Caroline Spalding, Assistant Headteacher at The Bemrose School. explains why they chose to access tutoring and hire an Academic Mentor through the NTP.
The Bemrose School is an all-through school in Derby city centre. We serve a highly diverse catchment area with pockets of high deprivation. Two thirds of our pupils speak English as an additional language, and we have around 50 languages spoken at the school at the last count.
We have also got high mobility – only around half of our year 11s have been with us since year 7 which brings with it several challenges. About a third of pupils in our secondary phase are Roma Slovak and many of our children have had fairly fractured experiences of education, both in this country and abroad. The percentage of Pupil Premium perhaps doesn’t necessarily reflect the high need of many of our pupils because of that.
We have about 50 pupils coming into the secondary phase currently, whether they are children of key workers, vulnerable children, or pupils with SEND. Our total roll is 1250, but with our mobility it is highly changeable. We have had many children join the school during lockdown, who we have never met!
Since school closures and the pandemic started last year there have been several challenges for our pupils specifically around access to online learning. We’ve not been able to, unlike some schools, offer a full suite of live lessons, for example as many pupils wouldn’t have been able to access them. In fact, at the start of lockdown, 47 per cent of our pupils didn’t have access to a device. That’s been one of our priorities, rolling out provision of devices.
But we’ve discovered that providing the device is the tip of the iceberg. There are also other significant barriers around digital literacy specifically, but also motivational barriers. It can be incredibly challenging for low attaining pupils without support to really battle through and try to understand work independently. Our parents are incredibly supportive but also don’t necessarily have the confidence or the skills to be able to support their child with their learning.
One of the greatest challenges, I think, for many of us during lockdown has been maintaining our mental health and establishing positive routines. We’ve tried really hard to support pupils to do this in creative ways. For example, we now do a short, online, ten-minute ‘start-the-day’ session hosted by different teachers to try to encourage pupils to wake up at the same time each day and to provide that human contact which we all value so much.
The school has used external providers to deliver tuition before, but not with positive results. Even when there have been qualified teachers delivering the tuition, we’ve not always found there has been the quality of tutoring we would expect. This may be, in part, due to the very varied needs of our pupils.
We need somebody who’s going to be very confident in, for example, teaching pupils with English as an additional language, but also supporting some of our lowest attainers.
I first heard about the NTP from a DfE mailing and I was skeptical at first, given our past experience with tutoring and the strings that seemed to be attached to it. There was some inflexibility around the 15 hours per pupil and the limited one to three, tutor to pupil, ratio. I was also concerned about having to choose just one subject for each child.
However, what became quickly apparent was that it really does offer value of money. The 75 per cent subsidy makes the tuition really good value for schools. That encouraged us to go away and think a bit more creatively about whether we could make use of it. We wanted to really make sure it complemented the work the children were doing in the classroom and didn’t take away from the mainstream curriculum as we are very conscious that it’s first and foremost high quality teaching that supports pupil achievement.
I would really encourage schools to think about the needs of their pupils first and really define what it is they want out of the programme. We knew we wanted a mix of face to face and online sessions, and to make sure that we could provide for those most vulnerable pupils and those that didn’t have access to online provision. We also knew that providing additional challenge for our highest attainers was important. As we had a clear focus on the pupils we have wanted to deliver tutoring to, and how we wanted that tutoring to be delivered, it meant that our conversations with potential tutoring partners was really precise.
Once we knew what we were looking for, we found the NTP website itself incredibly easy to navigate. You can simply search for providers using the parameters that you want. We looked first by our locality, searching for a provider that could give us the number of tutors we needed, whilst ensuring value for money. We then produced a shortlist of five providers, contacted them, and then had online ‘interviews’ with three Tuition Partners.
Connex Education Partnership
It was well worth investing that time to find the right connection and the right relationship with the tutoring provider. We appointed Connex as we felt that almost immediately they grasped what it was we were trying to do, the needs of our pupils, and how to meet those needs. They really took the time to understand our context and what it is we wanted to get out of their service.
They have provided tutors who have really sought to understand our pupils and who have the experience need to be comfortable and confident teaching in our context.
We’re about four weeks into the tutoring, so it is a bit too early to start to look at academic attainment and impact. Certainly in terms of the green shoots, I think pupil engagement speaks for itself. We’re regularly getting over 80 pupils accessing provision every Saturday morning. You would perceive that additional tuition at 9am on a weekend was a bit of a hard sell but that has not been our experience.
Our pupils are really engaged and aware that this is a significant opportunity for them. The pupils know the school may not have been able to provide the tuition if it wasn’t for the additional funding from government.
Our teachers have passed on gaps and next steps in learning to the tutors and the tutors have provided ongoing feedback about what has been covered in each session and pupil progress. The professional dialogue, focused on what’s going to help move that child on, has been really encouraging.
We feel the tuition is also part of developing a wider school culture of hard work and ambition. We hope we are teaching pupils important skills for life. It’s important they see the school is investing in them: that we believe they are worth investing in. We are already thinking about how we can develop the tuition programme in the future with the local university in partnership within the Opportunity Area.
We are using an Academic Mentor to provide additional support in Maths. Her salary is fully subsidised, meaning it doesn’t cost us anything to offer additional sessions led by her alongside our Saturday tutoring. This also provides greater flexibility as a pupil might receive English or Science tuition from the NTP but then additional Maths tuition by the Academic Mentor.
It is early days for the Academic Mentor as she has been with us for a matter of weeks. It is also a strange time for a member of staff to be joining a school, but she has been so flexible and willing to actually provide the school with the support that they need.
She is also working with targeted groups of pupils within live lessons, working alongside the teacher to target specific pupils by asking and answering questions and making sure that they’re getting the individualised attention that they need to keep them on track.
We will be providing additional training for our Academic Mentor alongside our existing Learning Mentor, a member of the school staff who connects the pastoral and academic sides of school life, say, if a child is lacking motivation in class.
When thinking back to what I had perceived as the strings attached to the NTP, I think it’s important to consider them in light of the evidence and research behind the approach the EEF have taken. For example, there is strong evidence behind keeping the tutor to pupil ratio down and, to have a sustained impact, I can see now that the tuition needs to be delivered over a significantly longer period of time than might first seem desirable.
I think it’s about schools knowing exactly what the needs of their own pupils are and thinking creatively about how they can make the programme work for them. It’s rare that such increased additional capacity is on offer for such good value for money.
We’ve actually already got a waiting list for future tutoring because like all things that are popular, and hopefully successful, word of mouth travels. That I’ve got quite a long list of pupils now asking me if they can have tuition in English, Maths and science, is obviously wonderful.
The NTP and tutoring will definitely be something we will continue to invest in.
The Bemrose School use Tuition Partner Connex Education Partnership to provide subsidised tuition as well as an Academic Mentor, both provided through the National Tutoring Programme. Academic Mentors are recruited, trained and deployed by Teach First.