Student Volunteer Week Part 3: Schools Plus
“The Schools Plus programme offers free and high-quality weekly tutorials and extra-curricular activities for students from a disadvantaged background run by university students, to unlock their potential. Projects we operate aim to provide pupils with skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life.”
What is Schools Plus about?
Charlotte: It is a charity that’s based on reducing the education inequality gap between those who go to state schools and private schools, but also those who go to poorer performing state schools compared to better performing schools. So at Cambridge although we have a lot of well-educated students, a lot of schools ten minutes’ walk from the town centre have a high proportion of disadvantaged students. It’s about using the resources that Cambridge University has, and the people that we have, to tutor students to improve educational outcomes and give them a better chance of getting good grades and going to a good university.
How did you get involved?
Charlotte: So the Hub network is at universities around the country. My brother went to Bristol, got involved in Schools Plus at Bristol Hub, and then told me about it. I was looking for things to do last year because I’m not sporty or musical, so I didn’t feel there was a lot I could get involved with in freshers’ week. I was looking for something to get involved with over Christmas and stumbled across the Cambridge Hub website. I started tutoring about this time last year, and then applied to be on the Committee, and by being on the committee I got lots of other people from Pembroke involved.
Lizzy: I was quite influenced by Charlotte, she was really positive about it, and they’ve expanded a lot since last year. I probably would have gone for it last year but I just hadn’t heard of it. I think the publicity they’ve done has helped. There’s also so many different sections now that it doesn’t matter what your subject is, you’ll find something to tutor in that fits your expertise.
What is your area of expertise?
Lizzy: I’m doing science and maths, GCSE revision sessions once a week with groups of six students. They can come and go through problems or past paper questions.
Charlotte: I also tutor. We go into Parkside Community College, which is really close. I do year 9 maths; I study economics but teach maths. Tutors also do English and history, and we’re keen in some schools, where they have a high percentage of students who speak English as a second language, to have tutors who can go in and help with English. The difference between a B and C in maths is important, but the difference that being able to speak and read English makes can be life changing.
Charlotte: Tutoring takes place in Michaelmas and Lent, not in Easter. We always have ongoing recruitment but the big drive was done earlier this term. But if you go on the Cambridge Hub website or type Schools Plus into Google or Facebook you’ll find it. And then in Michaelmas we’ll do another big recruitment drive so look out for that.
Do you enjoy it?
Lizzy: I think it’s fun. It’s a good break from your work, and you help kids who wouldn’t have that help otherwise. It’s rewarding
Charlotte: It’s a good break from the Cambridge bubble. There’s a school five minutes away with people worrying about different things to you, and it brings you down to earth and reminds you there’s more than the degree you’re studying.
Do you see it making a difference?
Charlotte: You want to think you’re making a massive difference, but last term we had three kids who turned up three weeks in a row, but due to a miscommunication they stopped turning up. Schools have a lot going on and it’s not always easy to keep attending. Unless you see the same student weeks in a row it’s hard to see if there’s an improvement. But School’s Plus has been going for three years and the schools keep inviting us back year on year. It’s a big logistical thing for them with organising it and doing DBS checks, so they clearly value us. Some of it’s not just the academic improvement, but also trying to provide role models.
Lizzy: There are different programmes and the school is very active in shaping itso that it works for them and for us. The guy who runs it is keen to refine the programmes and make sure it works well. When I first started people didn’t turn up, but now I have a reliable group who turn up to sessions.
Charlotte: I joined late, and had no idea who the committee was or who was in schools plus. Because you’re not part of a wider group it’s easy to become demotivated. Now we have social events, a really active Facebook page. We have training, you know people. It’s much more than just volunteering.
Lizzy: I think by expanding it, it’s definitely changed from last year, we’ll only see the big improvements next year.
Charlotte: We’ve just received about that’s allowed us to hire an intern for three months, and she’s trying to secure funding for the next five years so we can have a full time member of staff. If we had that we could expand a lot. The guy who runs it is in our year and it would be really beneficial to him to have that support.
Lizzy: It’s very rewarding helping a student work through a problem that they just didn’t get at all before they sat down with you.
Charlotte: You can see the short term progress and that’s very rewarding
Lizzy: People seem to come in and say ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do science’, and then you can say, yes you can! In a class of 30 you can’t do that as easily, but in these sessions you sit down with the individual and find out how you can help them understand.