A Decade of Partnership: Action Tutoring and Impetus

The success of Action Tutoring has not just been about increasing reach, it’s been an impressive growth in impact. Since joining the Impetus portfolio in 2014, Action Tutoring has grown from an initiative in a few London schools to reaching 5,743 pupils, delivering 6,535 tutoring courses in 146 schools across England in 2022/23. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds supported by Action Tutoring are achieving 13 percentage points more than expected standards in maths at secondary school.

At the core of this decade of growth in reach and impact has been an enduring commitment to partnership, between a charity committed to transforming lives through education and a funder dedicated to supporting charities to achieve benchmark beating outcomes.

Reflecting on the partnership, Susannah Hardyman, Chief Executive of Action Tutoring for the entirety of the partnership says:

I can confidently say that Action Tutoring would not be where it is today without the investment and input we've had from Impetus over the last 10 years.

The Evolution of our Partnership

Impetus has a unique approach to working with our charity partners. As well as providing them with long term, unrestricted core funding, we also give our charities access to the expertise of our dedicated Investment team. Fundamental to the partnership is the relationship between the Impetus Investment Director and the charity Chief Executive. As Investment Director, Bea Theakston puts it:

It's not a typical funding relationship in the sense that we might chat two or three times a year and ask for a lengthy funding report. An Investment Director will typically spend one day a week focused entirely on supporting the organisation and in particular the leadership of the Chief Executive. A key part of my role as the Investment Director is to work with Susannah with a view of strengthening and growing Action Tutoring and supporting them to achieve for young people.

This relationship needs to be strong. Impetus helps charity Chief Executives by bringing empathetic challenge and providing a safe space to dig into issues facing their organisation. That requires CEOs to trust Impetus and their Investment Directors enough to raise and discuss these challenges. It takes time to get to that level of trust, a process Susannah has likened to dating:

I've often used the analogy of a dating relationship where those first few meetings with Impetus were very much getting to know you and exploring whether this was a good fit on both sides. And then gradually over time, that relationship deepened to the point of getting to the Investment Committee, which I sometimes consider like the engagement phase and then through to a much more longer-term relationship. We understand that Impetus are there to help us achieve, they want us to succeed - they are on our side. So for me I think ‘why would I not share honestly what those challenges are with Impetus?’ If there’s an opportunity to get help, why would I not want to bring in that expertise?

Adapting to Challenges Together

The collaboration has weathered challenging pandemic years, when young people were out of school and the pressure on charities was immense.

More specifically, the key challenge the pandemic presented to Action Tutoring was that their work had never been more needed, but they were now unable to deliver to schools and young people in the way they always had. Susannah continues:

The Impetus partnership really came into its own during March 2020… During the pandemic the attainment gap for young people worsened, and it was bad enough already. So, we knew the need was there and sadly the need was growing fast… Almost overnight our schools shut and all of our delivery, which was entirely face-to-face at the time, ceased. There was actually a moment where I wondered if Action Tutoring would survive this. But it didn’t take long for the idea of the National Tutoring Programme to bubble up.

Impetus worked with a range of sector peers to develop proposals for using tutoring as a pandemic catch-up programme.

Action Tutoring was closely involved in campaigning for catch up provision, presenting to the Education Select Committee in June 2020. They were one of four charities involved in an online tutoring pilot later in the same year.

The Government subsequently set up the National Tutoring Programme in late 2020 to support schools in using tutoring to help pupils who have fallen behind; nearly 5 million courses have been started so far.

We continue to work with Action Tutoring to advocate for tutoring. But the future of Government investment in the National Tutoring Programme, which has given much needed support to young people catching up on lost learning, is uncertain. Along with other leading tutoring organisations, Susannah is leading the charge for a continued commitment to Government supported tutoring.

The Role of Data and Evaluation

Just last week I had a significant funder say to me ‘this level of detail and data just isn’t normal from a charity!’ And I thought that really sums up what we’ve achieved with Impetus.
- Susannah Hardyman

One of the three things Impetus looks for in each of our charity partners is a leadership team and Board committed to improving and growing outcomes. We’ve supported Action Tutoring to build a culture where they live and breathe data, where the whole team understands why the data and evidence matters and ultimately what they are trying to achieve as an organisation in terms of impact.

One of the defining features of Action Tutoring is their focus on quality. From the board, across the staff team and, of course, the volunteers who are crucial to achieving the mission, it’s very self-evident that quality, impact and doing the best that you can for young people are values felt throughout the organisation and it’s a real pleasure working with them on that basis.
- Bea Theakston

Across the last decade we’ve seen Action Tutoring adopt an impact-first approach. Their team now completes baseline assessments and regular progress checks for all their pupils, and captures their final exam results, benchmarking them against the national average for disadvantaged pupils.

At a time when the difference in overall attainment between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers is at its widest in 12 years (22 percentage points at primary and 30 percentage points at secondary), it’s critical that we have organisations, like Action Tutoring, that are committed to making a real, measurable difference. Pupils on pupil premium supported by Action Tutoring are achieving 7 percentage points more than expected standards in reading and 14 percentage points more in maths at primary level. At the secondary level, the impact is even more pronounced, with an impressive 13 percentage points improvement in maths.

Action Tutoring’s “Impact Zone” in their head office, where staff can find the latest delivery data

As Action Tutoring and Impetus celebrate a decade of partnership, the focus remains firmly on the future. In three years Action Tutoring hopes to be reaching at least 10,000 young people facing disadvantage a year across both primary and secondary schools. So, the partnership with Impetus is focusing on scaling operations, addressing challenges, and continuing to have a positive impact on young people's education. As Susannah says: 

We're working on really understanding what are the core ingredients of the model that drive impact in order to drive further scale. Understanding within the programme model, evaluating different aspects and elements of that so that we're enabled to scale up the operation to meet that level of needs that we're seeing.

The long-term funding and embedded support of Impetus, bringing in expert pro bono support and being prepared to have the challenging conversations is fundamental to delivering this, driven by a commitment to addressing the root causes. "We're incredibly proud of that impact to date” says Susannah “but we want to make sure that we're pushing to get our results as close to completely closing the attainment gap as we can.”

Volunteering: The Key to Action Tutoring’s Impact

The heart of Action Tutoring's impact lies in the volunteers who dedicate their time to shaping the future of these young learners. By volunteering, individuals directly support young people, helping build their confidence and ensuring they leave school with the grades needed for a bright future.

Interested in giving one hour a week of your time to change a young person’s life path? Want to be a part of Action Tutoring’s impact story? You can apply directly through Action Tutoring’s website here: actiontutoring.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer.

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