News and opinion

‘Tuition provides a safe environment to address gaps in learning’ – Mary Barnard, English tutor at Action Tutoring

18 December, 2020
National Tutoring Programme
Female tutor with female student
Female tutor with female student

Former teacher Mary Barnard tutors with our Tuition Partner Action Tutoring and explains how tuition can be a lifeline for some disadvantaged pupils.

Volunteer tutor Mary Barnard from Nottingham, a former teacher and tutor who has always been passionate about ​levelling the playing field’ for all pupils. She is currently shielding with a family member and leapt at the chance to be able to continue to make a difference by delivering online tutoring from home through Action Tutoringa not-for-profit charity and approved Tuition Partner for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

I am thrilled to be tutoring again. I recently completed online training with Action Tutoring to switch from the charity’s face-to-face tutoring model to its online programme, delivering tutoring to pupils who are in school via their live online platform.

To be able to still ​‘connect’ with pupils and help them with their education despite me needing to stay at home is so rewarding. I currently deliver English tutoring to year six pupils in small groups – typically two or three pupils – at two schools. The beauty of online tutoring is that I can provide help to any UK school where it is desperately needed, there is no travel involved and it takes just an hour per session so can easily be built into my day.

Many schools have large cohorts of pupils that need extra support to pass their exams. Regardless of personal views on exams, the reality is that a good set of grades will improve a young person’s life chances; crucially, a pass in maths and English is almost always required to continue education and training after 16. Tuition can be a lifeline for pupils who struggle to engage in the whole class setting.

All over the North and the Midlands, whole cohorts of pupils are being sent home to quarantine for two-week periods. Disadvantaged pupils are less likely to receive support at home with home-learning tasks. I tutored an EAL (English as an Additional Language) pupil through lockdown who was too intimidated by the English and History tasks even to open them in her Google classroom.

Helping disadvantaged pupils to catch up with their more affluent peers is even more important at this point in time, as the impact of the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.

Online tutoring opens up new opportunities to transform outcomes for vulnerable pupils across the UK

Then there’s the issue of access to laptops, iPads, a phone contract, and a space to study. Crucially students need the structure, discipline and attention span to complete tasks without the physical input of a teacher. Issues such as emerging English, caring responsibilities, chaotic home-life all contribute to the attainment gap.

With online learning, it is especially important to develop a strong rapport and keep pupils engaged. My first online tutoring session started with some ​‘ice-breaker’ tasks to help get to know one another, asking ​‘Would you rather…’ type questions on slides with colourful illustrations. Discovering pupils’ likes and dislikes can really help you to understand what motivates them – you can tap into their interests to keep them on task.

We also completed a tour of the tutoring platform together, demonstrating how to use the tools. By year six, children have good keyboard skills and they are naturally adept at finding their way around the platform. Within minutes my pupils had worked out how to circle, highlight and underline words and phrases in a text. Helping pupils to close the gap at this key stage in their education is so important and can really boost to their confidence before they transition to secondary school.

I have witnessed how teaching spelling patterns can help children with dyslexia, but more importantly, how those same children can discover what brilliant creative writers they are. Tuition enables a rewarding teaching and learning relationship to develop that is harder to achieve in whole-class teaching.

Having also worked with GCSE pupils prior to lockdown in March, I noticed that tutoring helps to identify ​‘gaps’ in learning that may otherwise go undetected and prevent a pupil from reaching their full potential. By year 11, teachers may assume that pupils are secure in their knowledge of concepts taught earlier in the curriculum – for example when to use there, their or they’re – but this may not be the case, and a pupil lacking confidence is not going to put their hand up in front of the whole class to ask. Tuition provides a safe environment in which to address these gaps in learning.

Mary Barnard works with Action Tutoring, one of 33 approved Tuition Partners. Find out more about Action Tutoring on their website.

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