A Tutor Trust team presenting at the front of a busy lecture theatre

Sharing our ground breaking research to better support our learners

For the past 18 months, we've been working with the University of Manchester's Faculty of Education as part of their Local Matters research. We were delighted to share our findings at their recent conference. 

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The entire Tutor Trust team was out in force at the University of Manchester’s recent Local Matters conference. This event was the culmination of the inaugural phase of a partnership between Tutor Trust and the University of Manchester’s Institute of Education. This collaboration between a third sector organisation and academia is an innovative Manchester first. Three action research teams from Tutor Trust presented the findings from projects that they’ve been working on to academics and students at the conference, as well as Tutor Trust colleagues and Trustees. 

Run by Dr Carl Emery and Louisa Dawes (who have previously been contributors on our Tutorcast podcast) from the Institute of Education, the Local Matters programme works with schools and with other organisations to deepen their understanding of the links between power, poverty and place. Local Matters challenges stereotypes about those experiencing poverty, supporting organisations to better serve the young people and families in the communities in which we work. 

The conference, held at the University of Manchester, marked the final phase of an initial 18-month collaboration between Tutor Trust and Local Matters that has encouraged us to be reflective, to adopt a critical lens to the work we do, and to think more about how our charity and our work navigates issues of poverty, place and power.

The partnership started in 2022, with all of our staff team and a sample number of our tutors completing surveys that analysed our attitudes to those living in poverty and our knowledge of poverty in the communities we serve. These surveys showed that some prevalent myths and stereotypes about poverty were found among both staff and tutors, and Carl and Louisa held ‘myth-busting’ workshops that debunked both deficit views of those experiencing poverty, and over-simplistic discourses of aspiration and social mobility. 

Following the initial workshops, we reviewed and made changes to our staff onboarding and tutor training. We also embarked on three action research projects, in which cross-organisational teams, supported by the Local Matters team and informed by the academic work of Nancy Fraser and Paul Gorski, investigated aspects of our work. These teams each presented their findings at Thursday’s conference, with posters illustrating the findings of each project also displayed at the event. 

Using more equitable language to better reflect who we are.

One group of colleagues explored how the language that we used to describe the people and communities that we worked with could reinforce negative stereotypes and deficit views of people experiencing poverty, for example by using terms such as ‘disadvantage’, ‘catch up’, or simplistic discourses of social mobility such as ‘level the playing field’.  As well as analysing and then reworking the language used on our website, we also worked on developing a language guide which will act as a reference point for Tutor Trust colleagues when talking with our partners and the wider world. 

How does the Pupil Voice survey recognise pupils’ experiences of Tutor Trust during in-school, face-to-face tutoring?

A second group looked at how we could give more of a voice to our tutees and gain a greater insight into what they think about tutoring and how it fits into their lives, so that we can continue to improve the quality of the tuition we provide. Using a social justice framework, the group redesigned the way that we gain feedback from our tutees to provide a much richer and fuller picture of their experience. We’re already using these findings to develop our tutoring offer so that it better reflects the needs and wishes of our tutees. 

Cultivating a community of practice.

The third project introduced a fortnightly reading group for colleagues across the organisation where the group met online to discuss texts on class, place, poverty, and marginalisation and to talk about their own experiences on these themes.  This sparked many interesting conversations and gave colleagues a greater understanding of the complexities of these topics and the various issues that impacted the young people and communities that we work with. 

We are very proud of the depth and thoughtfulness of colleagues’ presentations at the conference and are committed to our work in this space. By prioritising the use of more equitable language, making sure that our pupils have a voice, and continuing conversations internally about poverty, marginalisation and social justice, we can avoid using assumptions about the communities we work with and being tokenistic in the way that we talk to and about them. In doing so, we’ll not only be challenging ourselves, but also the status quo, enabling us to lead in this space. 

Vicky Sadler, Tutor Trust’s Deputy Director of Training, who led on this project, said:

We met Carl and Louisa almost two years ago and were fascinated by their work to dispel myths and stereotypes around poverty and champion equity in education. They were the first guests on our podcast, Tutorcast and what they were doing really chimed with our own values and what we’re working to achieve. Being part of their Local Matters project was an easy decision to make, and we’ve been privileged to work with them over the last 18+ months. This work has had a hugely positive impact on every area of Tutor Trust.

“It was wonderful to be able to share the findings of our projects at the University of Manchester, and what we’ve done to date to bring them to life and were delighted by the number of students, charity partners, Trustees and colleagues who joined us on the day. Our research doesn’t stop there. We’re going to continue to use the skills we have developed to evolve and improve what we do, so that we can ensure that we are best supporting the young people we support, as well as their families and wider communities.”

Louisa said of the work:

The conference last week evidenced, with great clarity, the powerful nature of participatory research. Over the last 18 months, our collaborative work with colleagues at Tutor Trust examining the effects of power, poverty and place on educational experiences appears to have had a profound effect on the organisation. This was reflected at the conference with staff presenting their research projects based on the substantial changes to policy and practice undertaken within the charity.

Another key take away for me from the conference was the enthusiasm, verve and reflexivity of the research teams - testament to Tutor Trust’s collective vision for more equitable outcomes for all students in education. I look forward to continuing our work together in the future.
Dr Louisa Dawes, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Manchester

Dr Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility at the University of Manchester, described the Tutor Trust projects as brave and unique and said that it was a powerful vector for change in the sector.

We’re excited to use this conference and our work to more effectively transform lives through tutoring.

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