Early last summer, Jacky Lambert was listening to a news bulletin when she was struck by an idea.
The story was covering the Government’s laudable plans to fund extra tutoring for state school pupils who had fallen behind with their studies – and it was clear even then that something was desperately needed.
Yet Jacky had identified a flaw. ‘It occurred to me that they didn’t really need to pay,’ she recalls.
‘I said to my husband that this was something that could be done for free, because I knew that a lot of undergraduates and even graduates would be willing to volunteer.
‘The huge response to the call for NHS responders earlier in the pandemic had shown how willing people were to help.’
Mother-of-two Jacky Lambert created Tutor The Nation, a charity enabling university students to offer free online tutoring to state school pupils
Eight months later, that idea has morphed into Tutor The Nation, a charity enabling bright university students to offer free online tutoring to state school pupils, some of whom have lost months of education which, the Mail reported last week, could affect them for a lifetime.
Not, though, if Jacky has her way. Her brainchild, currently operating as a pilot scheme in Bolton – a town with a significant number of pupils on free school meals – is already proving transformative for the sixth formers who have enrolled.
‘The whole thing was carefully set up from the beginning to be very scalable,’ she says.
‘We decided to start small as that way we could iron out any glitches more easily, but I never doubted that it would work.’
Few would deny that there is a massive need to fill the ever-widening gap between privately educated children – whose lessons have gone on almost uninterrupted – and the state sector, where many families are struggling to provide the basic facilities and technology required.
‘We have heard of families where the children lack a calculator,’ says Jacky.
‘In some cases, our tutors have been providing these themselves. What’s happening is taking social mobility back ten years and we have to act.’
A softly spoken former investment banker and mother of two, Jacky is used to getting things done, having worked pro bono on charitable projects for a number of educational establishments.
So, the day after she had been struck by her brain wave, she resolved to get a team on board.
‘The next day, I picked up the phone to bounce the idea around with people I thought could help, from people who had been involved in the education sector to the founders of the four best tutoring agencies in the UK,’ she says.
Sana Patel, 18, who is studying for A-levels in maths, biology and chemistry at Bolton’s Thornleigh Salesian College, is being helped by Tutor the Nation
‘They are normally rivals, but I put them all on a Zoom call and asked them to bash out the best possible way to try to make this happen.’
That meant working out all manner of complex logistics from the start, from how to train volunteer tutors to safeguarding – the latter being particularly important.
‘Of course, tutor training was key, but safeguarding equally so,’ says Jacky.
‘I was really grateful for the help and input of Charles Bonas and Nathaniel McCullagh who shared the expertise from their own tutoring agencies and together we put together a very comprehensive safeguarding document which included making sure we had enhanced criminal record checks.’
None of this comes cheap and early on, the costs were met by the board of five trustees put together by Jacky to help oversee the project, while ongoing costs are currently being covered by a small number of private donors.
‘I spoke to everyone I could to get the best rates for everything we were doing, from the software to record every session to help with safeguarding, right down to graphic design on our website. My sell was that I wasn’t asking for myself but for the nation’s children.’
Ms Lambert said the whole thing was ‘carefully set up from the beginning’ to be ‘very scalable’.(Stock image)
Jacky’s efforts were further boosted when, later that summer, she heard about the Coronavirus Tutoring Initiative, a scheme started on the same day that the Government announced national school closures in March.
It was set up by final year Oxford student Jacob Kelly who, like Jacky, had developed the idea of matching students to needy pupils. To date, they have signed up 4,500 voluntary tutors and delivered 35,000 hours of teaching.
‘They have done phenomenally well – but they had very little in the way of infrastructure and no resources to undertake proper safeguarding,’ says Jacky.
She adds: ‘They realised that it would be very difficult to carry on going forward as it was growing so quickly, so they decided to come under our umbrella.’ By November last year, having been officially granted charitable status, Tutor The Nation was ready to go live.
At that point Jacky got in touch with Mark Logan, Conservative MP for Bolton North-East, an area of the country which has been particularly hard hit by lockdown restrictions due to very high rates of Covid infection, with unemployment having increased by 80 per cent over the past year.
He readily agreed to trial the scheme in his constituency. ‘I knew in the short term we were facing huge challenges in the form of irregular schooling and students having a very bumpy road in terms of access to education,’ he told the Mail.
‘By the end of March this year we will have been in lockdown for nearly every single week apart from a few weeks around July.
