For us, this has been the most important challenge to address as we move online. We’ve been running our in-school programme for many years and are comfortable working with different organisations to ensure that our volunteers are properly vetted, trained and supervised for work with young people. Now, faced with delivering all of our tutoring online, we find that our safeguarding training and advice for volunteers is misaligned to the programme we’re running; not providing enough detail for its recipients as to the whos, hows, whens and whys of keeping tutors and their students safe online.
The first step to addressing this was finding the right platform to use for the programme. We know that transparency and accountability are key for safety, so we had to find online tutoring technology that would facilitate the recording of sessions and provide easy access for school leaders and Foundation staff to monitor lessons. We found this in Bramble and have been able to build our policy out from that point.
Although we still organise every session through the students’ school, we have introduced parent/guardian permission as a mandatory requirement for inclusion on the programme. This wasn’t necessary when we were delivering in schools, but with online tutoring effectively taking place in the home, it became clear that the permission of a supervising adult in that environment was essential for full transparency.
Finally, we have built a new safeguarding training module to be delivered online. This includes a post-training test to demonstrate understanding, with further training for tutors who do not score 100% the first time around. This (along with the vetting and DBS-checking process that we already use) is all designed to minimise potential risks in the online programme. We are now consulting with SAFEcic to improve our training and policy.
Delivering tutoring online has the obvious benefit of being able to reach students right across the country. The scope of our in-school programme only covered London and, even if we were able to expand it, we could only realistically support schools in major cities because of the problems of recruiting volunteers within a small radius of the school. Most of the ‘social mobility cold-spots’ where free tutoring could make an enormous difference are outside big cities, so online delivery is an extremely exciting prospect.
However, there is the issue of connected devices themselves and how unequally available they are. Initially, we were fooled by statistics on ‘connected households’ with data suggesting that >90% of students can access the internet in their home – promising. The reality is that (amongst other factors) a household of 3 or 4 people may all use the same device to access the internet. If mum, dad or an older sibling is using your only computer at a particular time, you won’t be able to meet a tutor online.
We don’t have the resources to be able to provide technology to the students who need it. What we can do is operate an extremely flexible cancellation and rearrangement policy for students who need some leniency around their lessons. Often, students will only find out a few hours before their lesson that they won’t have access to the device or that their technology is faulty. In these situations, we are very happy to make new arrangements, postpone the lesson but keep their booking in for next week, etc. Where students miss lessons because they don’t want to attend, that’s one thing. If students miss lessons because of their technology, we will endeavour to be as patient and supportive as we possibly can.
Furthermore, online delivery can exclude a great number of volunteers who want to help. If volunteers are (dare I say) older or just a bit less comfortable online, the platform we’re using might present all kinds of problems. As easy as it is to use in almost all cases, things can go wrong. If you’re not tech-literate, this can disrupt the session and cause enormous frustration.
We train all of our tutors in how to use the online classroom, but when we identify tutors that are struggling with the technology there are a few extra things we can do. This might involve a second and third follow-up session, help with creating resources, early access to classrooms to get set up each week before lessons. We don’t want to see either students or volunteers excluded from the programme because of their technology and are committed to doing everything we can to help.
Resources and Planning
When tutors are working in schools, we encourage the development of a relationship between them and their students’ classroom teacher. Teachers will almost always be able to give guidance, share information about students’ progress and provide resources for the tutors who are working with their students.
Now, we must be the connection between the school and the tutors – gathering as much information as we can from our key contacts and supporting our tutors to plan for and deliver effective lessons with meaningful resources that connect to students’ regular teaching and learning. So far, this is working well, but it does require a lot of management time to work with each new pairing of student and tutor and help them get going and keep going effectively.
We don’t want any school or charity that comes to us for support to be excluded by costs. For this reason, we are currently providing tutoring entirely free of charge to our existing partners and charging just £5 per session (one hour one-to-one) for new schools that are coming forward.
Because of the support we get from the paying clients of Tutorfair Ltd, this modest funding allows us to get the programme off the ground and pilot it effectively, but we will need to raise funds to sustain the work long-term.
We have reached out to various funders for support with this; we are hoping to run the online programme for at least 12 months – firstly as a replacement for lost learning and then as catch-up support for students who have fallen behind their peers.
If you would like to help us to raise funds for the programme, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have students who you think would be eligible for support from our fantastic volunteer tutors, let us know here. If you would like to give one or two hours of your time each week to tutor a student during the school closures, register your interest here.