The teaching profession has had an insight into the educational and social consequences of Covid-19 like few others.
Since March, schools have justified their depiction as a ‘fourth emergency service’. Teachers have made herculean efforts to support home learning, and for children of key workers and the most vulnerable, schools remained open.
But there is no shame in stating what teachers know best: children learn less when they are not in school. There have been wide differences in engagement, and it has not been possible to reach every child.
Compensating for the negative effects of Covid-19 closures will require a sustained response – for all children, but particularly for those from socially disadvantaged families.
To mitigate the long-term impact on learning and inequality, we must support pupils and schools more effectively than ever before.
The National Tutoring Programme is a huge opportunity to support students and schools.
There is extensive evidence showing the impact of tutoring as a catch-up strategy. However, as the Sutton Trust and others have documented, tutoring is currently widening rather than narrowing the gap. Our aim is to reverse this, by providing access to high-quality tuition to over one million disadvantaged pupils.
The National Tutoring Programme will include two pillars.
First, schools will be able to buy heavily-subsidised tutoring from an approved list of partners – all of whom will all be subject to quality, safeguarding and evaluation standards. When combined with catch-up funding provided directly to schools, schools will be able to fully fund the cost of tutoring in 2020 – 21.
Secondly, schools in the most disadvantaged areas will be supported to employ trained graduates to provide intensive catch-up support to their pupils. This might mean, for example, identifying unplaced trainee teachers who can work as full-time coaches in the next academic year.
Across both pillars of the programme, one principle will matter above all others: tutoring is most effective when it is a tool for teachers.
As ASCL’s Geoff Barton has emphasised, for tuition to make the difference, it must be guided by teachers, based on their assessment of the areas where pupils need additional support.
Evaluations of tutoring programmes underline the key role that teachers must play.
The Tutor Trust is a charity that trains university students to work as tutors in the North West. An EEF-funded randomised controlled trial showed that pupils working with its tutors made +3 additional months’ progress compared to similar pupils in other schools. The Tutor Trust’s founders, Nick Bent and Abigail Shapiro, talk about the relationship between teacher and tutor as essential to its impact.
Great teaching is the most powerful tool we have
While tutoring has huge potential, it will only be effective as a supplement to great teaching, which is the most powerful tool we have.
This is why, in addition to supporting the launch of the National Tutoring Programme, the EEF has just published a support guide for schools.
School leaders will need to make difficult decisions about what to prioritise in the coming months, recognising the tremendous strain the pandemic has already placed on teachers and children. Our aim is to equip school leaders and teachers with the evidence they need on effective practice in supporting pupils and remediating learning loss.
The guide emphasises above all the importance of ensuring every teacher is supported and prepared for the new year.
This might involve providing additional opportunities for professional development or curriculum planning, for example recognising new ways in which technology might be used in the coming year.
Early career teachers, whose opportunities to develop their practice have been restricted by school closures, are particularly likely to benefit from additional support.
Evidence related to other promising catch-up strategies, including high-quality literacy and numeracy interventions, pupil assessment and focusing on pupil attendance – which is likely to pose a particular risk for disadvantaged pupils – is also surveyed in the guide.
Crucially, the guide recommends that schools prioritise a small number of approaches best suited to their context; less, implemented properly, is more.
In addressing the impact of the pandemic on learning, there will be no quick fixes. But teachers and school leaders have already displayed levels of dedication and resilience that inspire hope.
Ensuring they have the right support, sustained over the next academic year, involving partners across the sector and underpinned by evidence, will give the system a fighting chance of success.