text reads "the highest uptake of teachers signing up has been students and graduates from Oxford which I think shows how many of us are instilled with a sense of paying it forward" - Mustafaen Kamal, Oxford Alumnus and Close the Lockdown Gap founder
text reads "the highest uptake of teachers signing up has been students and graduates from Oxford which I think shows how many of us are instilled with a sense of paying it forward" - Mustafaen Kamal, Oxford Alumnus and Close the Lockdown Gap founder

Oxford Alumnus Mustafaen Kamal on helping the most disadvantaged students during the pandemic

Oxford alumnus and founder of online tutoring enterprise Close the Lockdown Gap Mustafaen Kamal told us the inspiring story of how he and other like-minded tutors are making a difference to school students missing out on vital teaching.

“Close the Lockdown Gap is the formalisation of something we (my brother and I) were already doing during the first lockdown. Tutoring students missing out on schooling. We started by offering sessions to friends, family and people in our local area of North West London before it expanded further and we created Close the Lockdown Gap.

The lockdown adversely affects those students who don’t have as many opportunities as others. Whether that’s because their school isn’t able to provide a ‘lockdown’ laptop or because their household shares one electronic device between four.

These gaps in schooling have a significant and long-lasting impact on students’ social and cognitive development. At ages 13, 14 and 15 is when young people learn to sus out not just their peers but their mentors as they develop their education. Close the Lockdown Gap is an attempt to help bridge this gap.  

Paying it forward

I graduated from Oxford in the summer of 2020, with much of my time at the University unaffected by the pandemic it really was an amazing time. My time at Oxford directly affected my decision to set up Close the Lockdown Gap. When you study here you have a lot of gratitude for the opportunity to learn at Oxford. From a teaching standpoint it is really unparalleled, you have one-to-one sessions with someone who is a world expert in their subject. I think a lot of Oxford students feel that they want to pay this forward, maybe to someone who is more deserving than you.

Oxford instils a self-starting and entrepreneurial spirit. When you’re here whether it’s studying or clubs you have to find you own way. I’d say it’s 95% independently driven and this attitude inspired me in the first lockdown to help students who were missing out. The highest uptake of teachers signing up has been students and graduates from Oxford, which I think shows how many of us are instilled with a sense of paying it forward.

Helping the most disadvantaged

We want to give the whole secondary school offering, from years 7 to 13. Much of the demand has been for GCSE and A Level in subjects like maths, English and sciences but we aim to provide as many subjects as possible. We even have someone offering to teach Dance GCSE over Zoom!

Many schools have been told by exam boards they can set their own exams and we’ve had a lot of students asking for help to do these exams in the coming weeks but some others are looking for longer term support.

In terms of tutors helping we’re trying to be as flexible as possible around the times they commit. The needs of both students and teachers are very diverse. Teachers hoping to get involved are being asked to either have an existing DBS certificate (an enhanced criminal record check) or we are helping them through the process.

We’re trying to be as egalitarian as possible to ensure the most disadvantaged students get help. That’s why we’re asking them to fill out a questionnaire which means students can self-identify if they are from a group that is more likely to be disadvantaged; such as those that receive free school meals or come from a single-parent household. Parents are a crucial part of this, many of them are signing their children up for sessions, we even have head teachers reaching out to us, but most of our students are proactively finding us themselves.

Equalising unequal opportunities

We’re aiming to embellish and build upon what students do through their school and we want to supplement what they do get so they’re not missing anything. School teachers have told me the project makes a positive impact on their students. “Seeing the home environment of some of my students during normal teaching hours has really highlighted how important schools are”, a GCSE maths teacher told me, “they equalise unequal home environments. In the absence of this environment, this initiative is doing something to bridge that gap.”

I didn’t expect this many people to sign up, so far we’ve been able to help over 1,000 students. We hope to provide 100,000 hours of free tuition to those that need it. If and when the lockdown ends we don’t plan to abruptly stop the scheme, longer term support is something we’re looking into now. ”

If you are interested in volunteering to tutor a school student or know someone who could do with extra support visit https://closethelockdowngap.com/ to find out more.