Volunteers’ Week: Spotlight on Diana – “You can offer students something that teachers can’t”

Happy Volunteers’ Week! Every June, we celebrate Volunteers’ Week by highlighting some of the amazing work our 1,000-strong volunteer base take part in every day to help young people achieve brighter futures. Today, we’re spotlighting Diana MacDowall, a volunteer tutor from Essex.

Diana is a member of the Civil Service. She started volunteering with The Access Project in 2020, tutoring GCSE English Literature for one hour a week.

“We had a volunteer tutoring group presentation at work, and I found it really inspiring”, Diana said. “I’m inspired by children’s literacy and to know there were other things we could help with was really quite empowering”.

Before volunteering with The Access Project, Diana worked with young people when she ran a church drama group. She was partly inspired to join The Access Project as an opportunity to reconnect with young people.

“It’s quite interesting working with younger pupils”, Diana told us. “They’re not quite adults so you get a different view of the world, the literature, and you’re the one that’s showing them how to be professional in the business world”.

Since joining our volunteer tutoring programme, Diana has worked with three students from low socio-economic backgrounds to guide them through their GCSE studies.

“I like to show my students how to use their GCSE experience as a springboard. Having watched them develop, it gives them such a sense of achievement and it’s wonderful to see”, she said.

Diana recalled a moment with one of her tutees studying Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “My student’s class had a discussion in school where they said Scrooge only changed because he wanted to be seen as a nice person. They didn’t buy into the idea that Dickens might have written it just as it seems. My student and I had a really interesting chat about that, and that type of critical thinking is a crucial skill for pupils to develop”, Diana explained.

With each of her students, Diana has seen progression of ability. “Their written work has been fantastic. As a civil servant, I’m used to reading quite a lot of analysis and advice. And my students’ written work has all been very good quality. As an employer, I would quite happily take on all three of my students”.

“When you get that lightbulb moment and you know they’ve got it, that’s a great feeling”, she said.

To date, Diana has dedicated more than 110 hours to volunteer tutoring. And her advice to anybody thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor? “Go for it!”.

“Sometimes my young students haven’t had somebody who talks to them like a human being. Teachers under pressure don’t always have time to treat them as individuals”.

“Anything you can offer will give students something that a teacher can’t”.

Diana is one of more than 1,000 volunteer tutors helping young people realise their academic potential. One hour of volunteer tutoring per week can put a student from an under-resourced background on track to a good education, giving them the best chance at social mobility.

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