“It’s not a level playing field” – why Jo decided to volunteer for The Access Project

Jo has been tutoring with The Access Project for just over a year now. She tutors a young girl called Mahnoor in GCSE English. 

“It’s been a real collaboration”

Mahnoor and Jo are very different – but part of the joy of our programme is that we bring people from different walks of life together for one hour each week around a subject.

“We both know that Mahnoor isn’t going to take English further – she’s determined to be an engineer,” Jo laughs. “I’m trying to take a step back to see how I can articulate things in a way that she can see it – I’m trying to make her look at English like science.”

Jo on the other hand is passionate about her subject. “English chose me at a very young age,” she told us. “I just love books, storytelling and writing. I love paper and ink. It’s just always been my thing.” 

“It’s been a real collaboration and a real journey,” Jo observes. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Levelling the playing field

Jo studied English at the University of Cambridge. “I went to a state school in Oxford,” Jo tells us. “It was unusual for me to get in with my exam grades. I was lucky to have a teacher who told me I could achieve a place at Cambridge.”

Since Jo graduated from Cambridge she acknowledges that it’s been enormously helpful in terms of her own social mobility. “I’ve never really knocked on a door and not got in,” she said. 

“When I went with my daughter to visit universities when she was deciding where to go, there was clearly a big disparity in how well prepared young people from different backgrounds were,” Jo explains. “At the same time I was helping my daughter’s friend who was struggling with English Literature GCSE. I started to help her and I loved it and her grades improved.”

It was at this point that Jo saw one of our posts on Facebook. “When I saw The Access Project I thought: ‘there’s my next step.’”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be supportive”

Jo received the training we provide to all of our volunteer tutors and found it “very helpful.” “It was also great to meet the other volunteers,” Jo told us. “The volunteer portal has been enormously helpful – it’s good to see what other volunteer tutors are doing and share best practice.”

Asked what her message to people contemplating whether to sign up as volunteers, Jo said: “Do it! For sure! You’re well supported at The Access Project with resources to use, how to use the platform, safeguarding issues and it is easy to get in touch with the very professional, friendly and supportive staff. 

Jo explained that her initial fear was that she had never taught before. “As someone who hasn’t taught, I kept asking myself: ‘should I set myself up for this?’ Will what I can offer be valuable? What you can give in terms of your time and background, whether or not you have a background in education, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be supportive.”

Subscribe to our newsletter