At Tutor Trust, our purpose is to ‘transform lives through tutoring’. This applies across the whole charity, and not only to the pupils we serve but also to the people we train to tutor with us: we are committed to tackling inequality in education, which is just as present at university as it is in school. 

Every day our tutors work with young people from a range of backgrounds who need additional academic support, but who would not otherwise have access to an amazing tutor. We know that tuition has an equally positive impact on our tutors, enabling them to develop vital skills for their future careers. And we realised that many university students, from similar backgrounds to our tutees, were not confident in applying to tutor with us.  So, this academic year, determined to make our tutor recruitment more equitable and representative of the areas we serve, we developed our Widening Participation (WP) Programme for prospective tutors.

Working in collaboration with the respective WP and Access teams at our long-term partners at the University of Manchester and University of Leeds (Manchester Access Programme and Access to Leeds) we piloted a programme this year to address that gap, and provided conditional interview offers to students who engaged with these schemes. 

Our programme has been so successful that, in line with Social Mobility Awareness Day, we’re delighted to announce that we will be rolling out the programme with all our university partners from September 2023.

What is Widening Participation? 

Widening Participation (WP) is an umbrella term for a variety of schemes that aim to increase the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds entering higher education, creating a more diverse and inclusive student community. We are all too aware that a young person’s school experience isn’t indicative of their future potential, and this is why an essential element of our scheme is to offer conditional interviews to people attending university through an access or widening participation scheme and who may have missed out on our required grades or experience. 

Our data analysis has shown that tutors who participated in a WP Scheme have the same acceptance rate at interview as the total interview population. So, we know that the quality of our interviewees isn’t decreased by our conditional interview offers.

As well as benefiting tutees, our tuition impacts our tutors too. They develop vital skills that they can take into their future careers, and many report feeling more confident and organised as a result of their tutoring. 


Meet our tutor, Lucy

Lucy Wharmby (left, and pictured above in a tuition session), an English Tutor studying her MA in English Literature at the University of Leeds, entered higher education through an access programme and has since gone on to study at a postgraduate level. Since she started tutoring in September, Lucy has worked with 24 pupils across our Leeds Primary and Secondary schools, seeing them weekly and helping them to progress with Reading and English.  

For Lucy, equity in education is at the heart of her work. She has also completed her teacher training through the Teach First Leader Development Programme, as well as a PGDE at Birmingham City University. “I am dedicated to tackling educational inequality and widening the participation of disadvantaged groups,” she says. “My aspiration is to work in university outreach, championing students to access higher education. I fully believe that education is the key to social mobility and transforming life outcomes.” 


Our impact

As part of our commitment to quality and learning, we monitor our tutors’ performance through checks and observations. This enables us to see the impact our tutors are having on young people first-hand and gives them the opportunity to have their hard work recognised. 

The data collected this year has shown that our tutors who have engaged with WP schemes perform better than average in these observations.  

For our University Partnership Manager, Professor Will Simms, access and widening participation is very close to his heart: “I was born and raised on a council estate in Bristol and have first-hand experience of the barriers that many young people have in accessing the transformative potential of education. 

“Coming from that background I also learnt the value of both solidarity and generosity, I would not be where I am today without the support of many members of my community. These values are shared by Tutor Trust and this initiative is another example of our commitment to young people. 

“Being born and educated in Moss Side, Everton, or Harehills should never be a barrier to a fulfilling life and career, and this year's pilot has shown that tutors from these backgrounds have made an important and transformative impact on the lives of young people across the North. 

Our CEO, Ed Marsh, agreed, saying: “It is absolutely vital that we maintain and increase our focus on recruiting tutors who come from a ‘widening participation background’. Having attended a school which failed Ofsted and was in and out of special measures I vividly remember the feeling that University wasn’t for people from schools like mine.  

“One of the most important things that Tutor Trust does is to break down those barriers to universities, making sure that people can have access based on ability rather than privilege. Providing those role models is a critical part of the work that we do and will only become more important in the years to come.” 

As an organisation that above all aims for equity in education, it is important to us that our recruitment process is as fair and accessible as it can be. If you’re a student from a background similar to the young people we support, please read our information for applicants. You can also find additional support for help with your application and interviews on our Steps to Success blogs or contact Will to have a chat.

If you’re a university looking to collaborate with our programme to give more opportunities to your students, you can email Will Simms directly.