Tiff Photo

Hear from: Miss Tiffany Woods-Shepherd (former secondary school teacher and current Access Project in-school mentor)

When I was a teacher I had to have a seating plan for every class I taught, clearly showing where all of my free school meal and pupil premium students sat in my classroom. I also had to indicate what their current level was alongside their target level to prove that they were on track. Or, as was more often the case, that they were not.

The sad truth of education is that less affluent students underperform compared to what they're capable of so often that they have become a target group. The entire education sector - including Ofsted, schools, the Department for Education and charities like The Access Project - are targeting students based solely on their parents’ income because it is such a reliable predictor of underachievement.

When you're standing in front of a class of 32 students, it doesn't matter how well differentiated your lesson is and how up to date that special seating plan is - you can't give every child the intensive one-to-one support that they might need to really succeed. A one hour lesson split between over 30 students means less than two minutes each. Assuming five lessons a week, that means it takes a teacher six weeks to spend just one hour one-on-one with a student!

Now, as a Programme Coordinator for The Access Project, having that perspective means I'm in such an incredible position to appreciate the work that volunteer tutors do. For a student to be able to sit down with a subject expert for an hour every week and work through topics at their own pace (asking every question they need to without fear of looking silly or holding the class up, for example), is invaluable to their learning and confidence.

Access Project tutors are doing what every teacher wishes they had time to do, and I see that impact in schools, every day. I see their grades go up. I listen to them telling me how clear their tutor makes that area of physics or this bit of maths. Best of all, I get to be there on results day when they're grinning and yelling and crying because all their hard work has paid off and doors are opening in front of them.

When I was teaching, looking at that seating plan knowing that despite my very best efforts students I taught, and knew, and cared about, were going to underachieve made me angry and frustrated and deeply sad. So, from old teacher me - thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of the volunteer tutors. You are giving the time that every teacher wishes they could. And it makes a massive difference.