Learning / tutoring

Grassroots tuition centre in Easton aims to reduce inequality in education

By yvonne deeney, Thursday Nov 19, 2020

A new organisation offering one-to-one tuition has been set up in Easton, to support children marginalised by “an education system that recreates social and racial hierarchies”. The Atamai Tutor Centre is currently providing tuition to young people at Baggator, in a collaboration between educators, activists and youth workers.

The group recognises that the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems and aims to build confidence in children who have spent an extended period away from school because of the Covid-19 lockdown, without the resources to support home learning.

The tuition, which currently takes place on a Saturday, reached full capacity in the first two weeks of opening. There are currently 17 local children benefiting from weekly 50-minute sessions. Now that a second lockdown has come into force, teaching is able to continue through allocating pupils time slots according to sibling bubbles.

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The three organisers of the new centre, Lau Batty, Hribhu Mendiratta and Nalini Mistry, first met at a panel discussion following on from Bristol’s Black Lives Matter march in June 2020. The three activists wanted to do something practical that could help reduce school exclusions, which disproportionately affect black students.

Hribhu Mendiratta is one of the founders of Atamai Tutor Centre. Photo supplied by Hribhu Mendiratta.

It was at this meeting where they met Lana Crosby, the founder of Bristol No More Exclusions and also a teacher and special educational needs coordinator. The national organisation No More Exclusions is a grassroots coalition movement in education with a mission to end “the persistent race disparities in school exclusions” over the next five years.

The trio behind Atamai worked closely with Lana Crosby in the planning stages and have received a lot of support from teachers and activists from the National Education Union (NEU). They received a grant from the South Gloucestershire branch of the teachers’ union for initial set-up costs.

They have managed to raise additional funds for materials through a crowdfunding campaign but will need to raise further funds to expand their work and buy more basic equipment. They are looking for laptop donations but are also in need of exercise books and craft materials.

“Technology poverty is widening the divide between children and young people,” Hribhu explains. “Through our work with No More Exclusions and the teachers from the NEU, it became apparent that a lack of access to technology at home puts many children at a clear disadvantage at school.

“The Atamai Tutor Centre is an opportunity to create a more solid infrastructure to challenge these inequalities, rather than simply talking about them.”

The volunteers currently use laptops during the classes, which allows them to access online educational resources and research information in class to support pupils’ learning. They would like to provide pupils with their own laptops that can be accessed from Baggator.

“We discovered that many of the laptops that were donated to children by voluntary organisations over the first lockdown were sold on due to financial hardship,” says Lau.

The content of the classes depend on the needs of the individual learner. The tutors at the centre also work with the recovery curriculum, a programme which aims to balance the need to fill gaps in education with mental health and wellbeing.

“We aim to provide children with a balanced programme of learning to complement the work teachers are doing in schools,” says Nalini. “We are using the recovery curriculum but have the flexibility to tailor sessions to the individual learners’ needs.

“We use technology but also like to teach crafts. The aim is not simply to increase academic attainment but also to build confidence and inspire creativity.”

Teachers and learners engaged in classes. Photo by Hribhu Mendiratta.

Atamai currently have ten volunteer tutors and are currently in the process of recruiting more. All volunteers are DBS checked and have a background in education or youth work. Many of them are teachers themselves, who volunteer on a Saturday after working all week in schools. All volunteers receive two-and-a-half days of training, provided by NEU South West.

One parent, Shabaana, told Bristol24/7 how the tuition is helping her children: “The whole family have benefited from the tuition. We have seen improvement in our sons’ writing and confidence. It’s a really welcoming environment and although our kids weren’t too sure about learning on a Saturday, they are really keen to attend now.”

The group have been supported by Baggator, who provide the space for free, make referrals, and now – thanks to the Super Supper Club – provide free meals for tutors and pupils.

“I cannot sing their praises enough,” says Stuart Phelps, chair of Baggator. “I’ve had a lot of positive feedback.” Stuart says he would like to see the tuition become a full Saturday school.

Atamai Tutor Centre are currently crowdfunding to provide students with laptops and learning materials, and pay for venue hire. To support the campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/f/atamai-tutor-centre

Main Image of activity led by Lara Lalemi of Creative Tuition Collective who aim to inspire children to pursue science. During the science section of their black history month workshops children placed the picture of the scientist on the part of the world map where they came from. Photo supplied  by Hribhu Mendiratta

Read more: East Bristol faces shortfall of 170 secondary school places

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