‘We have such diverse economic backgrounds in this constituency and this seemed to be a wonderful way of helping to ensure we could give some access to equality of opportunity.’
It has certainly worked for Sana Patel, an 18-year-old aspiring dentist or optician studying for A-levels in maths, biology and chemistry at Bolton’s Thornleigh Salesian College.
She’s been tutored for an hour a week since the start of December by a Tutor The Nation volunteer, and says it has really helped to boost her confidence.
Like many of her peers, she has done nearly all of her learning online over the past year, and while she praises her school for the swift way it pivoted their educational provision, she admits that this cannot be a full replacement for being taught in person.
So when she was offered the chance to receive free maths tutoring she jumped at it.
‘It has definitely helped with my maths skills – I am able to tell [my tutor] what I am particularly struggling with, and then we go through it in a way you can’t in an online class.
But it is also helping develop other skills too. It’s given me much more confidence,’ she says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by other A-level students working with TTN tutors. ‘One student let us know that her tutor has helped her go up a full grade in biology and maths and it’s allowed her to focus on school more,’ says Jacky, who emphasises that her scheme is not meant to be seen as a replacement for the school curriculum.
For tutors, meanwhile, volunteering has proved a worthwhile supplement to their own studies.
Jacky worked closely with the head of St Hugh’s College at Oxford University, Dame Elish Angiolini, to fine tune the pilot scheme.
Among those to volunteer was 20-year-old Ben Hyman, a second-year Oriel College politics, philosophy and economics student.
‘I felt it was a real shame knowing that there are bright kids who could be much more successful but who are missing out on opportunities – and now I could help do something about it,’ he says.
Ben was matched with another Thornleigh student studying maths and economics, whom he has now been tutoring weekly for an hour since early December.
‘Some of this stuff is hard to learn on your own or through textbooks, so it really helps to bounce off someone who can help fill in the gaps,’ he says.
‘For a lot of these people it’s the first time someone has spent a lot of time with them one on one helping and being interested and invested.’
Mr Logan is in no doubt about the difference it can and will continue to make. ‘For me this is more than just making a nice speech in the chamber – it’s tangibly, materially giving students the opportunity to fly, and as a current sitting MP at the moment I think that’s vital,’ he says.
‘On a personal note, after a very tough few months for people in my constituency it’s nice to see something positive to start the year.’
And something which, if Jacky has her way, will continue long into the future. ‘This started because of the pandemic,’ she says. ‘But we want this to go on long after the pandemic is just a memory.’
Tutor The Nation is keen to sign up graduates and undergraduates. To volunteer visit tutorthenation.org
HOW TO DONATE TO COMPUTERS FOR KIDS
TO YOU, THE READER: How to send us donations
The Daily Mail has launched a brand new campaign, Computers For Kids, to raise money for Mail Force – a charity which aims to provide much needed school equipment and resources for pupils across the UK learning from home.
With schools closed, we are left with the dilemma of hundreds of thousands of pupils in the UK having no access to a computer in their home.
As part of this campaign, companies are donating their old laptops which, for around £15, can be wiped, professionally refurbished and made safe and fit for home schooling. They can then be delivered to a child or young person who needs one.
In addition, the campaign is looking to support children’s needs in other ways such as funding brand new laptops and tablets, and assisting with data access and connectivity for online learning. Any surplus funds will be used to support of the work of UK schools via other means.
TO MAKE A DONATION ONLINE
Visit mailforcecharity.co.uk/donate and follow the steps to complete your donation.
Please don’t send us your old device.
TO MAKE A DONATION VIA YOUR PHONE
To donate £10 – text KIDS10 to 70115
To donate £20 – text KIDS20 to 70115
TO COMPANIES: Could you give your old laptops?
Upgrading office computers is something all companies do from time to time – and there has never been a better time to donate old laptops. If you are a company with 50 laptops or more that you could give, please visit www.computacenter.com/daily-mail to check they are suitable and register your donation. We will arrange for collection by our specialist partners Computacenter. Please note: we cannot accept donated laptops from individuals.
COMPANIES SHOULD GO TO: computacenter.com/daily-mail
TO SCHOOLS: Where to apply for the computers
Schools must apply to the Department for Education, which is managing the demand and prioritising the schools most in need. The Mail Force initiative means more laptops will become available more quickly.
SCHOOLS CAN APPLY HERE: https://get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk