The power of tutoring in transforming the lives of disadvantaged pupils

At the start of the 2020-21 academic year, Muhammad, a Year 11 pupil in Lambeth couldn’t imagine sitting a maths exam. After months of school closures during the Covid-19 lockdowns, pupils across the country were struggling to keep up with their studies, and catching up was a significant challenge. “It was difficult being in and out of school because of the pandemic. It’s harder to hold on to the things you’ve been taught, easy to forget the skills you’ve learned, and to lose your confidence.”

However, things took a positive turn when Muhammad attended several tutoring sessions with Action Tutoring. He was assigned a tutor who provided him with additional maths support to enable him to improve his skills and provide consistent help with his studies. “Getting that extra support gave me more confidence. I felt safer talking about the topics I didn’t understand in class with my tutor as it was a safe space outside the classroom, and that was helpful because we were in and out of school.”

Action Tutoring is an official Tuition Partner of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP). We have over a decade of experience and exist to support thousands of pupils like Muhammad to increase their academic success and enable them to progress in education, employment, or training. We do this by partnering our pool of high-quality and trained volunteer tutors with disadvantaged pupils to help increase their subject knowledge, confidence, and study skills. We have always upheld the belief that quality education should benefit every child, irrespective of their socio-economic background.

Fighting for fair education

Access to quality education in this country isn’t fair for all. Before the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils were, on average, 18 months behind their better-off peers by the end of secondary school. However, since the pandemic and subsequent school closures, it’s been estimated that pupils living in ‘persistent poverty’ are now over 22 months behind their peers on average.

Pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds often have less access to the tools that support them to progress academically in school. This means they are less able to reach their potential and don’t do as well in their exams as their wealthier peers – often referred to as the attainment gap. To illustrate this, approximately two-thirds of all pupils reach national standards in English and maths in their GCSEs, but for those eligible for free school meals, the figure is just one-third. It’s not just about grades for the sake of passing – achieving national standards in English and maths is fundamental to supporting young people to progress to further education, employment, or training.

This year the attainment gaps at primary and secondary levels are at their widest for ten years, according to the Department for Education. These staggering statistics are a major cause for concern as pupils who do not achieve GCSEs are more likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) at 16+. Currently, there are 711,000 young people who are NEET, that’s nearly 1 in 10.  If a pupil is not in education, employment, or training on leaving school, they could have reduced earnings of £225,000 over their lifetime.

Tutoring narrows the attainment gap

One of the tangible tools that helps narrow the attainment gap and ensures all pupils get the same additional academic support, is tutoring. There is a wide body of evidence that points to the impact tutoring can have, with a key study from the Education Endowment Foundation showing that a course of tutoring can add up to five months of progress for pupils. Tutoring is prevalent – over 25% of 11-16-year-olds have a private tutor at some point – but it is expensive and as such is simply not an option for disadvantaged pupils.

At Action Tutoring, we want to change this situation. We provide tailored maths and English tuition to pupils facing disadvantage in Years 5, 6, 7, 10, and 11, ensuring our support reaches those who need it most. Our trained volunteers tutor pupils through weekly one-hour sessions, online or face-to-face in our partner schools. Over 70% of the pupils we support are in receipt of Pupil Premium funding compared to the National Tutoring Programme’s national average of 46%, as reported by the NFER.

What sets our tutoring programmes apart?

Action Tutoring trains tutors to carefully guide pupils through our resources, helping to build knowledge, confidence, and a growth mindset. We provide workbooks designed by curriculum experts and in sync with classroom learning, structured to suit small-group tutoring sessions. Our baseline and progress reports help us identify the learning gaps of each pupil, focus tutoring on those gaps, and track their progress along the tutoring journey.

A recent Ofsted report reviewing tutoring in schools supports our approach of aligning our workbook content with the school curriculum to ensure pupils get more value. The Ofsted findings showed that “tutoring cannot really work, however good the teaching is, without a well-considered and constructed curriculum in place. The provider’s curriculum underpinned the most effective tutoring that we saw. In these cases, teachers and tutors were able to use the schools’ curriculum to identify the core knowledge that pupils had either missed or did not fully understand and made sure this could be covered in tutoring sessions. This was either targeted at specific gaps in pupils’ knowledge (the traditional tutoring model) or through an appropriate sequence of topics that leaders identified would have a broader impact on participating pupils’ learning for catch up.”

In each of our partner schools, we designate an Action Tutoring staff member to oversee the programme delivery, removing any administrative or organisational burden from schools. In a survey sent to teachers last year we asked if Action Tutoring staff leading the delivery of the programme were well organised and teachers gave an average score of 9.8 out of 10 (where 10 is “Yes, definitely”).

