exclusively online.

Tutoring, and a focus on raising student attainment, was the main reason that made me want to join The Access Project around six years ago. Working with young people earlier in my career I had seen that they often had the desire and aspiration to succeed in their education, but they often simply didn’t have the grades or support on how to make the most of their ambition. The Access Project’s programme and focus on tuition seemed to have a clear, evidence based and impact focused theory of change that could make a real difference

Happily over the years of working for The Access Project that has proven to be true, and tuition is a huge factor in why our students succeed in their goals. Last year we worked with the research institute FFT Education Datalab to evaluate our students by comparing them with similar peers from the National Pupil Database. They were shown to make on average five months more progress at GCSE compared to similar peers.

The majority of our tutoring has traditionally been done face-to-face, but as TAP has grown we have faced a series of delivery challenges. In 2017, where we struggled to recruit tutors in a coldspot in the East Midlands, we launched an online tuition pilot. With support from schools and volunteers, our students in Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire were able to receive regular tutorials on a platform designed for learning. Independent analysis shows students there have been making the same level of progress as TAP students who received face to face tuition.

When the pandemic prevented all our students and tutors from meeting in person, TAP acted swiftly to move pairings online, using expertise and feedback from our East Midlands experience. By September 2020 we launched a new bespoke online platform developed with the extra knowledge gained during the first lockdown.

In line with evidence on what makes for a good tuition programme, our tutorial pairings receive regular guidance from the student’s teacher. Our school-based mentors send weekly updates to the school’s designated Programme Supervisor (a member of the Senior Leadership Team) on student attendance, engagement and performance. TAP conducts termly meetings with schools to assess students’ progress, these are usually face-to-face, but like tutorials, they’ve moved online during lockdown.

We regularly communicate extensive resources made by teachers to support tutors. We then deliver observations and feedback on our online tutorials which ensure pairings are on track to achieve their goals and heighten our understanding of what good looks like” for tuition. We also communicate regularly with parents to make sure they are fully informed about the programme.

As an approved National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partner we continue to invest in high quality resources and training for our volunteers to make them confident and expert online tutors – for too long high-quality tutoring has not been accessible to many schools, the NTP aims to change this. Our hope is that this investment, coupled with our tutors’ commitment, will help our schools to deliver support to make steps towards closing the gap caused by the pandemic for TAP students. Good ideas can flourish in the most difficult circumstances, our successful online programme is testament to that.

The Access Project is an approved NTP Tuition Partner, offering subsidised online tuition in schools and at home.

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