By Hannah Barrow
With the news of school closures and exam cancellation school students this year have faced an entire year of disruption to their learning. Many pupils now face another period of online learning and uncertainty around their upcoming assessments. Although this is no ordinary time for anyone, for too many students the disparities in our education system have widened.
An increasing attainment gap could affect their grades this summer and their subject understanding for future learning. Problems with the educational attainment gap is longstanding and the national school closures have called increased attention to the inequalities. Although exams may be cancelled, access to quality education is more important than ever.
Even before the lockdown, disadvantaged students were 18 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs. After seven years of minimal progress towards closing the gap, disparities widened again in 2018. The curriculum learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has widened by 46% since 2019. And we are yet to see the effects on examination results that school shutdowns and increased online learning will cause. [epi.org.uk/]
New volunteer organisations such as Coronavirus Tutoring Initiative (CTI) are hoping to reduce the impact, tackling educational inequality through 1:1 tutoring. The initiative has matched over 2,000 GCSE, A-Level, and Scottish Highers students and delivered 25,000 hours of free tutoring to date. CTI is now trying to encourage more university students to sign up as tutor. To volunteer with CTI, you don’t need any prior tutoring experience.
During the lockdown, I saw a school friend share on Facebook that they were tutoring on CTI, and I followed the link to their website (www.coronavirustutoring.co.uk), where I signed up instantly. Soon after, the CTI team emailed me the students I had been matched with, and we have met (virtually) every week since then.
As social interaction is becoming more scarce, connecting with a pupil (albeit virtually) provides a genuine form of connection in these challenging times. Sasha, a second-year Durham PhD student from University College, shared with me that hearing ‘how bright my tutee’s voice got when I complimented her on how quickly she was grasping really complicated concepts’ was one of the best things from her sessions this week. The benefits of this connection are invaluable for these students in these uncertain times.
For me, tutoring is not just about providing extra subject knowledge, but about communicating with these pupils, they are important and can achieve their goals. Seeing enthusiastic students eager to learn but limited because of institutional failures is demotivating and exasperating. Top-quality education is a fundamental right, but increasingly our system upholds it as a commodity provided only to those who can pay. Pupils’ responses to the initiative reflect this sense of enthusiasm for their education. Marian, a year 13 pupil, considers CTI ‘the most helpful form of teaching I’ve ever received’. She accompanies this praise with appreciation, adding, ‘I am truly grateful for this experience.’
Access to tutoring may become crucial for A-Level and Scottish Highers students, as they are not eligible to access help from the recent government-funded ‘National Tutoring Programme’. Chloe, a Durham undergrad student from St. Cuthbert’s College, told me ‘tutoring with CTI has been an enriching experience’ adding ‘particularly seeing the progress that my A-Level tutees have made’. Chloe recognised that her ‘tutees struggled with many topics due to having to selfteach,’ especially because of the ‘lack of resources’ available to them. Chloe tailors her sessions to focus on ‘trickier topics’ to aid every student’s understanding and comments that recently the impact of tutoring is noticeable in their session: observing that her tutees ‘can now answer exam related questions with confidence’.
The work CTI has pledged to continue to provide at the very least until the end of this academic year is as important as ever, despite the recent news of exam cancellations.
Image credits: CTI volunteers