Each region we work in is overseen by a Programme Manager who ensures our staff members are given all the operational support they need to enable tutors to deliver to the best of their abilities. Action Tutoring has options for delivering both in-person and online tutoring, a strength that has expanded access to the widest range of tutors and to schools in less urban locations.

Driving academic impact

Since 2012, we’ve provided tutoring for over 26,000 primary and secondary school pupils who are facing disadvantage, through the incredible support of over 11,500 volunteer tutors.  In 2021-22 pupils received more than 67,800 hours of tutoring from Action Tutoring volunteers.


Action Tutoring supports children eligible for the Pupil Premium who are at risk of not meeting age-related expectations at the end of primary school. While the pandemic has negatively affected all children, disadvantaged children have had their learning hit the hardest. The percentage of Year 6 children achieving expected standards in all of reading, writing and maths in 2022 was 59% — a drop of 6% compared to 2019. The difference in overall attainment between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils increased by 23 percentage points. Despite this challenging context, Year 6 children eligible for the Pupil Premium supported by Action Tutoring were more likely to achieve the expected standards than other disadvantaged pupils across the country — by eight percentage points in both maths and reading. Last year we supported over 3,020 primary school pupils.


Action Tutoring focuses on supporting pupils facing disadvantage who are at risk of not achieving a grade 4 in their English or maths GCSE. Our tutoring sessions provide a safe space outside of the classroom for pupils to tackle any challenges they are facing with the subject and build their confidence ahead of their exams. Our findings show that 61% of disadvantaged pupils passed their English GCSE after attending 10 or more English sessions with Action Tutoring and 72% of disadvantaged pupils passed maths after attending at least 10 maths sessions. We supported 3,130 secondary school pupils in 2021-22 and worked with over 140 schools. Teachers gave an average score of 9.1 out of 10 (where 10 is “Yes, definitely”) in our survey when asked if Action Tutoring had an overall positive impact on pupils.

Simrat Mavi is Deputy Headteacher at a primary school in Walsall and is passionate about the potential of the National Tutoring Programme. She reflects on the impact tutoring has had on her pupils. “Pupils have engaged really well with the tutors and this has led to high motivation, contributing to the success of the programme. Action Tutoring has contributed to making sure our disadvantaged Year 6 pupils are on track to meet expected standards in English and mathematics. We have seen the difference it has made in improving our pupils’ attainment as well as improving their study skills. They have become more independent in their decision-making and it has also prepared them for transition into Year 7.”

Harnessing the strength of volunteer tutoring

Volunteers are the lifeline of our work and remain an invaluable resource in driving our purpose and impact. We are tackling the stark academic attainment gap by optimising the power of our diverse pool of passionate volunteer tutors to specifically support disadvantaged young people across the country.

Our motivated volunteer tutors are from different backgrounds including university students, those working full time or part time from different sectors of business, and retired professionals. We provide the required training, workbooks, and tailored support and development to help them succeed as tutors.

Our varied range of tutors brings unique perspectives and experiences to improve the knowledge and confidence of the disadvantaged young people they tutor and mentor.  Not only do they help pupils achieve better grades, but they also serve as positive role models by creating a supportive environment for pupils to feel confident, build tolerance and motivate them to thrive at school and later in life.

One of our volunteers, Anne, a retired GP, reflects on her experience. “With the onset of the lockdown, I realised many children would be losing out on education. Experience has taught me how important education is in shaping future opportunities and making or breaking lives. Watching them grow in confidence and ability is very rewarding — their enthusiasm is infectious. They have become more used to the tutoring and gained confidence, so are expressing themselves better and asking questions.”

Building a better future for all children

We are keen to work with more schools across England, in order to make the benefits of tutoring as widely available as possible to disadvantaged children. We are focused on recruiting and training more diverse volunteers to meet the challenge of the pandemic on education and transform the future of young children together, giving everyone a fair chance to succeed in the future.

Prior to the NTP, Action Tutoring had a mixed funding model of philanthropy and school contributions. Philanthropic support, in addition to the NTP, still enables us to keep costs as low as possible for schools, while not compromising on quality, which we know is needed more than ever at the moment.

Now is a crucial time to secure tutoring support for your Year 6 and Year 11 pupils ahead of their 2023 SATs and GCSEs.  We want to help your disadvantaged pupils through the Tuition Partner route of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) from January or February. This is the chance to secure tutoring in order for pupils to receive the recommended 15 sessions for your pupils ahead of the exams.

For more information, get in touch: | 0203 872 5894 | [email protected]

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