University of Tasmania

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Volunteer tutor programs : time for a closer analysis : a description, summary and evaluation of aspects of various volunteer tutor programs operating in Tasmanian schools, with particular reference to roles of co-ordinators and tutors, and the influence of gender factors.

posted on 2023-05-26, 20:42 authored by Harvey-Latham, Sue
Introduction - definition of tutor programs, reasons for starting tutor programs, aims of this report and sources of information used. An important focus of my teaching for the last three years has been volunteer tutor programs. These are programs in which community volunteers assist in schools by tutoring students who are not usually their own children. Generally these volunteers are given some sort of 'training' (although this varies), and they work within the school on a regular timetable. My first involvement with volunteer tutor programs was as a teacher/co-ordinator, initiating a tutor program at a country high school, Huonville High School, in 1992. Since mid 1993, I have worked for the Hartz Support School. This school was established in 1991 to assist all students with special needs who are enrolled in normal schools in the Hartz District -one of the seven school districts in Tasmania. This is in fact all students with special needs - there are no special schools in this district. The philosophy of inclusion is fundamental to the work of Hartz Support School (HSS) staff. An important part of our work in these first years, has been to help teachers set up and monitor tutor programs. In 1992, I thought the idea of using volunteers to tutor students was a new area. Yet, although I wasn't aware of it at the time, other teachers around Tasmania, and Australia, were also using volunteer tutor programs. It was a time of government cutbacks in educational expenditure, and yet it seemed to many teachers that some of our students had needs which were perhaps greater than ever. There were still students with learning problems, and a growing group of students whose ability to learn effectively was adversely influenced by social, economic, emotional or family problems. These students often needed more intensive work and attention, either individually or in small groups, and many teachers felt frustrated because the resources for this kind of teaching were not readily available. Many students had low literacy skills, and this meant that their work in all subject areas was at risk Most volunteer tutor programs, therefore, asked tutors to help students with reading and writing, but some schools, especially those in isolated areas, asked for volunteers to help in subjects as diverse as French, Art, Cooking and Tae Kwon Do! Many of these schools had only a small number of teachers, so needed to rely on community expertise to provide the varied curriculum possible in larger schools. Neither this report, nor the research preceding it, is the work of an objective outsider. As teachers initiating tutor programs we all made mistakes; we quickly found out what worked and what did not. You learn quickly when you are working with volunteers who do not have to keep turning up, and who are free to tell you exactly what they think and what they want, without fear of losing their jobs! For all of us it was action research in a real situation, and the end results had to be right. Many teachers used models taken from other parts of Australia as the starting point for their tutor programs. Finding out about these models was usually the first part of our research. Some schools continued to use a particular program (eg. LAP) with only minor modifications. Other schools developed tutor programs which combined ideas from the different models with new structures developed in response to the school's needs. This aim of this dissertation will be to provide a detailed description and commentary of aspects of volunteer tutor programs in all parts of Tasmania, although at times it may seem that the emphasis is on tutor programs in the Hartz District. As I have mentioned, there has been considerable sharing of ideas and resources from around the State. This means that although the tutor programs in Hartz have been heavily influenced by the HSS, the HSS staff in turn have collected materials and methods from all parts of Tasmania, from the rest of Australia and indeed the rest of the world. Through networks such as the Commonwealth Literacy and Learning Key Teacher Program, many teachers involved in tutor programs have been able to pool their knowledge and share their ideas. As ideas spread, and schools started experimenting, many of these co-ordinators and support teachers felt they were starting to obtain some useful information. There was, however, no co-ordinating person to start gathering this material and writing it down. In 1993, some schools, including the Hartz Support School, started surveying some of their co-ordinators and tutors. Some re-testing of students on the program was also carried out by HSS staff in 1993. Again, we did not have time to do more than glance at most of this information, although it was reassuring to note that most results/comments were positive. In 1994, Hugo McCann provided a useful overview of tutor programs in many Tasmanian schools as part of his Evaluation Report of the Commonwealth Literacy and Learning Program. This was the first acknowledgement of the proliferation of tutor programs throughout the State. Through surveys of teachers involved, McCann also made the first attempt to judge the effectiveness of the programs. By late 1994, it was obvious that many schools throughout Tasmania had established tutor programs. Some co-ordinators made an effort to inform DEA personnel about what was going on. Meetings of coordinators were held and some of the DEA 's top managers were invited. Generally they seemed impressed with what they were hearing, although they expressed the desire for further information. I hope this dissertation will meet the need for further information. I will attempt to accurately recount the views of many teachers, coordinators and tutors involved in these programs. I shall also provide a full description of the roles of people involved in tutor programs, and to make some evaluation of their effectiveness. It is hoped that this commentary will assist other schools wishing to set up or maintain their own tutor programs, and will also provide the DEA with suggestions on establishing state wide support structures for tutor programs. I have used a variety of sources. Appendix 1 gives information requested from schools by Graham Harrington, Deputy Secretary of the DEA. Schools were asked to indicate whether tutor programs operated in their schools, and to estimate the numbers of students involved. Some schools were obviously uncertain about what constituted a tutor program, and many did not answer the survey. (The returns for one entire district were not available.) Nevertheless, this DEA survey did demonstrate that a large number of schools used some type of volunteer tutor program. This dissertation is concerned with describing tutor programs which focus on teaching literacy skills. It should be recognised, however, that many schools have extended volunteer tutoring to include a range of subjects and a wealth of community knowledge. While many of the sections on literacy in this report may not be relevant to these schools, there should be much information about tutor programs in general which everyone connected with tutor programs could find of interest.


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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 119-125). Thesis (M.Ed.St.)--University of Tasmania, 1996

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