News and opinion

Busting two common myths about tutoring

16 October, 2020
Robbie Coleman Robbie Coleman Editor
Female tutor in classroom with female student
Female tutor in classroom with female student

Investigating some common myths about tutoring can help us understand how to avoid pitfalls and realise the potential of tutoring.

Tutoring can have a huge impact on learning. The Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit identifies tutoring as an approach that can improve learning by, on average, five additional months’ progress over a year. A host of studies in English schools have found similar effects. For example, a project which placed trained graduates in secondary schools in Birmingham improved pupils’ maths and English outcomes significantly.

Unfortunately, today in England tutoring is currently widening the gap. Disadvantaged children are much less likely to have access to tutoring than their peers, a disparity which widened under lockdown. The NTP has been set up to change this, based on a simple mission: getting high-quality support to disadvantaged students who need it most.

However, in education, even the simplest ideas need to be implemented with care. Investigating some common myths about tutoring can help us understand how to avoid the pitfalls and realise the potential of tutoring this year.

Myth 1: Tutors work best alone

Tutoring will be most powerful when it is a tool for teachers. To be most effective, teachers and tutors must work as a team, with tutoring sessions aligned with the curriculum and focus on the areas identified as most important by teachers.

Tutors and teaching assistants play different roles in supporting learning, but the lessons we have learned about maximising the impact of teaching assistants is extremely relevant to tutoring. For example, setting aside time to build relationships and make sure tutoring builds on what goes on in the classroom will pay dividends.

In one EEF study, trained university students provided tutoring to primary school pupils struggling with numeracy. The support had a strong positive impact on learning, which the team credited to the three-way relationship between the tutor, the children they were working with and the classroom teacher.

Through the Academic Mentors pillar of the National Tutoring Programme, schools will be supported to employ in-school mentors to provide intensive support to their pupils. Mentors will be recruited and trained by Teach First, and then provide tailored support – which might be subject-specific work or additional help for those shielding or not in school – according to the needs of their school.

Myth 2: Tutoring is a panacea

In spite of the strong evidence in its favour, tutoring is not a panacea. The single most powerful way to support learning this year is to have students back in school. Lockdown has affected every child differently, and for some pupils, tutoring will not be the right approach. Like any intervention, teachers must make professional judgements about which pupils will benefit most.

Choosing the right type of tutoring will also be an important decision for schools. All of the providers approved through the NTP’s Tuition Partners pillar will have passed a robust screening process. However, different providers might suit different pupils with different needs. A range of tutoring models will be available to schools, including face-to-face and online provision, with support provided by charities, universities and private providers.

For example, tutoring offered by university PhD students might be well suited to high-attaining disadvantaged students preparing for GCSEs, while younger pupils struggling with literacy or numeracy might benefit from more targeted support from a tutor who is also an experienced supply teacher.

On-going assessment and evaluation is also key. Through the Tuition Partners pillar, pupils will receive blocks of 15 tutoring sessions, with review points built-in. As part of the delivery of the NTP, tutoring from every approved provider will also be evaluated by an independent team appointed by the EEF.

Extra support in a difficult year

The National Tutoring Programme is based on a straightforward idea: providing high-quality additional support to schools and disadvantaged pupils affected by coronavirus. While by no means the whole solution, tutoring can play an important role in mitigating the short and long-term effects of the pandemic on learning, and be a powerful tool to help teachers through a difficult year.

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