15/12/2011 11:47 GMT | Updated 16/12/2011 03:07 GMT

Education Services: City Year London Makes A Difference In Schools

Amid concerns over cuts to vital education services, a charity is making waves in inner-city London with a mentor scheme, which it is now looking to roll out.

Concerns were raised on Thursday over funding for one-to-one reading support for primary school children. Statistics released by Labour show 9,000 fewer vulnerable children would receive support, a reported drop of 43% on last year.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the figures were a "real concern".

But City Year London, a youth and education charity, has announced that they will be taking their mentoring scheme - which includes one-on-one reading tuition - into three more schools next year.

City Year places teams of young people from a spectrum of different backgrounds into schools in deprived areas of the city. The programme, which receives no government funding, provides "leadership development" to their recruits, as well as much-needed support to primary and secondary school pupils.

Currently in seven schools, City Year has a "deliberate policy" of diverse recruiting, from Oxbridge graduates to children who have "fallen out of education".

The model is based on the US organisation of the same name, which was established in the 80s and is now present in more than 20 states across America. Although much younger (the UK version was set up in 2010), the scheme has already gained a following - for every place there are five applicants.

City Year cherry picks the best, recruiting on specific values. Although the academic requirements aren't high, candidates are expected to be "wholly dedicated" and positive role models.

A recent independent study of the charity found the scheme made a "highly positive" difference to pupils and "corps mentors" alike.

The report, by the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR), found 93% of the corps members felt they had gained valuable skills, with pupils saying they felt safer at schools because of City Year's presence.

Describing the impact mentoring children in inner-city school as "significant", Joanna Stuart, head of research at IVR, called the evidence "very encouraging".

"The 'corps members' are positive role models and seen as people who are able to help and support pupils when needed," she commented.

St Luke's Primary School in Islington has a City Year team sponsored by Goldman Sachs Gives. The team of six, known as "GSG", is led by Shakela Uddin, a 22-year-old from Newham, East London.

Asked why she decided to join the charity, she said her decision stemmed from a belief in "children and their potential".

"The great thing is knowing I have made a difference to a child's life. Something like this could've helped me while I was at school but I was never given the chance to be mentored.

"So many children slip through the net. It's not all about helping academically - it's about helping them develop emotionally and making sure they make the right choices throughout their day, outside the classroom. Every child needs a positive role model."

Each member of the team is assigned a "focus child" - a pupil identified by the teacher as needing more attention.

Chris Billingsley, another member of the GSG team, was assigned a child who originally refused to speak to him.

"Now we have such a close bond and apparently he even talks about me at home.

"The children call us ‘The Incredibles’ because of our uniform," he proudly adds.

Some of the GSG team playing a friendly game of football with pupils at St Luke's

Despite everyone coming from different backgrounds, 21-year-old Yemi Akinwoleola, from Greenwich, says it's not hard to relate to the children.

"There's a universal language between us and the children as we are still their generation. We can tell them: 'We understand what you're going through'."

Cassie Moss, headteacher at St Luke's, said the team had been "amazing".

"The programme enables us to achieve our aim of developing the whole child as an individual. They've set up breakfast clubs, evening clubs and even activities outside of school such as football. They made a real difference here."

There is certainly an overwhelming consensus amongst the GSG team that the experience is life-changing, both for them and the pupils.

"There is the person you are and the person you become after you leave City Year," Shakela concludes.