How to make the best of one-to-one tuition

1 Nov 2020, 5:00

As the national tutoring programme rolls out, David Hatchett sets out the lessons AET have learned about effective implementation of one-to one tuition

When I joined AET in December 2017 and took on responsibility for 28 secondary schools, it was immediately apparent that our results that summer were going to be a real issue. We needed to bring in additional capacity, and quickly.

Way before the Government had even considered a national tutoring programme, we commissioned an online tutoring service, providing one-to-one tutoring by undergraduates who could connect with their tutees in ways that conventional tutors might struggle.

Today, we have 1,800 students across our secondary schools taking part, totalling 41,000 hours of tutoring this year.

The benefits were clear: an external review found improvements in English equivalent to between a third and a half of a GCSE grade, and ‘statistically significant’ improvements for Maths results.

The tutoring service’s own analysis also showed significant gains for students in tutored subjects vs non-tutored subjects. Compared to their mock exam results, students went on to attain +0.4 of a grade higher in their real exams in non-tutored subjects, and +0.9 of a grade higher in tutored subjects.

There were of course challenges, including some initial resistance from a few schools, (often those struggling the most), with outdated perceptions of online tutoring.

Schools who appointed a tutoring ‘champion’ saw better results

We tackled this by sharing the successes of the programme – some of our schools’ results at grades 4+ and 5+ leapt by double digits in 2019 for instance. This year we have also introduced the concept of ‘leader boards’ to accelerate school and pupil-level engagement in tutoring.

So, what lessons have we learned along the way?

First, pick the right students. We decided early on to prioritise a combination of students who were behind where we expected them to be, who were vulnerable and/or disadvantaged, but who we believed would be willing to put the work in to improve.

Second, make sure those students are fully engaged throughout. Using a whole school assembly, we introduce them to the idea of tutoring, how it works and what they will gain. We do that virtually at the moment.

Third, engage with parents too. We used newsletters to highlight the impact of tutoring, keeping parents informed of the benefits and rewards. Emphasising how our support replicates what so often happens in the independent sector, as highlighted by Sir Peter Lampl in Schools Week recently.

We also ensure tutoring is tailored to student needs, not just teaching English and maths. While this is better than nothing, it risks not making the most of an expensive resource. Ongoing dialogue between the tutor, student and school is key.

Schools who appointed a tutoring ‘champion’ also saw better results. Now every school has a current or aspiring senior leader who leads on tutoring and this is a key ingredient for success. Among other responsibilities, they also ensure students have the right space for their tutoring. The IT lab or a library tend to be most suitable, guaranteeing students the technology and quiet space they need.

Even though our programme is now running smoothly, we continue to refine our offer. Continuous monitoring and ongoing quality assurance by both school and trust is essential to ensuring the content and the relational aspects of tutoring are working.

Back in 2017, we only offered tutoring to our Year 11s. This year, when the programme ends for Year 11 in May we will offer it to our Year 10s so they can hit the ground running. For the first time this year, we are also offering one-to-one online tutoring at A-level in all of our sixth forms and we are piloting the programme with pupils in Key Stage 3.

Compared to when we started, I now take a more hands-on approach, meeting regularly with the provider to identify each school’s successes and struggles. Any trust looking to commission tutoring at scale should ensure a senior figure does similar.

With the National Tutoring Programme just around the corner, we know tutoring will play a bigger role in schools over the coming months. But by itself, tutoring is no silver bullet; any form of trust-wide programme will have its share of obstacles and planning how you will use it effectively is key.

With a clear plan in place, tutoring can transform schools and their results and ensure students have the support they need to thrive.

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