I’ve tutored my student now for almost three years. We first began our tutoring journey together during her GCSE’s in English and recently in A-level English, an exam she is sitting this spring! This will be my sixth year as an Access Project tutor, and I hope my most satisfying.

J has made remarkable progress and this, partly, is the result of her consistent attendance. Her reliability makes teaching (and travelling) easier for me. It also means continuity, consistency and trust. In sessions, we work on set books and this focus gives her confidence that we are addressing the areas where she needs support. Over the three years we have built a great deal of trust. This is dependent on her feeling that I understand the texts and am able to develop her ability to discuss the texts in her exams.

Few 21stcentury students could hope to understand entirely the social and historical context of a set text. Part of my remit, therefore, has been to supply a modicum of such factual material. To teach A- level English for many students, implies a journey (often back) to a ‘foreign’ culture. Keats’s classical allusions, the social and historical worlds conjured by Graham Greene and Ian McEwan for example language work is closely related to this. An A-level English student needs a vocabulary that will cope with and sustain comprehension. During tutorials she has expanded her literary and historical lexicon. This increased linguistic prowess makes for quicker and deeper communication, both in our teaching interactions and in her own writing.

The more a student knows and understands, the more she or he can control the direction of the tutorial. Thus, in the past few months, I have encouraged my student to explore her writing more. Part of our work consists now in looking at past exam questions and fashioning structures that she can handle in time-stressed conditions.

The challenges remain. And every tutorial involves a journey, for both of us. My own goal is to learn what J can do, not what I might do in her situation. I have seen my student go from strength to strength. She is now able to think both creatively and knowledgeably, to achieve balanced opinions and to argue in friendly and equable prose. She has to understand a lot, but she also realises that there is no right answer and her knowledge of a text comprehends its own ambiguities. In the end, her progress has been the result of hard work. She absorbs both information and technique quickly. But progress has never been a question of luck. Its basis has been serious application, both within and beyond tutoring.