A new not-for-profit programme designed to provide one-to-one tuition to pupils in deprived areas is underway in schools across Manchester.
The Tutor Trust, set up by Nick Bent and Abigail Shapiro last year, currently employs over 90 tutors (including myself) working in 10 secondary schools around the city, providing assistance for GCSE English and Maths, as well as additional work with Looked After Children.
Funded as one of four trial project by the Educational Endowment Fund (EEF), an independent body created by the Coalition in 2010, it aims to close the attainment gap between school in rich and poor locations, increase social mobility and provide schools with flexible, reliable and affordable tuition.
Nick – an editor at Bob Geldof’s media company Ten Alps Communications and a former special adviser to the Labour government – spoke about how they set about getting the initiative off the ground.
He said: “We had the initial idea over two years ago, and once we came up with the basic plan we wanted to road test it with education experts.
“We also spoke to a lot of head teachers, people on the front line of education, and through my government work I met with [educationalist and former Labour Minister] Lord Adonis and [Ofsted Chair] Baroness Morgan, who were very supportive. Teach First and Brett Wigdortz, their chief executive, also loved the idea because they saw a real synergy between our goals.”
Despite the current financial austerity, moves have been made to improve social access to education resources, notably through the Pupil Premium announced this month by Nick Clegg, and Nick was keen to show how The Tutor Trust fit in with such schemes.
He said: “There’s a demand for this in schools and no-one else is doing it in this way – Britain’s a very unequal society and sadly the education system reflects that, which is where we come in and try to bridge the gap.
“We have schools looking to fund intervention projects, especially in English and Maths, but it’s difficult to find the right model – we’ve got a system which is flexible and to a high standard, and we aim to be a permanent partner for schools in the city in giving not only top quality support but also being affordable.”
He added: “There’s a lot of people offering tuition, but in this country it’s a business and it’s largely private - anyone can set themselves up as a tutor, there are no qualifications, and largely it’s a capitalist free-for-all.
“Capita is the largest provider in the country, but I’ve never met a head who likes them – they feel they pay a lot of money for a pretty patchy service.”
Once the aims and objectives had been decided on, the next step was to devise a suitable financial model to support the ambitious project.
“We had to do was some serious business planning,” said Nick. “Creating an organisation from nothing is quite a complex task, and we persuaded Price Waterhouse Cooper to do our financial stuff for free.
“We spoke to big companies across Manchester, and people like Mick Oglesby at Bruntwood helped us a lot by giving us a concession on office space.”
Manchester was always the intended location for the trial – Nick said: “We’re both from here and we’re based in the city professionally, so we know a lot of people who have helped us.
“It’s great to be able to give back to your hometown – Howard Bernstein [Chief Executive of Manchester City Council] said there was a huge demand for this in Manchester and saw us as part of a new family of providers to schools working with rather than as part of the council.”
Even after assistance from experienced professionals and leading Manchester businesses, there were still significant obstacles to overcome before beginning the programme.
“We had a crazy autumn where having secured the funding we needed we had to get ourselves up and running by February,” said Nick.
“Abigail and I went through over 200 applications over Christmas and we were ridiculously busy, but we got there in the end!”
The Tutor Trust worked closely with Manchester University’s careers service to recruit their staff, conducting training at university locations such as the Centre for Educational Leadership in Ellen Wilkinson building.
Nick said: “First of all we have good connections with the university, but also it’s by far the best university in the area, the only Russell Group institution, and we only wanted to recruit the very best students and graduates.”
Despite only having started tuition in February, there has been a positive response from community leaders across the city.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The Tutor Trust is already proving to be a high quality education provider in the city: in our secondary schools; at Manchester College; and through working with Looked After Children.
“We hope and expect their impressive tutors to have an even greater impact in the 2012/3 year, and we are pleased to be supporting the pilot of their tuition model in some primary schools as well.”
The response has also been positive from schools currently taking part in the programme.
David Ainsworth, Head Teacher at Trinity Church of England High School in Hulme, said: “We have been exceptionally pleased with the quality and organisation of The Tutor Trust scheme.
“The administrative arrangements were excellent, the quality and dedication of the tutors is admirable and the response of our learners has been very good indeed. Our English and Maths departments have worked effectively with the Tutor Trust tutors to make the experience undoubtedly worthwhile.”
With the first run of exam tuition coming to a close and preparations for summer schooling under way, Nick hopes to have a steady platform on which to build come September.
“Next year we’ll be expanding the number of schools, hopefully into Salford and Trafford, as well as into primary schools,” he said.
“I think it’s a realistic plan to roll it out nationwide – we’ve got independent monitoring being carried out, which will be released in 2013, and once we can show we can achieve good results and be financially sustainable we can take it across the country.”